08 November 2007

Discovering coots

Thursday, 08 November 2007…

For the past couple of days, I’ve been seeing large bunches of dark water birds – dark gray, chunky bodies, black heads, and obvious white bills. They’ve been all over our lagoons, estuaries, and even out in the ocean just beyond the surf line. Now if the ID is obvious to you already, don’t go minimizing my naturalist skills, cuz I do enough of that myself. I’m still learnin’ my ways around the birding thing. This morning, on the way into work, I stopped on the roadside at Freshwater Lagoon to make sure I had a good idea of the markings before consulting the bird books once again.

Scaup? No…it has the white bill, but the body is all dark vs. the white-backed scaup. Scoter? Again no, cuz the body is entirely dark, and there’s no apparent color to the bill as with the scoters. Too big really to be a duck, and none of the ducks match the description anyways. So I gave up on the books, and asked our wildlife folks. Didn’t take them long to figger out my obvious ignorance.

An American coot. How’d I overlook that one in all the books? Too painfully obvious with Mr Sibley’s nicely illustrated picture of an all dark bird with a bright white bill and a squat, round body. Now I know. And now I’m revealed to the rest of the staff as an idiot. But really, I’m ok with that.

So I learn.

After checking in at the Visitor Center (and before heading to the office to do some real work), I spent a few minutes out at the end of the boardwalk overlooking the south end of the estuary. A list of what I saw that I could identify, again, painfully obvious to those of you with proper bird credentials, and becoming more obvious to this untrained eye with 20-year old, minor league binocs:

A sizable number of Canada geese, who dashed away as soon as I appeared on their horizon,

A lone great egret, brilliant white, wading in the middle of the shallow water,

A cluster of mallards, both green-headed guys and brown mottled girls, and perhaps a couple other types of ducks that I was too far away from to make sense of, or maybe they were all mallards,

Lots of the aforementioned American coots,

A couple of great blue herons – tall, dark gray birds, white headed with a dark black streak above their eyes and bright yellow bill. One strolled the grasses along the shoreline while the other waded along the muddy shoreline before lifting off and disappearing in the haze.

Two river otters appeared near the southern edge of the estuary, slipping in and out of the water’s surface. They disappeared for a couple minutes into the grass, then re-appeared, one of them dragging a duck carcass behind him. They swam together with the carcass out to a log in the middle of the estuary. Perched atop the wet log, one munched down, pulling out long, bloody strings of duck parts for breakfast. The other cleaned himself next to his dining partner and occasionally dipped into the water for a brief swim. Very cool…wild lives in action.

No comments: