During the winter horned larks can be found in large numbers in the Northwest, but mostly on the eastern side of the Cascades. There are a few resident populations on the western side where I live but I had never seen a horned lark until this January when I found a male foraging near Schwartz Lake at Ridgefield.
I use Northwest Birds in Winter by Alan Contreras when I want to get more specific info on the distribution of one of our birds during the winter than you can get out of a general purpose field guide. I bought my copy in 1997, about a year after I moved here, when I met Alan at an Audubon event and he signed my copy. It’s definitely not a field guide and not useful for identifying birds, but a nice complement to my army of guides when I want to dig a little deeper.
The iPhone is one of the best devices I’ve ever owned. One little thing I love is the ability to set multiple repeating alarms. I have one for 7:00 a.m. on weekdays to get me up for work, and another for 5:00 a.m. on the weekends to get me up for Ridgefield. Another thing I love is the ability to carry around weather maps in my pocket. And oh how I loved the weather map on the morning of May 15th!
I love photographing wildlife in the rain (and snow and frost and fog) and the beauty of the auto tour is I can do it from the relative warmth of a dry car seat. Not everyone shares my love for the rain of course and I didn’t see another car on the refuge for the first couple of hours. It rained much of the day and traffic on the tour was fairly low despite being in the midst of spring migration.
I kept an eye on the weather maps during the day to try to be at a favorite location when the best weather (in this case, the heaviest rain) hit. Even so, I got caught out by a sudden downpour. I had just finished driving past the lakes and started onto the large meadows at the end of the tour where there isn’t much to see at this time of year. So I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw this bittern in the tall grass of the meadow near Schwartz Lake, where I’ve not seen bitterns before, the green grass nicely showing off the pouring rain.
I stayed all day from sunrise to sunset (assuming there was a sunrise and sunset), you’ll see a number of pictures in the coming days and weeks of the Ridgefield rain.
Winter is a good time for viewing eagles at Ridgefield but this young bald eagle at Schwartz Lake was the only eagle I saw during my visit on January 16th. I didn’t expect to have much time for pictures when I pulled the car over as I feared the eagle would spook when the next car came past. But the steady rain kept traffic on the auto tour so low that no one else came by and since the eagle was in no hurry, I was able to watch it for quite a while. Most of the time it just stood on a submerged log, but a few times it leaned down for a drink before finally flying off to a nearby tree.
Schwartz Lake (like most lakes at Ridgefield) is quite small and shallow since it is really just a flooded field. The water levels of many of the lakes are managed to mimic the floodplains of the Columbia before the dams were built, flooding during the winter and drying out by summer.