The Cactus Tree

A northern harrier sits on a stump in dense fog, early in the morning before the sun had broken through, taken on the auto tour at the River S Unit of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in December 2009

I’ve wanted to photograph the Cactus Tree since I first visited Ridgefield years ago, so I was particularly pleased to see this harrier perched on it in the heavy fog one winter’s morning (the picture from the previous post was taken later that morning when the sun first started to break through). It’s not a cactus of course, and these days not even a tree, just an old stump that reminds me of a cactus. It sits a ways off the road on the auto tour at Ridgefield, parts of the refuge are converted farmland so perhaps this stump is a remnant from when humans last lived here.

It’s a good thing I finally got a picture I liked, as on a visit not much later I noticed the stump was no longer standing, apparently having at long last fallen over into the marsh.

Turnabout is Fair Play

A close-up view of an American bittern catching a bullfrog at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

One of the stories at Ridgefield this winter has been the American bitterns which have been putting on a show at several spots around the auto tour during many of my visits. I’ve always been on the lookout for bitterns so I’m not sure why I’ve had so much success watching them hunt lately, although it may have something to do with the fact that I spent far more time at the refuge over the Christmas break than I usually do. This bittern was mostly snagging small fish as it worked the channel beside Rest Lake, but at one point it stopped and started wiggling its neck side to side and then struck into the middle of the channel, bringing up this bullfrog. Bullfrogs themselves are voracious predators and, since they aren’t native to the Northwest, have combined with habitat loss to cause problems for some of our natives. This little bittern was doing its part to turn the tables and win one for the home team.


A female American kestrel perched on a plant at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

There are a handful of true falcons that typically breed in North America, all belonging to the genus Falco, with the smallest being the American kestrel (falco sparverius). The kestrels at Ridgefield are pretty wary and often won’t stay perched if you pass on the auto tour, and probably for good reason, as there are a number of other birds of prey that share these hunting grounds that dwarf the little falcons in size.

This lovely female was a ways off the road and stayed still for a few pictures before she took to the skies again to resume the hunt.