Morning Calisthenics

A northern harrier stretches its wings backward while perched on a stump I called 'The Cactus Tree' at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in December 2009

A northern harrier stretches its wings on a foggy winter morning in 2009. I had seen it an hour earlier in this same spot but I don’t know if it spent the hour there or only returned to a favored perch. I’m happy I got some pictures of the stump I called “The Cactus Tree” as in subsequent days it fell over into the swamp.

The Cactus Tree

A northern harrier sits on a stump in dense fog, early in the morning before the sun had broken through, taken on the auto tour at the River S Unit of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in December 2009

I’ve wanted to photograph the Cactus Tree since I first visited Ridgefield years ago, so I was particularly pleased to see this harrier perched on it in the heavy fog one winter’s morning (the picture from the previous post was taken later that morning when the sun first started to break through). It’s not a cactus of course, and these days not even a tree, just an old stump that reminds me of a cactus. It sits a ways off the road on the auto tour at Ridgefield, parts of the refuge are converted farmland so perhaps this stump is a remnant from when humans last lived here.

It’s a good thing I finally got a picture I liked, as on a visit not much later I noticed the stump was no longer standing, apparently having at long last fallen over into the marsh.


A female juvenile northern harrier sits in a frosty meadow

I arrived at Ridgefield at sunrise but only had an hour before needing to head home to take our cats Sam and Emma to the vet. I thought the refuge would be fogged in given the heavy fog when I crossed the Columbia, but the refuge was clear and a lovely frost coated the meadows. I wanted to take advantage of the frost since it is not typical here, so I continued around the refuge until I found a good subject.

This female juvenile northern harrier was sitting in the large meadow at the end of the auto tour. I’d never gotten harrier pictures I’ve been happy with, so since she was a ways off I put the 2X teleconverter on my biggest lens and hoped for the best. She’s all puffed out in the cold looking a little larger than she is, and you can see the ring around her face that helps give harriers an owlish look. As she grows older, she will develop streaking down her chest and her eyes will turn from dark brown to yellow.