Up & Up & Up

An American bittern stands with its next stretched out against a backdrop of green grasses at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

Bitterns can look like a football with a head attached so it always amazed me when they’d stand and stretch their necks up, and up, and up. Useful for seeing over tall grasses and also as a defensive pose, I saw them do it multiple times when bald eagles soared high overhead, although the subterfuge worked best when the grasses were brown instead of green. I was never quite sure how they distinguished the distant eagles from other birds of prey but I did a quick check of the skies if a bittern I had been watching suddenly struck a thin vertical pose.

Dew Blue

A male blue-winged teal looks out from dew-tipped grasses at Horse Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

Green-winged and cinnamon teal were easy to see at Ridgefield but not so the blue-wings, so it was a special treat to find this lovely fellow in the dew-topped grasses growing in Horse Lake early on a spring morning in 2011. I spent the day at the little refuge, arriving at 6:30am and leaving at 5:30pm.

Washed Away

A foothill palo verde with its roots exposed in a wash at Lost Dog Wash in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

As you hike through the desert you’ll sometimes cross a wash, an area that is normally dry but where water runs after a storm. I’ve not seen a wash run, it doesn’t take long for the water to stop flowing and the monsoons usually arrive in the evenings when I’m not on the trails due to the heat. I’ve seen the aftermath though in the scouring of the trails, I wonder if the roots of this foothill palo verde were recently exposed due to erosion after a summer storm. Most of the shallow roots have been stripped of earth and are angled downstream save for one still plugged into the surviving bank.

It may not look like it but this little tree has leafed out, the trees have tiny leaves that you can see along the thorns if you look at the top of the tree set against the darker green of the larger trees behind it. You can also see the green bark, the palo verde can photosynthesize its food from both the little leaves when they are present and from the green bark and thorns year round. I’m curious to see if it survives or if it will fade away now that its roots are exposed, and perhaps wash away in a future storm. But for now it is holding on, literally.


A northern pintail drake swims in Ruddy Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

After moving to Arizona I have fallen in love with having a swimming pool in the backyard, swimming has become second only to hiking as my favorite way to exercise in the summer heat, even though I’ll never look as lovely in the water as this northern pintail swimming in Ruddy Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.


A female northern flicker searches for breakfast in a meadow on a rainy winter morning at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

A female northern flicker searches for breakfast in a meadow on a rainy winter morning at Ridgefield in 2012. Given its widespread distribution across my country I wrongly assumed this would be the flicker I’d see most often in Arizona, but so far I’ve only seen the gilded flicker. To be fair I’ve only hiked in the desert, perhaps we’ll be reunited when I visit the forests. The two flickers are quite similar both in appearance and call, so in a way it feels like we were never separated.