Long and Fading

Fading pink skies reflect off the ice surrouning snags in Long Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on January 2, 2011. Original: _MG_2459.cr2

At the start of 2011, after taking the previous picture at Horse Lake I moved to adjacent Long Lake, the pink skies fading in intensity despite the trivially short drive. Though side-by-side the differing natures of the lakes meant some wildlife preferred one to the other. Dead snags stood upright across the narrow width of the lake with many of their fallen brethren floating nearby. It was my favorite spot for close looks of teal and grebes and mergansers, with egrets and herons and bitterns hunting the shallows. In the warmer months turtles sunned on the logs, one of the few reptiles in the area. Mammals also made an appearance though not as often: otters fishing, raccoons and coyotes prowling the edges, deer up on the banks. Nutria too but then they were everywhere.

The tallest snag was near the road out-of-frame to the right, one day to my astonishment an adult bald eagle perched there almost right above me. Swallows would stop to rest as they hunted the skies above the lake, while below blackbirds and sparrows searched the marshy shores for insects to feed their young. The tall snag on the left was a favorite spot for kingfishers, as well as taller ones on the right, it was my favorite place to watch them as they dove down from the heights and plunged into the water after small fish.

But time took its toll on the former trees and one by one they began to fall, until on a visit four years later I sadly noted in my journal they were all gone. On a later visit it seemed more of a marshy meadow than a lake though perhaps in the rainy season it would fill up again. I wondered what animals would now call it home but it was not for me to know, change wasn’t just coming to the lake.

Beakful of Bugs

Beakful of Bugs

A yellow-headed blackbird stuffs his beak full of insects, destined for his hungry family back at the nest, as he straddles plants just above the waterline. Taken at Long Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in May 2011, the yellow-heads didn’t often come as close as the more ubiquitous red-wings but it was such a treat when they did.

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.

Recovering

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.

Anchored

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