You are asked to stay in your car and drive the 4 mile loop road when you travel through the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge’s River S Unit in the winter months. There are a couple of distinct advantages in doing this – you get to ride comfortably in your car so you stay warm and dry but, more importantly, you are not viewed as a human by the birds and other animals. As a result, you get much closer to the birds than you would if you were walking. This isn’t to say that they don’t see you and become wary – they do. But they get used to cars moving by and don’t feel nearly as threatened as they do when an upright human is walking nearby. Believe me, the Ridgefield requirement to stay in your car is NOT a penalty. It is a benefit even if you have to bend and twist at times to see out a window…a small price to pay to have birds so close.
There is one location along the driving route where you can get out of your car, use the restroom and walk a short distance to a blind overlooking a lake and its associated marsh edges. You walk through a mixed forest of shrubs and overstory trees to get the blind and will frequently see many small songbirds along the way. For me, the photographic reward of looking out of the blind at the lake is far smaller than what I reap on the short walk out and back. It is not uncommon to see a variety of sparrows and nuthatch along with kinglets and chickadees.
I was surprised one drizzly day to see a Red-tailed hawk sitting on a branch about 20 yards away from the trail. It is uncommon to see one of these birds perched so low and so willing to sit as I fiddled with the camera settings to take its photo. It was wet and did not look all that comfortable but stayed still as I juggled my position to change foreground and background characteristics and click a few portraits.
I always think there is a proper balance between “working the scene” and overdoing it. I try to get both vertical and horizontal formats on the camera. I tend to overshoot just to make sure that I have a few sharp images to work with. I know others who shoot more than I do and that’s just fine. I still think I have too many similar images to sort through at home and try to avoid unnecessary clicks. I’m rarely successful at limiting my enthusiastic trigger finger.
The image below is one of 45 that I took of this hawk on that cloudy, cool, slightly wet day. Each file on my computer has a nuanced difference in the pose. I think that I benefit from having to evaluate such similar but distinct images. I’ve learned what type of pose pleases me most. I am also quite aware of how many photos fail due to lack of focus, shadows on the bird’s eye(s), too much stuff competing for your eye or poor exposure. Lots of experience gained through “failure”.