Herons Before Hedgehogs

A close-up of a juvenile great blue heron against a frosty backdrop, taken at Horse Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefiel, Washingon on January 1, 2011. Original: _MG_1684.cr2

New Year’s Day in 2011 dawned with frost covering the grasses around Horse Lake, where I met this juvenile heron beside the auto tour at Ridgefield. During the winter I brought extra coats to drape over my legs so I could sit in the cold and watch and listen to the wildlife around me. On this occasion though a string of running cars soon pulled up behind, including my arch-nemesis the diesel pickup truck with its bone rattling engine, so I started up the car and continued on. A few hours later as I prepared for another loop around I saw a long line of cars stretched into the distance and decided to call it a day. Which was wonderful in its own right as I took Ellie for an extra walk and then we played with her hedgehogs in the backyard before heading inside to snuggle up with the cats. Wildlife watching, playing with the pets, my little slice of heaven and a lovely start to the year.

Strike a Pose

A close-up of a young red-tailed hawk looking into the camera while preening its feathers on the auto tour of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on February 9, 2008. Original: _MG_8524.cr2

A young red-tailed hawk pauses while preening its front feathers on a winter afternoon at Ridgefield in 2008. Although birds of this age have long since lost the the extreme nervousness they had after fledging, I like that its expression portrays some of the goofiness they retain as they experience new things in their first year. Not that they should be underestimated, they are already formidable predators as the blood around its mouth and beak suggest. The signposts near the auto tour were favored perches of the young hawks and provided opportunities to watch them at length, especially on rainy days if traffic was sparse.

A close-up of a young red-tailed hawk preening its feathers on the auto tour of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on February 9, 2008. Original: _MG_8517.cr2

There Are Predators and There Are Predators

A close-up of the yellow legs of an American bittern as it hides in the shallows of Rest Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6943.cr2

We often think of predators as animals with sharp teeth and claws but I wonder if the owner of these yellow legs isn’t the creature that most haunts the nightmares of the fish and frogs and voles of Ridgefield. If you see these yellow kicks hiding in the shallows, best hope the bittern isn’t hungry.

Williamson’s Sapsucker

A male Williamson's sapsucker perches on a tree peppered with holes on the Cerro Grande Route in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico in May 2007. Original: _MG_7688.cr2

A trip to New Mexico in 2007 provided my one and only view of the lovely Williamson’s sapsucker, this is a male perched on a favorite tree. They prefer Ponderosa Pine forests and that’s not a habitat I’ve been in much since. You can see the irregular and regular pattern of holes he’s drilled into the tree to encourage it to secrete the sap he craves. It was a wonderful trip although it had far more import than I could have known as when it came time to look for work a decade later, it got me thinking of New Mexico, which got me thinking about Arizona, and here we are.

A male Williamson's sapsucker shows off his red neck patch and yellow belly while perched on a tree lined with holes on the Cerro Grande Route in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico in May 2007. Original: _MG_7714.cr2

A male Williamson's sapsucker perches on a tree peppered with holes on the Cerro Grande Route in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico in May 2007. Original: CRW_6328.crw

Purple Crown

A male Costa's hummingbird head flashes purple as he looks in my direction in the Troon neighborhood of Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020. Original: _RAC3253.arw

A Costa’s hummingbird shows off his purple crown on a winter morning. The color is based on the way the light falls upon the feathers, not pigment, so when he had his head turned his crown appeared black (as the rest of his face and throat does here, but they will light up too if the light is at the right angle).

All-Crab Breakfast

A yellow-crowned night heron tosses back a fiddler crab as it hunts in the mud of a saltwater marsh while the tide was out at Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina in July 2007. Original: _MG_2833.cr2

On a sunrise walk on the boardwalk through the saltwater marsh at Huntington Beach State Park, I met this yellow-crowned night heron hunting fiddler crabs in the mud while the tide was out. The hungry bird snared one after the other, tossing them down its throat, so it’s a good thing the little crabs seemed endless in number. Taken in the summer of 2007.

Two Pollinators

A male gilded flicker perches on saguaro blossoms while a honeybee hovers nearby on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020

It may look like this male gilded flicker took an interest in the honeybee as the two pollinators shared a saguaro, but it was just a coincidence of timing, the bird was only interested in eating from the flowers.

A male gilded flicker prepares to eat headfirst from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020