The Approaching Light

A great blue heron sits amongst frost and ice as the distant marsh is lit by the rising sun

A cold snap at the end of the year meant the new year dawned to frost and ice. I started New Year’s morning the way I had New Year’s Eve, watching egrets and herons at Ridgefield. I had arrived before the sun and had been sitting watching this heron when I was struck by how the rising sun was already illuminating the far side of the marsh. Within minutes it would crest the hill and bring us the warmth of its light as well.

As I watched the animals that morning I knew our sweet little cat Emma was in a fight for her life but I didn’t know we only had a week left together. And of course I couldn’t know that on this day, or perhaps a day or two before, a little kitten was being rescued far away in southern Oregon, and that a few weeks later she’d be transferred to Portland and welcomed into our home, bringing us light at the end of a dark and depressing month.

Two Halves

Two Halves

I got lucky with the top picture: the soft, warm light of sunset, the frost from an unusually cold winter day, the perfect pairing of these two baby nutria, one facing forward, the other backward, and the one nutria eating a blade of grass while holding it in its tiny hands. Then they each walked off into the shadows and out of my sight. Nutria are not native to the Northwest but they are by far the most commonly seen of our aquatic rodents, and as you can see are able to give birth and raise young even during winter.

A baby nutria walks across ice on a cold winter's day.

A baby nutria walks across frost and grass at the end of a cold winter's day.

Frost

A female juvenile northern harrier sits in a frosty meadow

I arrived at Ridgefield at sunrise but only had an hour before needing to head home to take our cats Sam and Emma to the vet. I thought the refuge would be fogged in given the heavy fog when I crossed the Columbia, but the refuge was clear and a lovely frost coated the meadows. I wanted to take advantage of the frost since it is not typical here, so I continued around the refuge until I found a good subject.

This female juvenile northern harrier was sitting in the large meadow at the end of the auto tour. I’d never gotten harrier pictures I’ve been happy with, so since she was a ways off I put the 2X teleconverter on my biggest lens and hoped for the best. She’s all puffed out in the cold looking a little larger than she is, and you can see the ring around her face that helps give harriers an owlish look. As she grows older, she will develop streaking down her chest and her eyes will turn from dark brown to yellow.