A Bad Case of the Boolies

A juvenile black phoebe perches on a broken tree

You’d think I’d never held a camera before.

I don’t know why exactly but some days I struggle mightily with exposure, with focus, with stability, with aim, with composition, with equipment, with everything. What works for me is to work through it. To keep taking picture after picture until despite my efforts I get one that I like, then more and more until I get one I love.

This past Sunday was a fun day to be at Ridgefield, full of new animal behaviors I either hadn’t seen or at least not photographed, but I couldn’t take a picture to save my life. One highlight was spotting a juvenile black phoebe, a bird I had only seen one once before while vacationing in New Mexico. This species is normally a resident of areas well to our south so I was excited to see it once more. So excited that I botched the exposure on every picture save the last.

I never saw it again.


Long Fallen

When we moved to Oregon, my wife and I would sometimes go out for a drive just to get the lay of the land. One day as she was driving and I was navigating, we were heading south and looking for a good place to turn around. The map showed that we could take one highway into Junction City and then take a different route back north, so we decided to do that. On the way out of town we crossed over a river and at a glance I thought I spied a bald eagle atop a large tree.

I assumed it was a decoy, like those placed to scare off pigeons and geese, but a second glance confirmed that this was a living, breathing eagle. My first! I leaned back in my seat and wondered what sort of wonderland we had just moved to, where you could drive down an ordinary highway and see bald eagles in the trees.

We’d see more eagles over the years, including one on our honeymoon perched over the Rogue River, but they were mostly occasional glimpses until I discovered Ridgefield. Eagles are common there in winter and spring, most of the close views are of younger eagles but occasionally you’ll get a good view of an adult.

Even so, I was speechless when I made a return to Ridgefield in April after being sidelined with a bum ankle and found this adult on a dead snag in Long Lake, right beside the road. There’s close and then there’s close. I eased the car up behind another that had already stopped and watched the eagle in the wind and the rain. It hung around for another 15 minutes before taking off for the interior of the refuge.

Every time I think I should spend less time at Ridgefield, because I do spend an awful lot of time there, my little wonderland offers up a surprise like this and keeps me coming back for more.

I had another nice surprise when we visited the auto show in January. I had started to do some research before the show and had some vehicles in mind that I wanted to see, but my wife and I agreed just to walk around and look at everything. Which was fortunate because otherwise I wouldn’t have stopped at the Lexus booth.

But there it sat at the edge of their display, a gorgeous little hatchback, and I was smitten. I walked around to the placard and saw it was a hybrid, got pretty good gas mileage even in the city, and while a bit expensive wasn’t out of reach. It had some nice touches like a memory system not just for the seats but also the mirrors and telescoping steering wheel. It had the new knee airbags for both driver and passenger. Turn indicators on the side mirrors. Whiplash-reducing seats. And the staff didn’t think it beeped when it backed up the way the Prius does.

And there it was. A great car for Ridgefield. A great car for my commute. I had found my next car.

But then I got home and did more research and it’s luster began to fade. It turns out it does beep like the Prius when you put it in reverse and you can’t eliminate it entirely. And it also has a new pedestrian warning system that makes these oddball sounds when you’re moving otherwise silently in electric mode.

My quiet Ridgefield car was gone.

And that nice memory system that would make it easy for both my wife and I to drive the car? In our area it’s only available as part of a $6400 package full of other things I don’t care about. And despite the tone of the Lexus advertising, it wasn’t any faster than the Prius.

I’ve been mentally sorting the cars we look at into a tiered list, and suddenly the little Lexus started falling fast. My heart keeps shoving it back up the list but my brain keeps shoving it back down. For now the brain is winning and the Lexus isn’t even in the top tier, but my heart is OK with that as it’s convinced that with one test drive the little hybrid’s charms will overcome all objections, even that infernal beeping and the high cost.

My brain is equally convinced it won’t.

If the time comes to replace the Civic, we’ll see which one was right. My money’s on the …


A Reward Paid in Black-and-White

A pied-billed grebe starts to sink down into Long Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

Another reward for spending all of Mother’s Day at Ridgefield was a chance to photograph this pied-billed grebe in breeding plumage in Long Lake. These grebes are so commonly seen at Ridgefield that it’s a rare visit when I don’t spot one, but they are both small and shy and thus have generally eluded my lens. I got some nice pictures of them this winter, but on this day I got my opportunity to photograph one with a pied bill (they only have it in their breeding plumage).

And to top it off it’s doing my favorite pied-billed trait, sinking slowly into the water before diving!

There is an audio guide that goes along with the auto tour at Ridgefield, and while the audio at this point is difficult to make out it seems to me they suggest that the pied-billed name comes from the black ring on the bill resembling a pie stain (such as you might find ringing a child’s mouth after it eats a piece of pie). I’m not sure if I’m not hearing it correctly or if they are being a bit tongue-in-cheek (not that I would ever do such a thing here!), but I believe the name comes from the old English usage meaning black-and-white (as in the magpie), and which eventually came to mean multi-colored.

Thus I think the name is more Pied Piper than Purple Pieman.