May 20, 2017
It’s been too long since I went out with my camera to capture some photos of the world. If you own a camera but don’t go out to take pictures then you aren’t a photographer, you’re just a guy who owns a camera. The weather took a turn for the better this week so it was time to get out and about. I wanted some company so I asked my buddy Jay – a retired biologist from the Fish and Wildlife Service and an avid bird watcher – if he’d like to join me. He was game. I’m an avid train watcher so the the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary in Washington seemed like a perfect place to scratch both our itches as it features trains and wildlife.
We drove up I5 into Washington to exit 14 and turned west toward the little town of Ridgefield; then took a left on 9th until we got to the south entrance of the refuge. There is a dirt road that goes down a hill and into the refuge. Just before the railroad crossing there is a wide clearing which is perfect for train watching. This line is very active with both BNSF and Union Pacific trains rolling through. There is a control light south of the clearing so you can get an idea of what is coming. Green or blinking yellow lights mean something is coming from the north while red lights may mean a train coming from Vancouver (Washington) to the south. We weren’t disappointed. First up came a northbound grain train
Then we were treated to a parade of southbound Union Pacific trains
We then headed over the one-lane wooden bridge into the sanctuary. I posted my Interagency Senior Pass on the rear view mirror and we headed around the loop. If you are 62 years old or older the Interagency Senior Pass is the deal of all deals. For $10 you receive a lifetime pass to any federal recreation site. That means no entry fee at Yellowstone National Park for example. Of course you need to have it with you. Back in March 2015, while visiting my aunt and uncle in Cottonwood, we got up real early for a hike in Sedona. When we got there we realized we left our pass back at their place. For $10 I didn’t feel bad for going into town to buy another. Now we keep one in our road trip car and Carla has one in her purse.
The refuge is 5,300 acres large and the circular path goes through just a small area. But it’s big enough to see some birds. Jay had his checklist which lists the birds found and how common they are in each season. The best time for activity is early morning or evening; since we were there about noon we didn’t see as much as we did in our visit a back in 2012.
The most prevalent bird was the red-winged blackbird.
There was a big traffic jam at one spot as people were looking at a great horned owl; we got a bit of a look at an oval lump up in the tree but I didn’t get a clear shot. Then about 1/4 of a mile later I saw something in a tree. It turned out to be another great horned owl. My first confirmed sighting of a bird that Jay didn’t see first. Unfortunately the owl was between me and the sun, meaning he (she?) was in shadow. I tried to persuade him (her?) to move to a tree on the other side of the road, to no effect. I grabbed the picture anyway and used Adobe Lightroom to bring him (her?) to the forefront.
The bird sanctuary is in a beautiful location near the Columbia River and it shows its stuff on a beautiful spring day where green vegetation and blue skies with fluffy clouds combine for beautiful scene.
We saw some Canadian Geese with some goslings!
Along the way I got to chatting with a couple about birding; the woman had a large 400mm lens on her Canon camera (my zoom goes out to 240mm). She said that to really get good shots you need a 1,000mm lens because birds are small and normally you can’t get very close. I wish she hadn’t told me that 🙂 Now I have lens envy. But when we saw a great blue heron in out in a field I saw what she meant. My little zoom just couldn’t get the detail. A nice looking bird nonetheless.
As we finished the loop we saw another of the red-winged blackbirds. They were pretty persnickety little creatures. They’d pose just until I got my camera out, then turn away. But you can see how they got their name.
We had a nice day even though we didn’t see a lot of birds. Going through his checklist, Jay counted 12 bird species along with a couple of nutria (swimming rats in my opionion). Pretty small compared to that 2012 outing; but you don’t have to see a lot of birds to have an enjoyable time. It was time for lunch so we headed into Ridgefield for a bite and a sandwich shop before heading home. A fun day.