The Gift

Today was another gift to myself.  I decided to end the year by entering Ridgefield just before sunrise and taking as much (or as little) time as I wanted to look for birds and scenes that caught my attention. It was 22 degrees when I left the house and the sky had broken clouds. I knew it would be another frosty morning on the driving loop and I was hoping for some light with drama.  I raced the frost formation up I-5 and got onto the dirt roads of Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge coincident with civil twilight. T’was cold and there was fog that promised to lift.  Off I went.

As the sky brightened up I began to see contrast form among the trees and brush. The birds were making their morning noises and I’d occasionally see some fly by. I wanted to shoot backlit scenes so I didn’t dawdle too much until I got past the hunter gate and headed into the refuge’s heart.

A bank of low clouds/fog hung just below the ridgeline to the east.  I started to see some color and very interesting contrast evolve as I saw the first group of swans and geese.

I decided to sit here and wait for light. The pond was skimmed with ice and the fog was drifting around in good form.  Bring it on.  I hunkered in and got comfortable as I enjoyed the changing light and listened and watched the birds.  When the sun finally started playing on the trees and birds it got real interesting… as I hoped it would.

The swans grew bright and the sky morphed.  The trees and shrubs glowed.  The birds called.  I just sat and smiled as I shot frame after frame.  I was trying to remember to be selective and to wait for the light and birds and trees to line up.  I’d give myself a B- for that effort.  I still get trigger happy when the light is nice.

Even the teasel takes on a particular beauty when it is frosted over.  If I could have had a sparrow or blackbird land on one of these I while shooting I think I’d of called it a day since it couldn’t have gotten much better.  I envy Dennis Davenport‘s shots of small birds against a nice, diffuse background. Something to aim for in the coming year I guess.  I moved on to get the sun at my back and see if there were any birds enjoying some direct light.

You can almost always count on a heron to be in evidence.  This one was standing on top of the dike and basking in the warmth of the early sunlight. There’s frost on its back and all around it.  I’m glad I was in a car with a heater and not standing there like this guy.

Near the end of my second loop I saw this mature bald eagle hopping around and picking up what looked to be mats of grass.  The bird was a LONG way off and I knew that the background would compete with the bird if I got lucky to get a halfway decently sharp shot.  I followed the bird around with the lens and waited for it to take off… which it did.  Someday I’ll get in close to one of these beautiful birds when the light is right and all the stars line up.  Some day.

I decided to make one more loop but knew that it would probably be with more company as the parking area at the entrance was getting full.  I could see several other cars on the road and I figured that I’d just drive the loop to see if anything really nice popped out.  Mentally, I was already heading for home.  That changed pretty quickly as I drove through the wooded area.  I saw a couple of immature bald eagles playing around and then land to the west of me.  While not really close to the road, one of the birds landed on a snag that sat in the sun.  The other landed in a shaded area.  I positioned the car and parked for some shots of the bird in the sun.  It sat there nicely long enough for me to get the camera balanced and the exposure dialed in.  Then it took off.  I have a series of several shots of the birds departure but this shot just thrilled me when I saw it on the LCD and again when I got to the computer.  Tack sharp.  Clean light.  Dynamic.  What a gift this bird and the refuge gave me for New Years.  It’s gonna be a grand night!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  May your coming year be filled with magical light and clean backgrounds no matter what you are shooting.

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2 thoughts on “The Gift

  1. A wonderful report of your day at the refuge Bruce! I really like your descriptive way of writing about what you are sensing. Beautiful photos, too!

    That last one of the eagle taking off is just superb! Perfect execution. Talons down, wings up and awesome light and background–it doesn’t get much better than this! I’ve taken many photos of birds on that particular snag and always check it when I go around the corner past post #9. I’ve never gotten a shot like this though at this location–mine are limited to perched hawks and eagles. And as you say, it is quite a ways away but since you got him/her with wings extended, the bird takes up many more pixels in your frame (as opposed to what a perched bird would take), helping to make this a spectacular flight image.

    Congratulations on this stunning image — wish it were mine! I really enjoyed your blog entry!
    Dennis

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