This youngster was a part of the herd of this bull. I was lying on the wet and cold ground alternately photographing the two, the bull in his prime and the calf with his future before him. Part of the fun in photographing young animals lies in the cuteness of the little creatures, but I also like the mystery of where their life is headed. This one has survived it’s first summer and now will face its first winter.
If it survives into adulthood, it may not live quite as long as elk in other parts of the park. A ranger had stopped by and mentioned that he had participated in studies of wolf kills in the area, and one finding was that because of the high fluoride content of the water in this drainage, the bones of the adult elk were more brittle than normal. A broken leg is a death sentence in the wild.
I took these pictures literally at the end of my trip to Wyoming in the fall of 2006 — it was time to pack up the cameras and start the trip home to Oregon right after these pictures were taken. A beautiful end to a beautiful trip.
There’s a lot I like about this picture. The warm colors come from the last rays of light at day’s end, contrasting the cold imparted by the frost during a cold snap.
There’s the cuteness factor, both from the inherent cuteness of the baby nutria, plus the comedic positioning where the side-by-side youngsters show the front of one and the rear of the other, looking almost like a single elongated nutria.
There’s also natural history here. First, nutria are herbivores and eat plants like the little one on the left, his two front paws feeding the stalk into his mouth much like a muskrat would do. Second, you can see why nutria have become so dominant in the milder climates. An adult pair has given birth recently in the middle of winter here in the Northwest, and the little ones are surviving quite well even during the coldest weather we see here in the valley.
Whenever I make notes about these beautiful little ducks in my journal, the first name that comes to mind is ring-billed duck. The male’s bill pattern is striking, a thick white ring near the black tip at the front and a thin white ring at the base. Those rings jump out at you in the field and are one easy way to distinguish ring-bills from scaup.
Problem is, the ducks are named ring-necks and not ring-bills.
Are they misnamed? Not technically, no, as they do have a reddish ring between the purplish neck and black chest. It’s just very hard to see, you need the right light and the right luck to see it. A hint of the neck ring is visible at the front of this ring-bill.
Ring-neck. Right, right. Ring-neck.
Continuing with pictures from last weekend’s trip to Ridgefield, this is a hooded merganser I watched for a while in a quiet channel on the auto tour. Male hooded mergansers are almost too beautiful for words. These shy ducks have a crest that can be raised (as seen here), lowered like normal, or even flattened back against their heads when they get ready to dive.
I spent a good bit of time watching hoodies that day, just choosing a spot in the trees where there was enough room for other cars to get by, where there was a view through the trees and understory into the water, and where I liked the look of the water. I’d then just wait to see what came swimming through the water. It was while I had been stopped for a while waiting to see if the mergansers would swim by that the two mink came running beside the car.
Fans of Stephen Colbert will know that in 2006 he adopted a bald eagle as a part of the San Francisco Zoo’s bald eagle breeding program. The eponymously named eagle, Stephen Jr., was hatched in April of 2006 and eventually migrated to Canada, but returned to the United States earlier this year and is now hanging out in southwestern Washington.
This eagle at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge may or may not be Stephen Jr., but it is the same age. It takes bald eagles four years to get their distinctive white caps — in their first year, they are nearly all brown like the juvenile shown here. There have been a couple of young eagles that have been hanging out quite visibly at the refuge lately, one a week or so ago had just captured an American coot and devoured it in a tree right above me.
This eagle was perched on a branch of a tall tree, spreading its wings out in the gentle breeze. It almost seemed like it was pretending it was flying, and I wondered how long it would take it to remember that it really could fly. It’s such a majestic pose that I can’t help singing “God Bless America” whenever I look at it.
You can track the movement of Stephen Jr. by visiting The Institute for Wildlife Studies and selecting the date of interest. Stephen Jr.’s official designation is Eagle A-46 and you can find more truthiness about him here. I doubt this is Stephen Jr. given the lack of an identifying wing tag, but perhaps it has fallen off. I didn’t see any bears that day — there never have been bears living at the refuge, but still …