We decided on Smith and Bybee Wetlands, where we were sure to pick up waterfowl, and where the trails around the lakes make for a pleasant stroll. Though the water level was higher than during our previous visit, and there wasn't quite as much activity as we'd hoped, we were greeted by a pair of Varied Thrushes just as soon as we got started. Later, we chanced upon four immature Bald Eagles -- one of whom had nabbed a fish out of the lake, only to be pursued over the treeline by three less enterprising siblings. But for us the highlight of the morning wasn't a bird at all.
Maureen and I had had salamanders on the mind, as the previous weekend we'd attended a field trip to McDonald Forest with high hopes of finding assorted salamanders and newts. We'd braved the rain and cold thinking we might glimpse some new amphibians and were sorry when none had turned up. Today, though, luck was on our side. Maureen turned over a couple of logs, and under the second was the most cooperative Long-toed Salamander one could ask for. We gawked and admired for several minutes, and wrangled passers-by to share in our find. The salamander took it all in stride, finally disappearing into the loose soil only after everyone had had a chance to appreciate him.
In deciding where to go next, Maureen noticed a big green patch on Google Maps: "Oh, but it's in Washington." In our 9 months of living here, through all of our exploring, we've somehow never ventured across the border to our northern neighbor, literally on the other side of the river from Portland. Today we decided that Ridgefield NWR was worth the trip (bonus: every bird's a new state bird!). The refuge consists of a 4.2 mile driving trail through some pretty awesome wetlands. Unlike other driving trails we've been on, people are positively forbidden to leave their cars, except at a single photo blind mid-way through.
|Great Blue Heron|
|Great Egret hanging a most unfortunate frog out to dry|
|In a happier context, you might think the frog was just hitching a ride from his buddy|
At the photo blind pit stop, a young Red-tailed Hawk perched over the parking lot was the star attraction for the half-a-dozen or so other photographers stretching their legs. The hawk was great, but to be honest I was more excited for us to find a much smaller subject, since I was itching to use the macro attachment for my iPhone. We didn't know what we were looking at at the time, but the insects we found were a diurnal type of firefly. Unlike it's beloved cousins, members of this particular group aren't bioluminescent at all, using chemical signaling to communicate instead.
|Firefly, probably Ellychnia hatchi|
|We've been paying more attention to lichens lately (Xanthoria sp.?)|
|And let's not forget the fungi...|
|Gadwall -- the most worried-looking of the ducks|
As we drove along one of the channels checking for waterfowl, Maureen spotted an American Bittern. Sort of. It wasn't the bird that caught her eye at first, but its reflection. The bittern was so perfectly camouflaged that it took her a few moments to find it among the reeds. Even though must have been staring right at it, I don't think I saw it until it started to move. It was a nice surprise encounter to end an impromptu trip to a new state. Certainly Washington state must have a lot more surprises in store for us, provided we remember to cross the border from time to time.
|What did you see first: the bird or the reflection?|