The Slow Reveal

A male red-winged blackbird sings at sunrise

Before returning in December, my previous visit to Ridgefield had been in January not long after Emma died, so at first my heart wasn’t in it. But after spending a long while watching a male red-winged blackbird at South Quigley Lake, I began to enjoy myself and stayed longer than I had initially intended. So I was looking forward to seeing them again this time but I didn’t see a single one in my first few visits. On the fourth trip I heard them but didn’t see them. I did finally see one on my fifth visit but didn’t get any pictures until the seventh, when this lovely male sang for me as the sun rose behind us.

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

The Blackbird

A male red-winged blackbird sings while sitting atop a cattail

I didn’t leave the house for the first few days after Emma died, apart from taking Ellie on her walks, but by the fourth day I decided to head up to Ridgefield for a little bit. I made a note in my journal when I got there that my heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t know if I’d stay more than a few minutes, but spending some time with this blackbird lifted my spirits and I stayed for several hours. I stopped at South Quigley Lake when I saw him sitting on a cattail that was taller than all the others around it, as it gave me a lovely view of a lovely bird. I didn’t expect him to stay long, they are often flitting to and fro in the marsh, but he stayed there for a long while, preening and stretching and occasionally singing.

A male red-winged blackbird pins an insect to the roof of its mouth with its tongue

I’m well aware that some of my favorite creatures eat some of my favorite creatures in order to survive, I spent much of the Christmas break watching herons and egrets and bitterns eat all manner of small creatures near the shoreline, but I was reeling from Emma’s death and not in the mood to see something die. I deliberately avoided watching those predators on this visit but I was reminded of how often life and death are on display at the refuge when the blackbird suddenly leaned down and plucked an insect from the cattail. He has it pinned to the roof of his mouth with his tongue, headfirst, and is about to swallow it.

A male red-winged blackbird stretches while sitting atop a cattail

The auto tour takes a sharp left turn after you pass South Quigley Lake and you can see a blue car right behind the blackbird in this photo. There was less traffic though than I expected and so for the most part it was a peaceful afternoon, just what I wanted. While watching the blackbird a couple of times I spotted a Virginia rail darting through the cattails, and later I saw a doe and fawn of the Columbian white-tailed deer that were transplanted to the refuge (the doe was transplanted, the fawn was born at the refuge). It was nice to see sandhill cranes and a river otter too.

Soon thereafter Sam would get sick, and then some of the other pets, and then we got Trixie, and I’ve been busy enough and tired enough that I haven’t gone back out since. Now that Trixie is all settled in, I’ll be returning to the refuge before too long.


A male red-winged blackbird perches on a cattail at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

I got up early this weekend hoping to see blackbirds at Ridgefield and wasn’t disappointed, both redwings and yellowheads were active near the edge of South Quigley Lake. My yellowhead pictures aren’t as good as previous years but it was still nice to see them singing and chasing each other around. I didn’t catch this male redwing singing but I love the colors of the early morning light. Song and savannah sparrows were also out and about and singing their hearts out, those pictures are yet to come.