Wednesday morning dawned brisk and beautiful and the chill morning wind whipped around my neck as I pedaled hard to warm up.
The birders meet for coffee before going out. Made up mostly of middle aged and older men (with a couple of diehard ladies to boot!) the group is a familiar one: vests plastered w/ pockets, floppy beige hats, spotting scope in tow, I felt at home with my new birdwatching family.
Larry, the leader of the group who started it back in ’97 (or one of the nineties, I’ll ask again next time I see him) before birding became much more popular in Eugene and across the country. Wednesday’s group consisted of about 12-15 people (and we usually run into others in the field) and, sipping that last bit of coffee, we headed to Fern Ridge.
The location that got picked was with newly arriving sandpipers in mind and there’s been a bit of hype about the dicksissel around that area lately, but, for me birding doesn’t have a goal; it’s simply a chance to peer into a world that goes on despite all the human mishaps and bumblings – this noisy, smelly, overly bright and mightily-scoured world we’ve created — still the Spotted Sandpiper raises her babies along the highly-trafficked river’s edge and the Green Heron creeps about through the shallows of the delta ponds, and if I have a chance to sit and watch and learn about the natural world as it carries out its own business, I am completely content.
I am an observer.
But it sure is fun to observe nature with others of a similar mind. To share in experiencing the dramatic scenes that play out in nature, often to the complete oblivion of those who don’t slow down, listen and watch. And that’s what we birders did as the sun creeped higher in the sky.
I’ll share some of my favorite sights: Let’s see, what with my 2 summers worth of living on Project Puffin islands with hundreds of nesting Arctic and Common Terns (as well as the occasional Roseate!), I am very much uplifted when I catch a glimpse of that bouncing, effortless flight, the long, narrow wings and pointed beak. As we reached the mud flats and wide shallow pools, a group of black terns, silver underwings flashing, cavorted back and forth over the pools, occasionally swooping sharply downward for a drink of water or the occasional fish snack. I’d definitely like to go back get some video of that!
We spent most of our time focused on the groups of sandpipers that gathered on the flats, mostly Western and Leasts which are moving southward for the winter (yes, already!) now that they’ve finished breeding up north in the arctic. Those two are real difficult to tell apart, especially in this time when feather patterns will vary since they’re moulting out of their breeding plumage, plus you’ve got non-descript youngsters. The bills of the Westerns are a tiny bit longer and have a slight droop at the end.
We managed to pick up a green heron, a bittern, a quick glimpse of a Virginia rail (although Ellen stayed late and got some great pics of this one!). I did rail callback surveys back in the National Wildlife Refuge where I worked, guess these Virginia ones don’t realize that they’re a ways away from any Virginia..
Sandpiper-wise, we also picked up a Solitary Sandpiper and, thanks to the willingness of several intrepid birders, we marched into the tall grasses and found ourselves a really good view of that lone shorebird. I was super pleased because I’d never gotten a good look at a Solitary before and this one was very patient as we lumbered for a better look.
We also had plenty of great comparative views of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, right in the same binocular field-of-view, their size is difficult to discern with no means of comparison. The greater will feed by sweeping his bill out horizontally in front of him in the shallows, helping be a little more distinctive from the lesser.
Another sighting I was glad of was a dapper group of Long-billed Dowitchers. My first view was of their backs in flight, a sharp blazing streak of white between the shoulder blades. They’re just a very handsome species and is yet another bird that brings me back, this time to my time in Raymond, WA for the woodpecker job. I love how birding brings back bird memories.
Thanks to the group for a great day of birdwatching!