The Winter Rain

Large water droplets bead up on the head and neck and shoulders of an American bittern at South Quigley Lake on the auto tour of the River S Unit of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in December 2009

On New Year’s Eve in 2009, snow still blanketed the ground but the more typical cold rain had returned, beading up on the head and neck and shoulders of an American bittern as it patrolled the edges of South Quigley Lake. I loved being at Ridgefield in the rain, sitting at one of my favorite spots on the auto tour with a bevy of towels strewn around the car to absorb the rain that would blow in. Your car acted as a blind so on days with poor weather and little traffic, as long as you sat quietly the animals would relax and often come quite close. This was one of two bitterns I was watching for a couple of hours that afternoon until the bewitching hour approached and I had to start the car to make it out before the gate closed.

An Unfamiliar Song

A song sparrow sings while perched on a cattail at South Quigley Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

One of the nice features of bird guides on mobile devices, compared to their traditional paper counterparts, is the ability to only show birds you might see in a state (apart from the occasional rarity that has strayed far from its normal course). I used this feature when researching the places we considered moving, to see how many of the birds will be new to me and how many I’m going to have to say goodbye to. Some will at once be familiar and unfamiliar, such as this song sparrow singing from the cattails at Ridgefield’s South Quigley Lake, as while the ubiquitous sparrow does live in Arizona it has a different look from the those of the Pacific Northwest.

This is part of the attraction of the desert for us, it’s a big change from what we are used to, and my hunch is I’ll have fun exploring the landscapes and wildlife there for many years to come. We’ll see if time proves me correct, but I’m optimistic. I am going to miss in particular the auto tour at Ridgefield though, this is by far the place I’ve spent the most time in the Northwest, as well as the wetlands in general.

Down Upon the Bittern’s Beak

Downy feathers cling to an American bittern's beak after a preening session

Downy feathers cling to an American bittern’s beak after a preening session on a rainy winter afternoon. This one was at South Quigley Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, my second favorite place to watch for bitterns on the refuge (and the first if there aren’t tall grasses along the final channel beside Rest Lake, like during the winter this was taken).

Constant Movement

A group of American coots feeds in an open area of a frozen lake

A cold snap at the end of 2014 left many of the ponds and lakes at Ridgefield frozen over, but this group of American coots was helping keep a section of South Quigley Lake open with their constant movement as they dove under water in search of plants to eat. There’s a culvert near here that runs under the road and keeps water flowing between the north and south lakes, so the water here tends to stay open longer than the other parts of the lake.

The handful of splashes in the picture are from coots diving under the water, in the splash on the far right one of the coot’s legs is visible sticking up above the water. There’s also a pair of American wigeon on the far right, they frequently will try and take some of the plants that a coot brings to the surface, but on this morning they seemed content to just hang out with the coots and enjoy the safety in numbers as well as the open water. The sun was just starting to rise on this New Year’s morning, there’s a hill above the refuge that blocks the sun right at sunrise but it was just starting to crest the hill and illuminate the trees at the far side of the lake.