Frozen Ridgefield

We are just now ending a run of more than a week of ideal weather conditions for bird photography at Ridgefield NWR.  Cold and clear weather in the Pacific Northwest during the winter months is not easy to come by, especially on a weekend day (I have an office day job that puts our food on the table) when my family has no other plans and my lovely wife generously gives me a full morning away from her and our two youngs kids.  This past Saturday morning was one of those days, lucky for me.  I'l be lucky to get one or two more this winter, so I'm so thankful for this last Saturday's visit.

I arrived at the refuge about 15 minutes before the sun rose, and was quite surprised to see the gate already open and a half dozen people already there!  Ridgefield NWR is gaining in popularity, it seems much more busy that when I first started to visit three years ago.  The clear and cold morning pink and purple colors hanging over the horizon were so pretty, but with the cold many birds were hunkered down, doing all they could to keep warm.  Who can blame them?  There were no male red-winged blackbirds hanging around their cat tails at day break, so I headed all the way to the back straight along Rest Lake, which is now full of swans for the winter.  These swans are so graceful and pretty to watch fly, and also quite peaceful to hear calling to each other.  But, the swans were hunkered in with the cold weather too.  However, I was lucky to catch a female northern harrier fly past me before the rising sun light hit her.  This shot would certainly have not turned out with any of the crop sensor camera bodies I used to own, or with any software other than Adobe's Lightroom 4 or 5.  The amount of detail that Lightroom can pull from highlights and shadows from the large RAW files on my Canon 5D MkIII still amazes me each time I process photos, and I used all of this software's capabilities on this shot.

Beginning my second lap I noticed an egret on one leg in a frozen pond with interesting patterns of snag throughout the scene.  The patterns caught my eye, and this photo is curiously almost a natural black and white image, but for the egret's beak.

Later in the morning past Rest Lake the great blue herons and the egrets were getting their fill of vole for breakfast as the refuge was warmed by the sun.  I had one heron take two strikes at a vole just a few yards in front of me but, come up empty beaked both times.  If the bird keeps up that rate it'll soon be going on a diet.  As gross as we think swallowing small rodents whole is, it's a means of survival for these birds, and amazing to watch happen in the wild in person.  I was also lucky to grab an in flight shot of a heron that nearly flew right over my car!  These birds have one of the most graceful wing strokes, and it's such a beautiful sight to seem them fly near.  A heron is a huge bird that stands almost 5 ft tall and appears equally large in flight.  I also tried to shoot many tundra swans coming and going from Rest Lake, but the autofocus is difficult to nail against the drab brown color of the leafless birch trees off in the background.  I always consider it lucky to get one nice shot per trip.  On this morning, I was lucky!

My last shot of the morning is actually taken at a 70mm focal length, which is rather short for shooting birds.  I think this shows a sunny morning view of the grasslands at Ridgefield NWR packed full of birds quite nicely.  This photo, shown at the beginning of this post, contains two great blue herons, three egrets, two sandhill cranes off in the distance (and quite out of focus), and countless cackling geese.  I have never seen so many cranes at the refuge as I did on this morning.

I could have easily done another lap, or two, but I needed to get back to my family, and amatuer hour was beginning at the refuge.  Many folks were coming out who did not seem to know much about birds, the rules of the refuge or common courtesy.  It had already been such a nice morning, there was no need to frustrate myself, so home I went.  That said, it was a wonderful visit to Ridgefield NWR, as always.