Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Day in the Field

The sun reconfirmed it's existence yesterday. After all that snowfall last week it finally feels like spring, and to celebrate I spent the whole day out at the Vancouver Lake lowlands and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (my two favorite birding spots), with the intention of getting some photos of waterfowl in breeding plumage, and some inspiration for new artwork. Of course, I brought my new Leica Ultravid 8x42's along for their first field test.

My day started at 5:00 a.m. (an unusually early hour for me), and even though I had thrown all my gear in the truck the night before, the waking-up process took all the 15 minutes I had set aside for breakfast... The stars were shining clearly in the night sky, indicating that it would be a relatively cloudless day. When I pulled up in an abandoned dead end on a solitary road amidst the flooded cornfields and woodlands of the Vancouver Lake lowlands, however, I found that it was determined to be foggy (which usually burns off as the sun rises), and not thinking much of it I retrieved my gear (blind, camera, tripod, tons of other "essentials"), got into my waders and boots and started waddling out to the marsh.

Most of the ducks were feeding in the grassy shallows, so I began my stealthy approach in that direction. You've got to hand it to them, wild ducks are pretty smart. One duck noticed a clumsy camouflage blob creeping toward the water's edge and started thinking, "Something just ain't right." All the other ducks agreed, unfortunately, and off they went to greener pastures. So there I am, laying on my stomach in the mud, peering through an opening in my burlap camo throw-blind, enveloped in fog, and having a shady reputation with all the ducks. (And you're probably thinking, "He's crazy! All that for some pictures of ducks?" As a matter of fact, yeah ;)

Several pairs of Green-winged Teal eventually scooted back in range, but the fog rendered photography nearly impossible. This one is a hen.

One thing that was enjoyable was hearing a buzzy whir of wings as flocks of geese flew just 10 feet over my head (though I couldn't really see them, being covered in burlap and all). Eventually I got sense enough to set up my "real" blind, which, though obvious and out-of-place, afforded room to move at least. A Greater Yellowlegs didn't seem to mind my presence, and came within a few feet of the blind until I scared it off with the camera flash--that's a really great bird, especially since it's the first time I've seen one. I now have (drum roll please)... 4 shorebirds on my lifelist! Maybe I should go up to Gray's Harbor because that number is pretty pathetic.

Greater Yellowlegs

You'll notice I don't look overjoyed... :)

The fog didn't lift very much, so I packed out of there and returned in more civilized attire to sketch some birds and make a list of observed species. After this, I moved on to Vancouver Lake Park where I found a pair of nesting Ospreys and grabbed this shot as one of them hovered directly overhead.


Several Red-tailed Hawks and a Bald Eagle provided sketching subjects--I found it interesting to compare the differences in wing structure between them (something many of you would probably not find very fascinating :) The lake itself was quiet, so I went back to the truck and drove to the wetlands on the other side.

Great Blue Heron. I like the layering in these shots.

Here I was almost mobbed by 5 dogs that got ahead of their master... I once again located a rare Northern Shrike (about the size of a Jay, but omnivorous, meaning it will eat rodents and lizards...etc. as well as insects) and this time got some good sketches.

Next I visited Ridgefield NWR where they have an auto-tour that takes you about 4 miles through the wetlands of the Columbia River floodplains. Sketching from the comfort of a car is great. :) This time I managed to get some pretty good photos of the waterfowl--Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, Ringneck, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Canada Goose and more.

Canada Goose

Ringneck Duck (drake)

Northern Shoveler (drake)

Bufflehead (drake)

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Great Blue Heron

All in all, it was a fun day, and I came away bursting with painting ideas and some very usable reference photos.

1 comment:

Stephen B said...

The first few photos look like misery! One of those shots looked like a painting. Very nice pictures.