I arrived early with the fog, which soon lifted to reveal a day both cloudy and surprisingly warm. I spent the first couple of hours at Horse Lake, a small pond at the start of the auto tour, delighted with the opportunity to finally photograph the beautiful American wigeon. Wigeon are common at Ridgefield during the winter but I had always struggled to photograph them.
I made this note in my journal later in the day:
“Took me almost five hours to make my first loop of the auto tour. Sadly I don’t think that’s even close to being a record for me.”
It was a good day.
This American wigeon drake shows off his dabbling technique, tipping forward with his head underwater, eating plant life from the floor of the lake, while kicking with his webbed feet to hold his position.
Double-crested cormorants aren’t exactly rare at Ridgefield but they aren’t exactly common either. What is rare is to get such a nice close view, this one had just surfaced from fishing the waters of Bower Slough. The eyes of the cormorant are one of my favorites in all the bird kingdom.
The year got off to a cold start and when I arrived at Ridgefield early in the morning on January 2nd, I was pleased to see that some of the waters of the refuge had frozen over. I had several opportunities during the day to take pictures that included the ice and had to work quickly for most of the them. It started with sunrise over the frozen Horse and Long Lakes, and ended late in the day with a raccoon testing the melting ice.
In the middle of the morning I was delighted to find these two otters that had just surfaced through a hole in the ice covering Bower Slough. I hoped to get pictures of them frolicking on the ice, it had started to melt as you can see by the thin layer of water in the back, but it was still plenty strong for them to run on. But I was only able to get this picture, the otter in the back is looking off to its left and soon what got its attention sent them both shrieking across the ice. I looked behind me to see what could possibly have spooked them with such alarm, a behavior I’ve not seen before, and got my answer as a large SUV came barreling past.
I met this little long-toed salamander on the path to the observation blind at Ridgefield on an unusually cool spring morning. At first I thought it might just be cold and took my gloves off to warm it in my hands, but as I bent down I realized it was dead. Yet as I gently lifted it off the ground there was a slight twitch in its tail. Its arms and legs were desiccated, its eyes closed, and it looked to me like its body was shutting down. I’ve only ever seen salamanders at Ridgefield in the last moments of their lives, usually getting plucked from a hiding spot by hungry herons and bitterns, but this is the first time I’ve seen one up close.
I held it for a little while, hoping against hope, but when I finally set it down beside the path one last shiver trembled through its body and it never moved again. I’ve loved salamanders since I was a little boy so I was a little teary-eyed walking back to the car, consoling myself that I gave it all we can really hope for at the end, a warm hand to hold as we die.