Under the Open Sky: Taking My Backyard Birding Skills to the River

When I head out to my favorite fishing hole I always pack along the essentials: extra line, cut yarn, a corky or two in nearly every color ever made, enough cannonball weights to sink my bait (and me) to the bottom of even the deepest, fastest flowing river, hooks, swivels, a snack, my Nikon camera and a reporter’s notebook where I can record my findings.

The camera rarely makes it out of the bag. The light is rarely right for clear images, the rain is usually falling but, even though it is the heaviest burden I pack on the long walk to fast water, I continue to remain optimistic and pack it anyway.

On New Year’s Eve my efforts finally paid off.

After a long afternoon of casting into the water without so much as a single nibble, I finally set down my rod and picked up my camera. I was lured into the edges of the woodland by the flit and flitters of a small flock of songbirds, but I wasn’t very hopeful. The light was low, the birds were visible, though barely so, as they moved among the branches high over my head.

I could see the tiny Kinglets and Chickadees, but my lens couldn’t seem to pick them out from amongst the branches. So I gave up.

As I was setting down my camera, frustrated with my luck, I thought to myself, “I bet as soon as I set down my camera, they’ll come down out of the trees.”

Yup. I looked up. There were two Ruby-crowned Kinglets, perched on branches at eye level, three feet away.

These are the moments I live for in the outdoors — moments of surprise and wonder, of awe and close communion with nature.

The first burst of frames shot was as blurry and motion-filled as the ones before — but this time it was my shaking hand that caused the blur.

I was given eight seconds by the little hyperactive woodland sprites to capture my image, and then they were gone.

Local Birders Spot a Bittern

It was Leah Wegener, of Centralia, who sent me out into the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in December. She and her 12-year-old son, Henry, made another trip to the refuge for their last walk of the year.

“Henry and I met some friends at the Nisqually Refuge for a bird walk today,” Leah wrote. “One of the highlights was when Henry spotted an American Bittern between the barns and the dike trail. (I recognized it from the article you did last week.) After we took some pictures we moved on to the new estuary boardwalk and there was a guy with a huge camera, 3 feet long, on a tripod.

“I asked him if he was looking for anything in particular and he said, “Yes, the American Bittern.”  We told him we had just seen it 15 minutes ago and he hurried off to the spot but was unable to find it.  He has photos of over 400 birds of North America but hasn’t had any luck with the Bittern.”

Nisqually NWR Weekly Walks

Every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., local expert and amateur birders meet for a walk down the boardwalk of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. They’d love for you to join them.

There are no high hills and no mud to slough through; there is only the weather to contend with on this walk.

January is when the eagles start to show up at the refuge in huge numbers.

According to birder Phil Mitchell, they have already started to arrive. On Jan. 1 Mitchell spotted over 50 eagles on his walk, 21 of which were perched in just one tree!

Bundle up and go, you’ll be glad you did.

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Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and Outdoors enthusiast who lives in Cinebar.  Visit her photography blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird (blogs.chronline.com/dailybird), follow her on Twitter (ChronKim) or on facebook (Kimberly Mason — The Chronicle). Contact her at kz@tds.net, text or call 269-5017.