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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ridgefield NWR

Rain, rain, and more rain! That's what we've had here in the Portland area for the last week. While the temperatures have been fairly mild (mostly around a warmish 50 degrees), the damp weather has limited the birding excursions a little bit as its nicer to bird from the car than hike too far in the wet. This weekend, the perfect place to go birding was thus Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. It's in southwest Washington about 15 miles north of the Oregon border, and includes a spectacular auto tour route that is one of my all-time favorite places to bird.

Over the course of a couple hours my dad and I spotted a respectable 46 species in the refuge and while driving the surrounding country roads. Six of those species were new for the year list: herring gull, rough-legged hawk, sandhill crane, western meadowlark, northern harrier, and white-crowned sparrow. The rough-legged hawk was probably the coolest of the bunch, being a fairly rare sighting for this birder. Altogether the year list now stands at 69.

Using the car as a blind often results in some great photographic opportunities, and is also a great way to keep the camera dry in the rain! Below are some photographic highlights of the day, starting with this western scrub-jay that met us at the entrance to the refuge:

We saw quite a few bald eagles, including a pair of adults and at least 3-4 different immatures. This sub-adult had caught a bird of some sort and was seen in a tree plucking feathers out and dropping them. If you look closely here it has torn a piece off of its prey (which is clutched in its talons), which it swallowed in one gulp right after this picture was taken:

Golden-crowned sparrows are among the most common winter sparrows we see in Oregon, often seen in large flocks. The adults don't have as bold of a golden crown in the winter as they do during the breeding season, but I believe this is a first-winter bird since the beak is gray rather than bi-colored:

In addition to the bird, we also saw a couple of nutria out in the wetlands. While we didn't spot any beavers, we did see some of their handywork, like the chew on these large trees in a swampy area:

Check out this headless, one-legged great blue heron. Okay, not quite, but it was so hunkered down to try and get out of the rain that's what it looked like:

It couldn't be bothered with much, but everyone once and a while it would take a peek to see what's going on, before hiding its face again beneath its wing:

Northern pintail are another bird that occur in great abundance here this time of year. I often see flocks of hundreds of them, but so far they've always been too far away for photos. I finally got a decent shot of a pair of pintails. The male's chest isn't even fully above water because he was repeatedly dipping forward to dabble:

Another nice find was a group of three western meadowlarks. I was lucky I spotted them as they flew low across the road, because otherwise they can be very difficult to spot among the grasses. Look at how well their back camouflages them:

As soon as they turn around, however, there's no missing them with that bright yellow front and black bib. These guys are the Oregon state bird, though since their numbers have declined significantly they aren't seen nearly as often as they used to be.

We saw pretty much all of the expected waterfowl on the refuge, including 400++ tundra swans. While we saw a small group of cackling geese on the main lake, we found a huge flock of them on a field just outside the refuge as we were leaving:

It was an unexpectedly great day of birding given the weather!


Vera said...

Nice pictures!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

The race is on Monika! And there was me thinking I wasn't a competitive type of person..



Warren Baker said...

Western Meadowlark - What a cracking bird!

I feel for you in the continual rain Monika, its not much better here. :-)