Yesterday I spent 5 hours at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Things have been pretty hectic around our house as we travel, prepare to travel and had new flooring put in over the space of 3 weeks. All it took to convince me to head to my favorite local refuge was a series of posts by friends about a White-faced Ibis being seen. White-faced Ibis are not rare birds and I’ve seen them a few times before when at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah. But they are not common at Ridgefield. This may be the first sighting of the species at this refuge. Climate change? Bird confusion? A bird with a sense of adventure? Who knows? But the fact is that an individual bird showed up a couple of weeks agon and is entertaining locals on a daily basis.
So I created a “mental health day” and set out for Ridgefield before sunrise and was sipping hot coffee by the first marsh pond as the sun came up. As I registered my visit at the entrance I heard geese, cranes and Red-winged Blackbirds singing. It’s been some time since these sounds teased me with sighting prospects. As the sun lit the marsh I saw dozens of Red-winged Blackbirds perched on the cattails. A very good sign after a bird drought all summer. I know that shooting into a rising sun creates silhouettes but I use these birds to “warm up” my shooting and to dial in the camera. Yes, it felt good to make a few clicks and see a bird nicely perched in a frame full of noise due to underexposure. What ever.
I knew that the Ibis had been seen about post #11 or #12 on the 4 mile loop so I headed out slowly. I saw a lot of sparrows hopping on the road and flying into the low brush as I approached. Another good sign. I stopped to put the binos on a couple of birds and heard 3 owls hooting… 2 to my left and one to my right. I scanned the trees to the left and saw a nice Great Horned Owl sitting there looking at me. Too dark for photography but a great image in my brain. I did not see the other two but enjoyed their calls as I finished cup #1.
Shortly up the way I saw a group of birds on a mudflat and heard a Killdeer calling. The binos revealed several Killdeer, a few Greater Yellowlegs and a group of about 10 Wilson’s Snipe. The day was already feeling rich and the sun was hardly up. Clouds kept the light dim but the forecast was for clearing so I moved on toward post #11. As I approached the small, shallow lake that runs alongside the road by post #11 I saw the Ibis in the center of the water, head jack-hammering away. I moved up slowly. The bird did not care. I sat and watched as the bird foraged and moved around in the pond. A couple of other cars came by, stopped briefly and moved on. I waited for the light to come up. It finally did and shot numerous frames as the bird moved around. I kept repositioning my car so the light was in my favor and felt needlessly frustrated by the incessant up and down movement of the bird’s head as it walked around. I tried to learn its pattern and anticipate a moment when its head was up and the sun was properly on its face and eyes. One shot out of 10…. maybe. Still, a lot of fun to be sitting in a beautiful place, fresh coffee nearby and a lot of birds to see and photograph.
The Ibis finally moved into a position that was partially obscured by roadside grasses and began preening. I hastily moved my car a few feet and got a better view. This was the only 2 minutes that the birds head was not jack-hammering. It preened and stretched as it stayed stationary. I did my best to time the shots for interesting moments of behavior and decent light. Here are two of my favorites. Please click on the images to see a larger view.
One friend asked if there isn’t a named yoga pose for the second image. My in-house yogi confirms that there isn’t but it could become “ibis-asana”.
I moved on to the section of road that has the sun at my back as I drive. I have had good luck with sparrow photos along this stretch and saw birds in the blackberries ahead of me. I pulled into a space where I got coverage with the camera and waited. I did not have to wait long for this Savannah Sparrow to land and pose nicely. This is an “alert” pose as it responded to other birds making a lot of alarm noises nearby. But it stayed on the branch and let me shoot for about 5 minutes. How may photos of a Savannah Sparrow does one really need?
I’ve been looking forward to trying to get a bird-in-flight shot with the little Fuji X-T1 camera and saw a flock of geese in a field ahead of me. Large groups of geese were coming in and landing and I thought it would be good to start easy and just see if I could stop some brids flying in. I set up the camera, focused on the birds on the ground and waited for the next group to come in. Coffee cup #2. Soon the birds came and the camera proved it can be done even if the lag and viewing through the electronic viewfinder is still very foreign and frustrating for me.
I played with different groups as they came in to feed and was pleasantly surprised when I found a small group of Greater White-fronted Geese in focus and flying by. This photo is a step up in difficulty since it required panning with the birds while shooting. Panning is a common and very successful technique but I find it VERY challenging with the electronic viewfinder and shooting in burst mode. So, I’m happy with this photo even if the birds are rather distant and, therefore, relatively easy to keep in focus. Shooting birds in flight that are closer may come later and may prove to me that the Nikon is a much better tool for the job. I don’t ever expect the Fuji to take the Nikon’s place but I want to fully understand my limitatons with the little camera so I don’t waste time and energy when it is the only camera along.
As I was following one group of geese and shooting away I heard a group of cranes calling. I found them in the sky and began panning with their flight. Bingo. Another shot that proves it CAN be done.
I noticed that small groups of geese were lifting off and flying south. I thought it would be nice if an eagle came by to inspire the whole flock into flight. I didn’t see the eagle but something caused about a thrid of the birds to fly. That was fun.
As I was following along with a few of the last geese lifting off I heard another crane. I lowered the camera to find the bird and saw it coming right toward me. Now, a Sandhill Crane is a big bird and the odds were in my favor that I’d be able to catch focus of the bird against the sky due to the contrast between bird and sky. By the time I knew it was in focus it was on me. Click. The second frame in the burst made my day. I left Ridgefield with a smile knowing that the games are just beginning and that I will be there many times in the coming months. Bring ’em on…