Doesn’t Mind the Rain

A common muskrat swims in the rain

When I bought the Canon 20D in March of 2005, after taking test shots of the cats I went up to Ridgefield to test the camera before going on a trip to Japan. A light drizzle turned into a heavier rain when I came across this muskrat swimming near North Quigley Lake. As I was in the car the camera wasn’t fully exposed to the rain, and I did my best to keep it dry, but I was still a little nervous as it was its first time outside and it didn’t have any weather sealing. Most of the pictures were blurry as the autofocus was still pretty limited, but I enjoyed the improved speed of the camera itself. I used the camera for years and the rain never did it in, even though eventually it would get partially smashed on rocks and have a gaping hole at the top.

Surviving and Not Surviving into the New Year

Surviving into the New Year

A shoveler swims past late in the day on New Year’s Eve of 2014, meaning she likely survived into the new year. The little bullfrog below almost made it into the new year but an egret plucked it from the shadows shortly before sunset. The bullfrogs move pretty slowly in the cold of winter and if spotted are easy pickings for the egrets and herons and bitterns that patrol these shores.

Not Surviving into the New Year

Open Water

A flock of coots swims in a tight pack

Coots often hang out in large groups and when it gets cold enough to freeze the ponds at Ridgefield, such as this cold New Year’s Eve morning, the constant movement of the flock helps keep part of the pond from freezing. This not only benefits them, as they dive under the water both to feed and to avoid hunting eagles, but other waterfowl as well, such as the bufflehead who would join them the following morning.

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.

The Ice Walker

An American coot walks across the ice

I love photographing coots, one of the most commonly seen birds at Ridgefield, as I find it fascinating how they do many of the things that diving ducks do yet their bodies differ in many ways. I was shocked the first time I saw their almost comically large feet and was surprised to see that they aren’t webbed like a duck. We had a cold snap to start the year and some of the smaller ponds froze over, leaving the coots a bit exposed as their best defense against an aerial eagle attack is to dive under the water.

Ring Ripples

A male ring-necked duck relaxes as raindrops create ripples in the water

A male ring-necked duck relaxes on a winter morning as raindrops create ripples in the water. Taken on the last day of an almost three week vacation over the Christmas break. I made a note in my journal about how much I enjoyed watching him before he swam off when more cars arrived, as Emma’s health was worrisome and the refuge was a nice distraction while my wife was home with Emma. Emma died a few days later and I wasn’t in the mood to edit the pictures from this trip (particularly an egret picture I’ll post later), but it is easier now with a little more distance.

New Year’s Day

A male bufflehead dives under the water to feed

I started 2015 the way I ended 2014, visiting my favorite little wildlife refuge. We had a cold snap that froze some of the smaller ponds and this male bufflehead was one of two that were hanging out with a flock of American coots working a small section of open water near the road. Like other diving ducks, bufflehead flatten out their tails on the surface of the water and push themselves forward into the dive, using their beaks to break the surface tension of the water.

Lovely way to start the year.