Hooded White Horse

A female hooded merganser swims on Horse Lake

Reflections on a cloudy day turned the surface of Horse Lake white when I exposed for a female hooded merganser as she swam past my car. The auto tour at Ridgefield is one of my favorite places in the Northwest as you get to see such lovely wild animals like this up close and behaving naturally, frequently without disturbing them.

Surprise Ending

Close-up view of a great egret's face

I spent New Year’s Eve at Ridgefield from sunrise to sunset. It was sunny and cold throughout the day and the shallower ponds had partially frozen. Near the end of the day I was parked near the start of the auto tour so it would be easy to leave before the gate closed. A great egret was hunting bullfrogs in the shallow channel beside the road and I expected it would be my last wildlife sighting of the year. Not a bad way to end the year.

A river otter breaks through the ice so it can take a breath

But then I heard a loud crack in the ice and looked down to see that a river otter had punched though the ice to come up for air. It didn’t stay long before submerging and swimming out of sight, but it made me laugh, Ridgefield giving me one last surprise to close out the year.

Surprise Ending

The egret had moved on, the otter had swum away, so I was about to pack up my camera for the trip home when a couple of hooded mergansers swam by in open water beside the ice, beautiful in the last light of the day. My goodness but the refuge was putting on a display. After a quick scan to make sure bigfoot wasn’t hiding in the bushes, I packed up my camera and headed home.

Lunch for One

A female hooded merganser swallows a fish

A hooded merganser swallows a fish she just caught in the shallows of Long Lake. She’s swimming away not from me but rather the other mergansers in her group who would be more than happy at the chance for a free meal. Once she surfaces with the fish she’s got to get it oriented head-first, lengthwise down her long thin bill, and toss it back and swallow it. The still squirming fish sometimes gets dropped even when alone, much less in a crowd, so a little private space is always welcome.

Hoodie & The Fish

A male hooded merganser with a fish in his mouth

I spent the morning sitting still at the edge of Long Lake and was rewarded when a small group of hooded mergansers swam in close to feed. There’s a sign hanging above a culvert that blocks part of the view of this section of the lake, but thankfully for me this male surfaced in plain view with a fish in his mouth.

The Shallows

A hooded merganser swims in the shallows of Long Lake

A hooded merganser swims into the shallows of Long Lake to hunt for fish. It swam up with its crest extended but pulled it down tighter and tighter as it prepared to dive under the water. There’s a culvert at the end of the lake where logs accumulate and mergansers like to fish in the area. There’s a sign on a bright metal chain above the culvert, warning people to stay back, that obstructed the view when it surfaced with a small fish in its bill. Mergansers are shy so I didn’t dare risk spooking it by starting the car to move into better position.