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.


A young Columbian white-tailed deer eats in a meadow with one of his antlers fallen off

This fall the status of the Columbian white-tailed deer was improved from endangered to threatened. I’d guess this young buck, eating in a meadow beside Long Lake, is one of the offspring of deer that were captured and moved to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge as a part of the recovery efforts. I saw him in late December, one of his antlers had already fallen off but the other was not yet ready to let go.

The Fallen

A barn swallow sings while perching

When I arrived at Ridgefield in late 2013, after an absence of nearly a year, I lamented how many of the snags near the road in Long Lake had fallen over as they were a great place in spring to photograph songbirds up close. This more distant snag was still standing and offered a lovely background hinting at the surrounding environment with the blue of the water and the green plants at the edge of the lake and the brown grass of the meadow beyond. In the spring of 2014 I was watching barn swallows hunting for insects over the lake when this one perched for a moment and chirped to its compatriots still in the skies.

This snag has since fallen and there are no more near the road. I once saw a Jedi knight lift a sunken X-wing fighter out of a swamp, so I remain hopeful that one will visit Ridgefield and set some of the fallen snags upright once more.

The Deluge

A male northern shoveler feeds during a heavy downpour

The rain here in the Northwest is frequent during the cooler months but it’s usually more drizzle than downpour, yet it has absolutely poured at times this month. I love photographing in the rain and am always a little disappointed when there’s a good strong shower but nothing to shoot. Fortunately I was already watching a group of shovelers feeding in Long Lake when a sudden deluge of large raindrops pounded the surface of the water. The ducks of course are built for wet weather and fed unabated, and soon enough the rain softened in intensity.


A view of the rear foot and tail of a western painted turtle

While watching this sunbathing turtle, the way its rear feet and tail were stuck into the water reminded me of an anchored boat. In truth I don’t know if it could reach the bottom with its feet or if they were just dangling in the water, as it was firmly positioned on a partially submerged log and needed no anchor.

Sunny Day, Cloudy Day, Same Day

Sunny Days

On a sunny afternoon, this seemingly happy wood duck raised his head to stretch before resuming preening some of the hard-to-reach areas. I don’t often see wood ducks in this part of Long Lake so it was a treat to watch him. Five minutes later the clouds rolled in and changed the lighting as he paused during his preening ritual. I love shooting on both sunny and cloudy days and on this day got to do both frequently, but the constantly changing light levels made it challenging to correctly meter the scene and I often didn’t keep up fast enough.

Cloudy Days

Do I Know You?

A ring-necked duck (probably female) swims on Long Lake

I’ve often photographed a lone female ring-necked duck on Horse Lake, wondering if its the same bird that returns from one year to the next, but this one was on nearby Long Lake. Might be the same bird, of course the ducks move around especially when they get spooked, but I don’t have any way of knowing.

The Wayward Feather

A song sparrow eats seeds while standing on a floating branch

This song sparrow was working the same bit of floating branches as this red-winged blackbird but with a different technique. While the blackbird hunted for food by moving debris about with her beak, the sparrow was using its feet to do the same. Curiously it had one tail feather askew but it didn’t seem to be impeding it in any way that I could see. I saw the same bird on another day with its downward-facing feather but I suspect it fell off in short order as days later I saw a sparrow working the branches with all feathers cooperating.

Seed Bill

On the Hunt

A female red-winged blackbird holds an insect larva in her beak

There’s a spot in Long Lake where floating branches accumulate at the edge of the lake by a culvert. Both red-winged blackbirds (like this female holding what I presume is an insect larva) and song sparrows frequently hunt in this little section, looking for insects hidden in the plants and mud. The blackbird searches with its beak, as shown below, while the sparrow typically uses its feet. I’ve spent hours watching them on the hunt, as its also a good spot to watch mergansers hunt for fish just a bit further out, and a couple of times a river otter has swum up gone through the culvert to the other side of the road.

A female red-winged blackbird searches for insects by moving plants and twigs with her beak

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.