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Ridgefield NWR: Views, People, Mammals & a Frog (Part I)

Monday afternoon my son Shane and I drove down to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (just southwest of Woodland, along the Columbia River) to take the 4.2-mile auto tour of the River ‘S’ Unit.

It was our second visit to a local wildlife refuge in the last month (see Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge: the Birds (Part I) and Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge: the Views (Part II)).

As my iPhone GPS led us down unfamiliar roads and through a residential area, I started to doubt whether the Google gadget actually knew the route.

And when I spotted this sign, I figured we had entered some sort of Twilight Zone (the TV show, not the vampire book/movie series) or thought (hoped) maybe the Bat Cave was just around the corner.

But the GPS knew where to take us and we soon found our way down a winding, tree-lined road and into the River ‘S’ Unit of the Ridgefield NWR.

As my son says, “Mom, sometimes you’re just like a 6-year-old.” I was so excited as we crossed over the wooden bridge spanning Long Lake, heading toward the visitor contact center, I was nearly (okay, I was) bouncing in my seat with joy.

Thirty minutes?? I knew it was going to take a lot longer than that for me to see everything — and it did, it took 2 hours … and that was rushing things.

I was is such a rush to get started that I failed to notice the odd furry creature (Nutria) sitting out in the water next to the preening Mallards.

The Nutria were a hard shot to get, I found. I hope to get a better view on my next visit.

I fell in love with the Northern Pintail duck when we visited the Nisqually NWR in mid-January. They are a beautifully elegant bird, both in flight and on the water.

As we approached the gate at Stop #4 on the tour, we stopped to allow a service truck that had just passed through the gate get by us before we made the turn. I set down my camera to take a few notes while we waited. I looked up and noticed a dog following the truck. I thought to myself, “I wonder why they don’t have their dog in the truck with them??” Then my son points and shouts, “Coyote!!”

I grabbed my camera and the door handle at the same time, my son had to grab my arm to keep me from bolting. “You have to stay in the car, Mom,” he scolded.

Dang. I would have chased that coyote down if it wasn’t for him. 😀

Around the corner we spotted what we assumed was a beaver.

Apparently we failed to notice that the ‘beaver’ (Nutria) had a rather odd, rat-like tail. We also failed to notice the volley of Wilson’s Snipe foraging in the mud to the right of the furry beast (see Part IV).

The next stop was the Observation Blind. As we parked and walked the short trail to the blind, we ran into a group of University of Portland biology students on a field trip.

A Pacific Tree Frog, kindly held up for me to view by student Brian Preston.

I’m a frog chaser from way back. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved these little creatures … Lord knows I’ve kissed a lot of Toads!

There are three Bald Eagles in this photo. The convertible is looking at one, the white SUV is looking at another and there is one flying overhead.

This one got a little too close for comfort. I was so busy taking pictures of people taking pictures (with my short lens) that I didn’t notice this one sneaking up on us. This was a point and (eek!) shoot shot.

See more raptor shots in Part II of our Ridgefield NWR adventures.

Soon everyone was cozied up next to us on the road as the Bald Eagle landed in the water close to shore.

He made the ducks behind him quite nervous.

The views were spectacular.

There were a lot of swans scattered throughout the area, mainly Tundra Swans, but there are also Trumpeter Swans on the refuge.

Eric Anderson, Recreation Planner at the refuge, said at least a couple of thousand swans call the refuge home over the winter. He also said that the Trumpeter Swans make a racket in the early morning hours. “They let you know they’re there in the morning, ” he said with a smile in his voice.

I can’t tell a Cackling Goose from a Canada Goose, but I do know that they both live in the refuge, as well as all seven of the Canada Goose subspecies, including the Dusky Goose.

“Ridgefield NWR was created in 1965 to provide wintering habitat for the Dusky Goose, the darkest colored goose of the seven sub-species of Canada goose. Changing habitats and predation had severely threatened the survival of the Dusky Goose. The Ridgefield NWR provides key over-wintering grounds for this goose sub-species, other geese, Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, a huge variety of ducks, songbirds and raptors.” ~Kimberly Mason, For The Chronicle, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge: A Wildlife Observation Blind on Wheels, Feb. 9, 2012

I borrowed the following quote from the refuge wildlife checklist brochure:

“I slept but very little last night for the noise kept up during the whole of the night by the swans, geese…they were immensely numerous and their noise horrid.” ~Capt. William Clark, of Lewis and Clark, Nov. 5, 1805.

The sun was sinking fast and we were losing precious light quickly. We rushed through the last mile of the auto tour, trying to make it off the refuge before they closed the gates and locked us in for the night.

We had met and talked with the volunteer in charge of the gate earlier, thank goodness. She waited patiently for us at the entrance as we scurried through. Bless her giving heart!

Visit the Friends of the Ridgefield NWR or the official F&W website for more information about the refuge.

Next up: Ridgefield NWR: the Raptors (Part II)

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