An Unfamiliar Song

A song sparrow sings while perched on a cattail at South Quigley Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

One of the nice features of bird guides on mobile devices, compared to their traditional paper counterparts, is the ability to only show birds you might see in a state (apart from the occasional rarity that has strayed far from its normal course). I used this feature when researching the places we considered moving, to see how many of the birds will be new to me and how many I’m going to have to say goodbye to. Some will at once be familiar and unfamiliar, such as this song sparrow singing from the cattails at Ridgefield’s South Quigley Lake, as while the ubiquitous sparrow does live in Arizona it has a different look from the those of the Pacific Northwest.

This is part of the attraction of the desert for us, it’s a big change from what we are used to, and my hunch is I’ll have fun exploring the landscapes and wildlife there for many years to come. We’ll see if time proves me correct, but I’m optimistic. I am going to miss in particular the auto tour at Ridgefield though, this is by far the place I’ve spent the most time in the Northwest, as well as the wetlands in general.

A Splash of Yellow

A female yellow-headed blackbird perches between two cattails, showing the little splash of yellow on her rump

The yellow coloring in yellow-headed blackbirds is mostly confined to their heads and chests, even for females whose coloring is not nearly as bold as their male counterparts. But, as you can see from her acrobatic pose, there’s also a little splash of yellow on her rump.

Gold Reward

A common yellowthroat perches in cattails at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

The yellowthroats weren’t staying still for very long, so even if I got a clear view of one I had to move quickly. For a few seconds this male flew into the middle of the cattails, not so high as to draw the ire of the blackbirds. His eye was obscured by the cattail in front nearly the entire time, but he stuck his head out far enough for me to get one picture before he flew off.

My favorite picture of the day.

Oh Ridgefield!

A common yellowthroat looks out from a patch of cattails at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

I got up at 5am this morning with yellow on my mind.

Like last week, I hoped to photograph yellow-headed blackbirds up at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. However, the yellowheads were staying more in the interior of the marsh this week. I can’t say that I blame them, last week the red-winged blackbirds were harassing them a bit but this week they would mob the yellowheads mercilessly every time they came to the edge.

Even so, my morning did turn out to be about yellow — not from blackbirds but yellowthroats and goldfinches. After spending six hours at the refuge last week, today I stayed for ten hours. I would have stayed longer but the weather was supposed to be sunny and I had only played to stay for a couple of hours and hadn’t brought enough food and water.

Remind me to ignore the weatherman next time.

I took far fewer pictures than last week but my quarry was more elusive. The yellowthroats were staying mostly out of sight, and when they did pop up to sing they were either chased by the redwings or by other competing yellowthroats. I was ready to call it a day and about to start the car to leave when a goldfinch popped into view. That convinced me to wait a while longer but again was ready to leave when this male yellowthroat finally appeared.

I wish the out-of-focus cattail wasn’t in front of the cattail that he is actually clinging to, but I still think it’s a cute picture. I got a few others I was happy with so stay tuned for those, plus a few goldfinch pictures.

The Only One Not Singing

A barn swallow perches on a cattail with his mouth wide open at South Quigley Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in May 2008

On a day I spent watching birds sing, from yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds to song sparrows and marsh wrens, this little barn swallow was the only one not singing. After swarming over the lake hunting insects with the rest of the barn and tree swallows, he landed on this cattail for just a moment, opened his mouth wide a couple of times, preened a few feathers, then took to the skies once more.

Blackbird

A male red-winged blackbird perches on a cattail at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

I got up early this weekend hoping to see blackbirds at Ridgefield and wasn’t disappointed, both redwings and yellowheads were active near the edge of South Quigley Lake. My yellowhead pictures aren’t as good as previous years but it was still nice to see them singing and chasing each other around. I didn’t catch this male redwing singing but I love the colors of the early morning light. Song and savannah sparrows were also out and about and singing their hearts out, those pictures are yet to come.