Sunday, November 29, 2009

Birding Washington

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Sarah and I met with two birding friends and crossed the Columbia to visit two wildlife refuges in Washington.

Our first stop was Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which was recently opened to the public.

We took the Gibbons Creek Trail to a slough where we quickly found the best bird of the day.

It was an American Bittern, hunting frogs or other animals in the canary grass. We had seen and heard plenty of bitterns before, but this was the first time we had an unobstructed view of bittern behavior. As the bittern moved slowly and silently through the water, we saw its tail protract past the primary tips of its folded wings, then quickly retract and disappear. We had never seen this strange tail behavior before, perhaps it helps maintain bittern balance.

The bittern's legs were yellowish-green and nicely matched the lower blades of canary grass. The brown streaks on its neck matched the dried upper portions of grass.

We ended the day at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. As usual, we saw plenty of Tundra Swans and Red-tailed Hawks, a pair of Rough-legged Hawks, and a few Bald Eagles. As we approached the end of the auto loop, one of the eagles plucked a bird (a duck or coot) right out of the main pond and carried off to a tree. The view of the predation event was a great way to end an excellent birding trip.

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