Steve Howes and I had been driving the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge all morning and had not come across anything that was terribly unusual. The map below shows the general area that we covered during our day. The little number flags are locations where we stopped for photos. The number in each flag shows the number of photos that I took at each location. It was a fairly slow photo day.
It was lunch time when started up a road leading to the top of a bluff west of Othello, Washington. As we climbed we could hear the song of the Western Meadowlark. I’ve been trying to get a good image of a meadowlark for years. They, as a species, have a couple of characteristics that test my patience as a photographer. First, their call carries farther than almost any other bird I know. The Sandhill Crane is another. These birds can sound like they are right next to you or very near. When you finally spot them they are almost always much farther away than you’d think. Second, attempts to get closer are often nonproductive and I’ve adopted a thought that the Western Meadowlark knows the focal length of my lens and will stay at least 3 times the distance needed for a good photo. I have quite a few images in my library that show a yellow-breasted bird sitting on a wire or fence post in the distance. It’s a bird that I’ve got on my list to always watch for limited opportunity to photograph at a reasonable distance. Some day, maybe.
We drove to the top of the bluff and stepped out to the winds of eastern Washington. We heard meadowlark calls from several directions. I set off on foot to see if I could find a bird that sounded like it was just over a small rise. I try to walk slowly, not look directly at the bird and to zigzag my approach with frequent stops. I’ll usually pause to take an insurance shot of the bird and then try to get closer. As I reached what I figured was the limit of my proximity to the bird I was pleased to see it still singing away and, apparently, at ease. I raised the camera to my eye and watched the bird fly away through the viewfinder. Drat. The dance had begun – the bird lead and I followed I followed along and approached the bird a second time. This time I was more cautious and took several shots along the way. The bird held for about 20 seconds and I got a few shots. The image below is not a prize winner by any means but it represents the closest I’ve ever gotten to a meadowlark on foot or in a vehicle. This image is still a 50% crop. Hey, I’ll take it.
Oh, and here’s an interesting bit of info…as I type I can hear the call of a Western Meadowlark somewhere on the flanks of Castle Rock – teasing me from about a half mile away. Drat.