The Winter Rain

Large water droplets bead up on the head and neck and shoulders of an American bittern at South Quigley Lake on the auto tour of the River S Unit of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in December 2009

On New Year’s Eve in 2009, snow still blanketed the ground but the more typical cold rain had returned, beading up on the head and neck and shoulders of an American bittern as it patrolled the edges of South Quigley Lake. I loved being at Ridgefield in the rain, sitting at one of my favorite spots on the auto tour with a bevy of towels strewn around the car to absorb the rain that would blow in. Your car acted as a blind so on days with poor weather and little traffic, as long as you sat quietly the animals would relax and often come quite close. This was one of two bitterns I was watching for a couple of hours that afternoon until the bewitching hour approached and I had to start the car to make it out before the gate closed.

Morning Calisthenics

A northern harrier stretches its wings backward while perched on a stump I called 'The Cactus Tree' at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in December 2009

A northern harrier stretches its wings on a foggy winter morning in 2009. I had seen it an hour earlier in this same spot but I don’t know if it spent the hour there or only returned to a favored perch. I’m happy I got some pictures of the stump I called “The Cactus Tree” as in subsequent days it fell over into the swamp.

The Quiet Ones

A juvenile bald eagle calls out in the rain while perched on the ice of a frozen Rest Lake on the auto tour of the River S Unit at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in January 2008

A juvenile bald eagle calls out to other nearby eagles on a rainy winter morning in 2008. Rest Lake had frozen over during a cold snap but by mid-morning a steady rain was falling and soon enough the ice would melt. I was rather surprised years earlier when I first heard an eagle’s call, given their size I assumed they’d have a rather raucous call so I was a bit taken aback by the soft and gentle cry that escaped their fearsome beaks.

Dressed in Blue and Green

A tree swallow perches on a mossy dead snag in the rain at Long Lake on the auto tour of the River S Unit of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in May 2012

This picture resonates strongly with me of my former home in the Pacific Northwest, a paradise dressed in blue and green. A tree swallow pausing from its aerial hunt on a rainy spring morning, tiny drops of rain beading on its tiny wings. The blue of the bird, the greens of the moss and lichen, the blue of Long Lake below, the green of the lush grasses at its marshy border, the meadow beyond. When I first visited Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge years ago the lake was full of snags near the road but one by one they began to fall. This snag was the last one near the road but eventually it too fell.

Young Red

A juvenile red-tailed hawk perched along the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in 2010

A juvenile red-tailed hawk perches along the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in 2010. We have redtails here in Arizona but I don’t get to see them up close like this anymore. Even at Ridgefield it seemed like in the later years I no longer saw them perching so close, so often, although I could still see them nearby in the meadows.

Up & Up & Up

An American bittern stands with its next stretched out against a backdrop of green grasses at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

Bitterns can look like a football with a head attached so it always amazed me when they’d stand and stretch their necks up, and up, and up. Useful for seeing over tall grasses and also as a defensive pose, I saw them do it multiple times when bald eagles soared high overhead, although the subterfuge worked best when the grasses were brown instead of green. I was never quite sure how they distinguished the distant eagles from other birds of prey but I did a quick check of the skies if a bittern I had been watching suddenly struck a thin vertical pose.

Dew Blue

A male blue-winged teal looks out from dew-tipped grasses at Horse Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

Green-winged and cinnamon teal were easy to see at Ridgefield but not so the blue-wings, so it was a special treat to find this lovely fellow in the dew-topped grasses growing in Horse Lake early on a spring morning in 2011. I spent the day at the little refuge, arriving at 6:30am and leaving at 5:30pm.

Swimmers

A northern pintail drake swims in Ruddy Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

After moving to Arizona I have fallen in love with having a swimming pool in the backyard, swimming has become second only to hiking as my favorite way to exercise in the summer heat, even though I’ll never look as lovely in the water as this northern pintail swimming in Ruddy Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.