Friday, March 9, 2012

Saturday March 3, 2012 Ridgefield NWR

Red tailed hawk
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is about 15 miles north of the Oregon border and about a 3 hour drive from where we live. This means rising early to get in some good birding. We made it out about 6:15am, Starbucks stop and arrived at about 9am. It rained a bit on the way down but stopped before we arrived--it was a bit warmer, and not much wind, so the weather was much better than some of our other birding Saturdays. From October through April there are two areas you can visit in the refuge. One is a two mile walk in the Carty Unit and the other is a 4.2 mile auto tour in the "River S Unit". Because of the amount of wildlife in the winter you are required to stay in your car for viewing along the route as the car acts as a bird blind and doesn't disturb the birds as much as walking would. This sounded kind of intriguing so we chose to do the car route first. On the way into the refuge we crossed a river and saw a juvenile double-crested cormorant perched on a small bit of land in the river. This boded well for a good birding day. We checked in at the entry to pay our $3 and took some notes from the board to see what birds had been seen in the past couple of days. I really wanted to see sandhill cranes and they weren't on the current list, but my hopes were high. So we set off on the route. The area is full of small lakes and lowlands with some trees and canals. Right off there were two pond areas on either side of the road lined with cattails. There were tons of American coots and we also saw northern shovelers, a pair of hooded mergansers, a bufflehead, red tailed hawk, a very blue great blue heron and bunches of red winged blackbirds perched on the cattails. A bit further we saw some tundra swans (#52), these are a bit smaller then the trumpeter swans but still just as beautiful. Down the road a bit on a small canal were a pair of gadwalls (#53) and then in the small lake opposite there were some green-winged teals (#54) swimming and feeding with a few other gadwalls and another great blue heron. Down the road a bit was a small forested area. We saw some small birds jumping around in the trees and some flying about but we really we unable to label any expect a song sparrow. We did see some nice red-tailed hawks, and immature bald eagles and one northern flicker in the trees.
Immature bald eagle

In the waters were some more coots and one pied-billed grebe (#55). Off in the distance were some more swans and a few Canadian geese. More water and more coots and a nice ring-necked duck. Further down in some open pond and grass areas we saw tons of cackling geese (#56). Cackling geese can easily get mislabeled for Canadian geese but they are smaller, have a higher pitched honk and a shorter bill. Driving on we saw a couple more tundra swans, more coots, pintails and shovelers. In the air was a northern harrier scouring the fields for lunch along with groups of geese and a small flock of swans. All in all there are thousands of birds in the refuge and we saw a good bit of them. Just before finishing the driving tour is an open field and we saw a well fed coyote hunting and catching some lunch. Only a 4.2 mile drive but it took us almost 3 hours, no sandhill cranes, but very memorable.

Wiley Coyote
We made our way to the Carty Unit of the park to take the "Oaks to Wetlands" 2 mile trail. This area of the refuge is only a bit over a mile north of the "river S-unit" but it is a little higher and is forested with a few lakes scattered here and there. The forest has lots of lovely Garry oak trees which is something we don't see up north. We started off by catching a streak of blue flying into an oak. It turned out to be a western scrub-jay (#57). We ended up seeing a good number of them. If all birds were so brightly colored we'd have a lot easier time spotting them. Just a bit further, in some bushes, we saw some bushtit's (#58) bouncing from branch to branch. After that we walked through the forest and around the lakes but really didn't see much else. Again there were some birds we couldn't recognize and a few ducks and some swans in the distance but that was about it. Quite a let down after seeing so many on the driving tour, but it was dry and not too cold and we did get a nice hike out of it.

It was only about 2:30pm when we got back so we thought we'd try another area a bit further north called La Center Bottoms. We found our way using back roads--it was probably about 10 miles away in the town of La Center. They have nicely done an area by the river that flows through town with a good trail with a couple of viewing blinds. The problem was as soon as we got out of the car we heard gun shots. Good bird viewing and gun shots don't normally go together but we were there so we headed down the trail. We saw a great egret (#59) just when we arrived but when we got close enough to take some photos it flew away. There were some great blue herons but that was about it. The gun shots continued so we turned around after a bit and headed back. I did see a golden-crowned sparrow and some black capped chickadees in the wooded area and while I was watching these a  Anna's hummingbird (#60) flew between Rudy and me and hovered for a moment next to a fir tree and then flew on. That was an unexpected delight. The first hummer of the year for us!

It was about 4pm by then so we headed north for home stopping in Chehalis for a pleasant dinner at the Kit Carson restaurant just off of I-5. We made it home about 7:30pm. We saw hundreds of birds but only added 9 new to the list. Still, it was another good day.

Here's a video with some fun images of the birds we saw.

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