My favorite coyote picture, taken over a year ago in January of 2012.
Coyotes have a complicated and controversial relationship with our modern world, and I’m not sure how this pack will fare now that subdivisions have replaced the meadows on the hills above the refuge. I seen them near the road sometimes as I drive into town before sunrise, but I see them as roadkill too. And there will be conflicts with barbed-wire fences and dogs and cats.
But on this morning, as it hunted for voles with its mate, and as a few snowflakes began to fall, all was peaceful. Only the three of us were around, and since I stayed quiet in my car, they let me watch at my leisure as they worked the the length of the dike.
A peaceful morning for me, if not for the voles.
When I visited Ridgefield a year ago during the winter, I discovered the refuge staff had slightly shortened the auto tour from when I had last visited, removing a bend on the back edge of Schwartz Lake. On the one hand, this meant the loss of some photo opportunities (for example, I once I photographed this young bald eagle drinking from the lake). On the other hand, if the road hadn’t been shortened I wouldn’t have been at the right spot along the meadow to photograph this coyote in the beautiful soft light of a Christmas afternoon.
Of all the creatures I photograph at Ridgefield, I have a lower hit-to-miss ratio with river otters than probably any other. I’ve seen them a number of times but it’s rare I come away with a picture. I usually see them early or late in the day when the low light makes photographing these fast moving mammals more difficult. I intentionally left this picture a bit dark and blue to capture the feel of the early hour of the cloudy winter morning.
The otter disturbed the surface of the calm waters as it swam towards me, pushing a bow wave at the front of its wake, before it dove underwater to hunt. Agile and fast in the water, these predators create a disturbance in the marsh as they swim the circuit around the refuge. Mostly I’ve seen them feed on the fish of the slough, but they’ll take larger prey if the opportunity presents.
Most of a bighorn sheep is rather majestic, but when it comes to their tails they come up a little short.
I saw my first muskrat at the Virginia Tech Duck Pond back when I was first getting into photography. Sadly I found it dead not much later, but my fascination with these rodents was born. So I was particularly pleased when we moved to the Northwest to find them here as well. Over the years I’ve seen one in most of the ponds and lakes around the auto tour at Ridgefield, although surprisingly I seem to be the only one who is excited to see these adorable creatures.
While the face of the muskrat is unique compared to the other aquatic rodents at the refuge, its distinctive white claws are also an important clue, visible here on the front paws of this hungry muskrat. While I have seen muskrats many times, they are shy creatures and my glimpses are usually brief. Thankfully though this one let me photograph from close range to my heart’s content as it dined on plants at the edge of Canvasback Lake.
This is why I can’t stop going to Ridgefield.