[Tweeters] Ridgefield NWR - Sandhill Crane magic

Marcus Roening Marcus.D.Roening at gsk.com
Sun Feb 17 16:03:51 PST 2013

Hi Tweets,

A magical visit Saturday afternoon to Ridgefield NWR in Clark County, reminded me again how many special birding places we have in Washington. Normally I wouldn't be lingering until sunset and risking the automatic gate closure at the River S Unit at 6 pm, but we were on a leisurely return home from Portland. With the sun was breaking out below the marine layer of clouds, that had been spitting on us all morning, we took a very leisurely drive around the 4.2 mile auto loop and we were rewarded at every stop.

Around marker 4 was a strip of plowed mud that was hosting Green-winged Teal and a small flock of Killdeer. While looking at the Killdeer, a Wilson's Snipe appeared to materialize into view - how do they do that? Since Snipe tend to hang out together in the winter we scanned much more closely and 6 more popped out in the same field of view. Now, we were really excited to see how many we could find and ended up with 17! It took 2 of us 20 minutes to find that many and I suspect we still missed some.

As we passed Marker 5 and later 6, we heard the loud and rather distinctive chink of the BLACK PHOEBE. Since you can't leave your car, it took a bit of gymnastics, but we finally were able to get a visual of the Phoebe flycatching over the canal.

At the blind we pulled out a few woodland birds including: Brown Creeper, White-breasted Nuthatch and Yellow-rumped Warblers. As we scanned over the main pond, we enjoyed seeing over a 100 Trumpeter Swans (final count being 184), with a couple of Trumpeter Swans mixed in. We could also hear Sandhill Cranes, but for the life of us, we could not find them visually although we knew they were close. Then Heather found a big white lump about 20 yards out from the blind and we were wondering if we were looking at a dead swan. Then we saw some movement and small brown rounded head poke up. It certainly wasn't anybody in the weasel family and I couldn't quite believe that a Nutria would be eating a dead Swan. With that, the white shape moved and a pink ear popped up! It was an albino Nutria nursing a young brown Nutria - a nice biology puzzle solved.

As we worked our way around the west side of the loop, the sun was behind us although setting rapidly and providing that perfect light. And that was when the real magic started. The SANDHILL CRANES were coming from there feeding grounds to either roost across the river at Sauvie Island or within the Refuge. Their calls are utterly primeval and haunting and we couldn't get enough of them flying over. We ended up seeing 220 cranes fly over, between 5:30-550pm. And mixed in were the 100s of Swans coming in for the evening, as well. It was truly magical.

Good birding,

Marcus Roening
Tacoma WA
marcus.d.roening at GSK.com

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