I was rewarded several times for staying at Ridgefield on Mother's Day and persevering through the partly sunny skies. One reward was this male yellow-headed blackbird, one of the birds I'm most anxious to see when they arrive in the spring. They usually don't come in this close to the road, they are larger than the red-winged blackbirds and seem to get the choice nesting locations in the interior of the marsh that are both further from human disturbance and over deeper water.
This was my only chance at a yellow-head this close all spring, and to my surprise it was not in South Quigley Lake or Long Lake but Rest Lake. I don't usually see them at this part of the refuge, and he only stuck around for a couple of weeks, but I was on the lookout for him every time I went by. Finally I got my chance in nice soft light, not for long, but long enough. I was thankful for the overcast light as otherwise it is difficult to preserve details in both his black and yellow feathers. If you look in his eye in the picture below you can see the sun starting to peek out from the clouds, I had to work quickly since neither the bird nor the light were going to stay for long.
One of my favorite signs of spring is the arrival of yellow-headed blackbirds. At Ridgefield, South Quigley Lake is the best spot to watch them, as the males may hang out at the edge of the lake next to the auto tour, providing a front row view as they sing (if you can call it that) and display for the females. Many times they stay in the interior of the marsh or flush if you drive closer, but sometimes you get lucky and find a tolerant bird.
On this morning I spent six hours watching blackbirds. While I like to spend a lot of time watching my wildlife subjects, that’s a little excessive even for me. It’s also a bit of an exaggeration, as I spent part of my morning at Ridgefield hiking the Kiwa Trail or driving the auto tour. But most of those six hours were indeed spent watching the yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds as they sang and fought and displayed. The funny thing was, on the drive to the refuge I was feeling restless and didn’t think I’d spent much time in one spot.
The yellowheads weren’t staying still for long, either staking out their territory, chasing off rivals, or getting harassed by a red-winged female who flew up from her well-hidden nest and gave grief to all intruders. This made photographing them a challenge, as I also had to find a clear view through the cattails and get a background that I liked, and often had other photographers parked behind me.
While I did take pictures of other birds that day, it was the yellowheads that drew me out of bed before dawn, so I focused my efforts on them. I wanted one with the male facing towards me, as they often sing with their backs to the road as they try to impress the other blackbirds. Most of the time I got their backs or their sides, but sometimes I got lucky as with these fine fellows who really gave it their all, heads thrown back to really belt out their song. In one picture you can see a little bit of the bird’s breath drifting off to the left.
|Female yellow-heads are harder to see, as they often stay down low in the reeds. It is the males who often betray their presence by singing nearby and dropping down into the reeds at the same spot over and over. Sometimes the females will pop up higher to check out their suitors or to preen and clean their feathers.|