When I found this bittern hunting the shoreline of the channel beside Rest Lake, the water was unusually still so I couldn’t help but photograph the reflection instead of the bittern itself.
This is one of my favorite bittern pictures as it shows the way I often wind down a day at Ridgefield, watching bitterns near the end of the auto tour before I have to leave to beat the closing of the automated gate. This picture was taken almost a year to the day after the pictures in the previous post, the setting sun leaving the bittern to hunt in shadow.
These last moments always make me wonder — what do bitterns do in the dark?
After a typically dry summer and an atypically dry (and record-setting) start to the fall, the rain has at long last returned to Portland. I love photographing in the rain, especially at Ridgefield’s auto tour where I can stay warm and dry inside the car. I especially love photographing an animal with water beading on its head. The trick is to let the water build up and then catch them with their head angled in the right direction before they shake the water off.
The picture above of a bittern in the rain and snow is from New Year’s Eve a few years ago, it had snowed recently but was raining at the time. The pictures below are from the same day but taken an hour earlier — and of a different bittern believe it or not — there were two hanging out at South Quigley Lake.
Some days you get lucky.
For the first of the two pictures below, I stopped down a bit to get more of the bird’s head in focus, but at the consequence of the rain being so blurred that you can barely see it. The bottom picture I shot wide open and traded off some detail in the bittern for not only a more blurred background but also much more visible rain courtesy of the faster shutter speed.
The recent rain has made me a little more eager to swap out our Civic for an all-wheel drive Subaru. The Crosstrek I’ve been looking at unfortunately has leather seats, not sure how they will hold up for rain duty at Ridgefield, either from getting wet while I photograph, or getting too cold when I’ve been sitting for a while on a winter’s day with the car (and seat warmers) shut off. For these pictures, I spent two and a half hours with the bitterns, driver’s window down, only starting the car when I needed to move between them. On rainy days I keep a bevy of towels spread over the door and interior of the car, but it’s not a perfect system, particularly when the wind blows or the towels get soaked.
There are always tradeoffs.
Our Subaru Outback is reflected in most of the wildlife pictures I take, in this case in the eye of an American bittern along Ridgefield’s auto tour. Its appearance is usually not so literal, however, but rather that it’s the car I take when I go hiking near or far, and is the car I’m usually sitting in at Ridgefield.
But perhaps no picture reflects my love for our Subaru more than a picture not taken from it. A few years ago it was in the shop for repairs after getting hit by a red light runner, and all the rental car agency had on hand was a low end Kia. Not much to speak of but it got the job done, or so I thought. I headed out to Ridgefield knowing it was going to rain off and on but was caught off guard late in the day by a surprise snowstorm. At the end of the auto tour I snapped a few quick pictures of this young heron hunting in the snow and then headed out for a white-knuckled drive home.
The little Kia did get me home but I almost hugged the mechanic a few days later when the repairs were done and he handed me the keys to the Subaru.
One of the ways I like to tell the story of the animals of Ridgefield is by showing what they eat. One particular challenge with the herons and egrets and bitterns is that, although I’ve photographed them with voles and frogs and snakes and salamanders and even earthworms, I’ve struggled with an extremely common source of food: the tiny little fish that live in the shallows of the lakes and ponds.
The problem is that the little fish are hardly visible at the tip of the long bills of these large birds, especially when viewed at web resolutions, as demonstrated above by a great egret plucking a small fish from Long Lake. A couple of times I’ve been more fortunate, however, such as the bittern below at Bull Lake who not only caught a fish in front of me, but the fish’s red face and blue eyes help it stand out at the tip of the bittern’s bill.
And then there was the great blue heron in the last two pictures, a bird I photographed on several occasions at Bower Slough, where I could not only get a nice close shot, but also set the fish against the reddish background of the duckweed.
A small story, but an important one.