A male American robin stands on the ground

The robin is one of the most familiar birds in the United States and I had a fondness for them growing up, partly because they were easy to see in the many trees around our house and partly because they were the state bird of my state at the time, Michigan. I love photographing them but funnily enough don’t see them that often in the places I visit most. This male was feeding on the ground on a rainy winter afternoon at my favorite wildlife refuge and was the last shot I took on the day.

The Unmistakable Bill

The Unmistakable Bill

When I was in graduate school and just getting into wildlife photography, I spotted a pair of unfamiliar ducks at the Virginia Tech Duck Pond. They only stayed for a day or two before migrating on, but I was a bit puzzled as to their identification as they didn’t quite match anything in my guide book. I guessed (rightly so) that they were northern shovelers as nothing else in the book had a bill quite like theirs. I later learned that they were in non-breeding plumage, while my guide book only had their breeding plumage.

When we moved to Oregon I was delighted to find shovelers here in the winter, so now I get to see them on a regular basis, and am still amused by the variety of plumages I see within the same group of shovelers. This male for example, even though it was late winter, still has signs of his intermediate plumage. With that bill, though, there’s no mistaking him for anything but a shoveler.

Clues Two

A close-up view of a common muskrat eating plants

I saw my first muskrat at the Virginia Tech Duck Pond back when I was first getting into photography. Sadly I found it dead not much later, but my fascination with these rodents was born. So I was particularly pleased when we moved to the Northwest to find them here as well. Over the years I’ve seen one in most of the ponds and lakes around the auto tour at Ridgefield, although surprisingly I seem to be the only one who is excited to see these adorable creatures.

While the face of the muskrat is unique compared to the other aquatic rodents at the refuge, its distinctive white claws are also an important clue, visible here on the front paws of this hungry muskrat. While I have seen muskrats many times, they are shy creatures and my glimpses are usually brief. Thankfully though this one let me photograph from close range to my heart’s content as it dined on plants at the edge of Canvasback Lake.

This is why I can’t stop going to Ridgefield.