Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge


Ridgefield’s claim to fame, as near as I can tell, is the Sandhill Cranes that head through on the way to their winter grounds. They come through in November, and we tried to go then, but the weekend that Jon had off it was pouring down rain west of the Cascades, and pouring down snow in the Cascades. Coincidentally, this was pretty much the only snow that the mountains received all winter, but that’s a bit off topic…

So, convinced that it would be a waste of time and money to go see Sandhill Cranes, who would likely be hiding somewhere else, and even if they were out we wouldn’t be able to see them in the deluge, we postponed our trip to our next weekend off together. If you follow this blog, you know that Jon and I typically only get 3 days off together per month, so our next weekend off together was in December.

The weather was very rainy, but certainly no worse than a typical December day in the Pacific Northwest.  I wish I could have gotten better pictures, but it was a pretty dark day, so I did what I could.  As we expected, the Sandhill Cranes were already gone, having moved further south, but we did see lots of other cool birds.

A Great Blue Heron checking us out.

A Great Blue Heron checking us out.

A Great Blue Heron looking for its next meal.

A Great Blue Heron looking for its next meal.

Ironically, Ridgefield wasn’t created to protect the Sandhill Cranes, but rather the Dusky Geese, whose migratory landing spots in Alaska were destroyed by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 1964. Which just goes to show that there really is a big connection when you think about the living world.

A Hooded Merganser at Ridgefield

A Hooded Merganser at Ridgefield

Dusky Geese look like shorter, smaller and slightly fatter Canada Geese to me, with a bit more blurred facial markings, and darker brown chests (that’s called a breast in the bird world). They are actually considered a subspecies of Canada Geese, along with several other subspecies, which are often so similar that even the experts have trouble telling them apart. Apparently, it’s a DNA thing. Which now leads me to wonder if all the Canada Geese I’ve been seeing my whole life are Canada Geese at all. But, if the experts can’t tell them apart, then they can’t really expect me to either.

Dusky Geese - They look a lot like Canada Geese to me.

Dusky Geese – They look a lot like Canada Geese to me.

And we saw nutria! If you don’t know what a nutria is, just imagine a giant rat crossed with a beaver. Or look at the picture below. The good thing about nutria is that a casual observer can tell them apart from rats and from beavers too. Nutria are native to South America, but of course, some moron 100 years ago decided it would be great to bring them here as pets, and then other morons decided it would be a good idea to release them into the wild when they turned out to not be such great pets, and the nutria decided that the climate of northern Oregon and Southern Washington is wonderful and set about eating their way through the marshes here. That’s the short version of what probably is a much longer story.

The first Nutria we saw at the refuge.

The first Nutria we saw at the refuge.

Nutria are actually pretty destructive, but here they are. We saw two that day, waist deep in the marsh, happily chewing vegetation in the rain without a care in the world. Of course, they might have been wondering if those geese over there were Canada Geese or Dusky Geese…

This is the second Nutria we saw - this photo shows his rat-like tail.

This is the second Nutria we saw – this photo shows his rat-like tail.

We also saw one hawk (I wasn’t able to get a great picture), three Blue Herons, and a gazillion Northern Pintails, Mallards, American Coots, Tundra Swans and the aforementioned Dusky Geese.

A hawk at Ridgefield - maybe a Red Tailed Hawk?

A hawk at Ridgefield – maybe a Red Tailed Hawk?

Tundra Swans - They like to do butts up too!

Tundra Swans – They like to do butts up too!

Despite the rain that fell the whole time we were there, and got all over the doors of the car and my camera when we had the windows open to take pictures, we had a good time. Jon’s favorite sighting of the day was the nutria, and I have to admit, I enjoyed seeing them too. I also liked seeing the Northern Pintails, especially when they go “butts up!”

A male Northern Pintail doing butts up!

A male Northern Pintail doing butts up!

Have you been to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge?  What was your favorite animal?

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3 thoughts on “Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

  1. Your post is very timely for us. We saw a nutria the other day (we’re in Arkansas now), and didn’t know what it was. Forgot about it until reading this. Thanks, Camille…..

  2. Pingback: Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Winter | Wine and History Visited

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