While I’ve photographed everything from little swallows to majestic eagles on the dead snags of Long Lake, I owe them more than those perched pictures. For it was while waiting for birds to fly in and perch on the snags that I better understood how to photograph the other creatures of the lake. After sitting still for minutes and even hours, I learned that some normally shy ducks like these green-winged teal would work the edges of the long lake and occasionally swam in for a close view.
Both of these are males, the one up top is feeding as they often do, by skimming food from the surface of the lake, while the one below is swimming after drinking, drops of water still clinging to his bill. While the green patches on their wings that give them their name are mostly hidden in this pose, you can see a bit of green peeking out from behind the grey feathers towards the back of the ducks. In flight, the green patches are quite obvious, especially compared to the blue patches of the other teal species at the refuge.
On my first visits to Ridgefield I spent little time at Long Lake, a narrow sliver of a lake near the start of the auto tour, as there never seemed to be much going on. Over time though I better understood its rhythms and it is now one of my favorite locations.
One unique aspect of this lake compared to the others are the dead snags near the road, shown here a couple of years ago as the sun was about to rise over the frozen lake. I choose a snag I most want to photograph and park the car precisely to get the background I want, then wait to see if anything flies into view. Many times I wait in vain, or find that I chose the wrong perch to watch, but the successes are worth the failures.
I have a particular favorite near the road for photographing small birds. It is in some ways a microcosm of what I love so much about Ridgefield, for like the refuge itself it isn’t beautiful or grandiose, rather easy to overlook and easy to pass by. But it lets me view my subjects up close without disturbing them, a window into a world I would otherwise never see. I got these closeups of a barn swallow on that snag. A tree swallow and violet-green swallow too. A common yellowthroat, a hungry red-winged blackbird fledgling, and so many more.
So I was crushed to arrive at the refuge this winter and discover it had fallen into the swamp, along with a few other favorites too. I knew this day might come, I had seen others succumb in the past, but this one is a bit hard to take.
A sad goodbye to, and a fond remembrance of, an already dead friend that is now truly gone.
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.
I rarely get to see common goldeneyes so I was thankful for the opportunity to photograph this female at Long Lake. I only saw her that one time so I only had one chance for pictures as the light faded at the end of the day. You just have to hope that your camera gear and your technique is up to the challenge, but I wasn’t on this occasion. Each of these pictures has some major flaws, but they still make for a nice memento of the time I got to watch her catching fish, keeping an eye on the skies for the eagles that were flying about, and in general just looking beautiful.