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Dec 19, 2008 | by Kevin Loughlin

Savannah Sparrow

Every moment outside is precious. When I am not traveling, however, I often get “stuck” behind my computer answering emails, working on web sites, designing brochures, handling the accounting… you get the idea. 
A couple of days this week I was doing school programs in south Jersey. The programs were in the morning, which left me a full afternoon to be outside with no excuses! I went right from the school to the Forsythe (Brigantine) National Wildlife Refuge which happens to be a mere 10 minutes from my sister’s house where I would be spending the night.
What a great gift it was to be outside. Alone. My camera and binoculars my only companions. Silence… but for the gentle breeze, which carried the soft chips of feeding sparrows. My first bird as I drove into the refuge was a low-flying Northern Harrier. A Marsh Hawk. Yes, that’s the “old” name… but a more descriptive one if you ask me. Next I noticed a fair sized flock of Snow Geese.
As I drove out onto the dikes, Black Ducks, Mallards and Shovelers were numerous, but I had a few target species in mind that I always look forward to seeing here: Northern Pintail, Bufflehead and Hooded Merganser. Daylight was waning as the clouds hid the sun, but the light was amber in tone. A wonderful time of day during a beautiful time of year.
Most people don’t think of winter as beautiful unless there is a blanket of snow. But to me the starkness, the nakedness of the land and trees… it’s revealing. Coupled with the golden hues from the low angle of the sun, and the purity of this beauty makes itself known.

Northern Pintail

Pintails, there they are. I enjoyed their elegance. Bold and subtle at the same time. I watched them for a while before lifting my camera. I have made many good images of Pintails. Yet, I have not gotten that one “great” shot. It will come someday. I just have to be out there to capture it.
I saw the Buffleheads in the distance. Not close enough for photographs, but an enjoyable view through my binoculars. There were Hooded Mergansers with them, too, but I knew where I would find closer ones. I always find them there this time of year. Expecting too much?
Expectations can be disappointing. I have often walked down a familiar trail and “expected” to see a bird I had seen on a branch there once before. Expectations can play with our mind. If the mergansers were not there, would I be disappointed? Of course. But they have always been there before. Always.

Hooded Merganser

I wasn’t disappointed! In fact, there were more there than I had ever seen in the past. Uh, oh… what would next year’s expectation be? I photographed them right away. They can be shy, so I captured as many images as possible while they moved away from my side of the shoreline.
The shadows were getting longer. The light dimmed. I made my quiet way out from the refuge… not in a hurry to leave, but satisfied for the time I was given. For the birds I enjoyed. The harrier flew over the road ahead of me… wavering in the golden glow…


  1. Julie Zickefoose on December 19, 2008 at 10:21 PM

    Your words, as lovely as the bird images. That Savannah sparrow is a knockout! Might think about choosing LARGE on all your photos–they’re so good I hate to see them any smaller than they have to be. Now my photos I should post as small as possible, but you’ve got the goods.

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