Monday, January 13, 2014

Windy Wetlands

Yesterday, my dad and I headed out to one of our local wildlife areas to check out what the birds have been up to. Mostly, what they've been up to, is getting blown around. There was a remarkably strong North wind all day. We watched some Vs of geese struggle valiantly against the gusts for a few minutes. Of course, they managed to gain some ground... eventually. Poor birds.

The birds on the ground didn't have it much easier, as this ruffled American Coot shows. The water in the ponds was in constant motion.

The most common ducks in these ponds this time of year are Coots, Northern Shovelers, and Northern Pintails (as pictured above). Less frequent but still common are Green-winged Teals, American Wigeons, and Cinnamon Teals. So imagine my surprise when I scanned a distant strip of water, and saw a little flotilla of Buffleheads drift by! I didn't get any pictures, but it was a nice treat to see those bright males and refined females.

The rice fields farther along contain Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, and Greater White-fronted Geese, like I mentioned in an earlier post. This squad of swans braved the wind to join their buddies in another pond. I guess the wind doesn't care how beautiful you are when it's deciding to smack you off of your flight trajectory. After listening to the swans purr for a bit, I decided to leave the geese alone this time, and look for Long-billed Curlews and Horned Larks, instead.

There were a number of Savannah Sparrows along the path. I usually have difficulty finding these adorable little sparrows. On this occasion, there were small groups of Savannahs scrabbling for seeds around almost every corner of the road.

The Savannah Sparrow is pretty similar to the Song Sparrow, except with finer streaking and usually a light wash of yellow on the eyebrow. They're one of those LBJs, or little brown jobs, that look super plain from anything more than a foot away, and then you get a close-up look and you go "oooohhh... that's pretty!" That was an amazing definition of the term "LBJ," I know. You're welcome.

Farther down the road, this Red-shouldered Hawk flew into a tree and scoped out my dad and me. I usually see Red-shouldered Hawks rarely, but I've seen Red-shouldered Hawks at this wildlife area for the past 3 visits. They're still such a lovely surprise every time. I love the black, white, and red coloring on their folded wings. I mean, not to diss this guy's lovely red belly barring. The red belly barring is great, too.

Like I said earlier, on this particular expedition I was looking for a number of birds: Long-billed Curlew, Wilson's Snipe, and Horned Lark. I totally struck out on the last two, but there were a whole bunch of curlews! This picture above is from not the first, or the second, or the third curlew, but the fourth. It rummaged around in the mud for a while. It's funny, but I never really thought about what that amazingly long bill is for. I just took it as an amazing feat of evolution. Well, yesterday we saw the curlew really putting its beak to use! It probed it deep into the mud, maybe looking for worms and small crustaceans.

Of course, all of that mud-probing got the curlew's long, beautiful bill quite dirty. This (extremely flattering) picture shows the curlew trying to wash some of that muck off. What a great bird! Curlews are always such a nice treat to see. Everything about them is impressive - their beak, their surprisingly red underwings, their size.

I'm glad that I've gotten to visit the wetlands so many times during these vacations! I still have a week before I return to school. Hopefully I can soak in these ducks and sparrows at least one more time before then! :)

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