I was tired after a long week. The gates of the refuge wouldn't open until well after sunrise, the best light long gone. It was going to be sunny, which brings out the crowds on the weekends. But I got up anyway.
As I crossed the bridge the Columbia was hidden in fog and I hoped its embrace carried north. Driving onto the auto tour, I soon heard what I longed to hear, an old friend saying hello, a yellow-headed blackbird calling from deep in the marsh. But it stayed there unseen, the redwings distant too. I was going to sit and wait but my favorite spot was occupied. I continued round.
A snipe called out from the edge of the marsh. A car was there too. I continued round, past the observation blind, and stopped. Another song, another old friend, a little savannah sparrow far off on an upstart blackberry vine. I took some environmental portraits until it continued on its rounds and I on mine.
The morning was quiet and the animals distant. As I rounded the last meadow, a little brown bird sat atop a refuge sign. A lovely little savannah. We reunited on my next trip around the loop. Suddenly it all came together, the sun was breaking through, perfectly placed behind me, it's light softened by the fleeing fog. Blue skies before me. And my little joy began to sing.
When my time comes and I can no longer be found, look for me in the quiet places where the savannahs sing. I'll be there, listening.
Too Much of a Good Thing
When I came across this little sparrow singing next to the auto tour on a foggy spring morning, I knew I had a good chance at close-ups. I attached the tele-converter to the big lens to get as much magnification as I could, set the beanbag on the window, and brought the camera to my eye. All I saw was a big blurry blob in the viewfinder.
I was within the minimum focusing distance of the camera, so I quickly added an extension tube and my beautiful little friend came into sharp focus. Fortunately it was comfortable with my presence so despite my early mistakes I got the pictures I was looking for. The first batch of photos were taken with fog in the background so I let the background go white, later the fog cleared a bit and I had some soft blue skies as a backdrop.
In the first picture, the sparrow's bulked up look comes from it fluffing out its feathers. In the others it is in various stages of the classical head-thrown-back pose that comes with the song.
I didn't chance it and spent the morning by myself. But I wasn't alone, for the meadows at Ridgefield were alive with the songs of savannah sparrows. Every little bit you'd see one of these little brown birds singing its heart out. I had the refuge to myself for the first hour after sunrise, so I parked the car and let the songs wash over me.
It's a good thing I wanted to sit for a while and listen to the sparrows sing praise, for it took me a while to get the picture I wanted. The plant the sparrow is perched on was the tallest in the meadow, so I knew one of the sparrows would be using it. I didn't have to wait long for one to show up and serenade me, but it often had its back to me — because of course it wasn't singing to me, but to the other sparrows in the meadow.
The plant was a ways off the road and with a little bird like a sparrow, I needed to use a 2X teleconverer with a 500mm lens. I thought I'd like the vertical format best given the long slender stalks but its the horizontal shot I like best.
Frosty the SparrowWinters in Oregon's Willamette Valley are pretty mild, the near constant cloud cover traps heat near the earth and at night temperatures rarely dip below freezing. Of course even we get the occasional frost (not to mention the occasional ice or snow storm). This frosty sparrow spent a cold morning near a pond at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge.