Field trip with a friend

I enjoy taking people to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge for their first experience.  My friend Carol agreed to go with me today and I jumped at the chance since the weather forecast was for sunny and warm… these days are limited.  We headed out shortly after 11:00, stopped to get a sandwich at the local Subway and headed into the refuge.

I have to admit that I was more than a bit disappointed when we made it to the east side of Rest Lake before we saw anything of real interest.  Maybe it was the time of day and sun.  As we cruised toward “three trees” I saw an American Bittern working the edge of the slough.  Cool.  For me this was the first bittern sighting of the season.  We pulled over and watched the bird work the edge.  It was really scoring food but we could not tell if the food was small fish, insects or something else.  Since most of the action was off the grass I was suspecting “insect”.  I was adjusting my camera support when the bird struck the mother load.  It was quick and both Carol and I were surprised pleased to see that I actually got a couple of sharp shots of the bittern skewering a frog.  Before we could say OMG the bird had swallowed the frog.. gulp.

I really wish that the background on the photo was better and that the frog was more evident.  But you know what…. part of the beauty of the bittern is its camouflage.  The photo will never be a prize winner but it is the first shot I have of a bird taking a trophy meal.

As we watched the bittern for a few more minutes it happened.  I heard geese taking off as a mass on our right.  The bittern looked up and headed into the grass.  The swans were all paying attention.  EAGLE!  I yelled at Carol that there had to be an eagle in the sky.  We started looking and saw a mature bald eagle pass from right to left as it headed to the west side of the lake.  It circled and came back toward us.  Darned if it didn’t swoop down and I yelled at Carol that it took something.  I was doing my best to get the camera on point and in focus as the eagle lifted off.  I’ve been attaching a 1.4x extender to the 200-400 and it really slows down the lens’ responsiveness.  Focus hunting.. damn, I hate it.  The eagle rose up and I saw that it had a duck in its talons.  Carol screams “a duck?”  Yup.  We both watched the eagle gain elevation and pass in front of us again.  I got lucky with the focus and held on for about 5 semi-sharp shots.  Wow.. what a show.

We both agreed that the day had turned out pretty well at that point.  I know that I’ll not soon forget the day with a friend when we got to witness some rare events and have photos to prove it.  Thanks for going along Carol.  I hope that we can see something as dynamic the next time.


3 thoughts on “Field trip with a friend

  1. Two shots with prey from one outing, and on a pretty autumn day. WOW! The extenders are definitely a blessing a curse. I think I 600mm f/4 would be a option, no? I can’t wait to get out to RNWR again with you Bruce, I’m really jealous!

  2. What a super day you had at the refuge, Bruce! Both birds are excellent hunters and it’s always exciting to see and photograph them in action. I’ve been lucky enough to see and photograph bitterns catching prey but I have yet to shoot an eagle in the act. Both shots are wonderful! Nice work!

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