BIRD WATCH: Here comes the sun

IN LESS THAN three weeks we will turn the corner.

If you have been reading this column for even a short time, you will know what I mean.

This is not my favorite time of the year, even though I love Christmas and all the special traditions my family enjoys.

It isn’t only the weather that dampens my spirit; it’s the darkness, the short days.

On Dec. 21, that changes and we begin heading toward spring — even if it is the first day of winter.

I am a fair-weather birder.

Feeders are popular right now and getting more so as winter arrives for real.

When the daily crowd outside the window doesn’t change much and no migrants stop by, it’s a good time to venture farther afield.

Go to salt water

There is plenty of bird action near the salt water, the rivers and the streams.

From the coast to our many inland bays, an interesting mix of water birds can be seen.

Identifying them is sometimes a challenge.

Colorful breeding plumage is often changed to black and white.

When visiting popular saltwater areas, it can be rewarding when wetlands are in the vicinity.

It’s always exciting (for me) to spot one or more waders picking their way across tide flats or looking for something to eat in a saltwater marsh.

Consider areas where a river or large creek enters the saltwater and you can enjoy this type of habitat.

These places are bird supermarkets.

Birds such as the greater yellowlegs dine on aquatic creatures found by probing long bills into the mud.

These are mostly solitary birds but other yellowlegs can be seen in the same general area.

The lesser yellowlegs, a smaller cousin of the greater, isn’t as common and is much smaller.

It’s about the size of a killdeer and some four inches shorter than the greater.

Common birds

Killdeer are about the most common or easily recognized shorebird around the inland waters.

They belong to the group of shorebirds known as plovers.

Different plover species are found in a variety of habitats.

Some breed on the prairies. Others are found in high mountain regions.

Killdeer feed along the beaches and tidal wetlands during the winter.

They nest in pastures or rocky beach areas where they may perform their “broken wing” display.

Anyone who has seen this pitiful, injured bird dragging its useless wing while fleeing a possible predator, never forgets the performance.

The intent is to draw you away from its nest and young.

Hunting coyotes or foxes often attempt to catch the injured bird.

They follow it until the plover has lured them far enough away from the nest.

Just as they decide to pounce, the bird raises that “injured” wing and lifts high into the air.

Other birds sometimes use this defensive action when they are nesting but as killdeer are easily found in populated areas, they are well known for this ruse.

The spotted sandpiper is another shorebird seen near winter wetlands.

It nests near mountain streams, rivers and lakes.

Its spotted plumage is camouflage that allows it to meld into the vegetation growing in those places.

During the winter, they can be seen near the beaches of the many bays we can visit.

Instead of looking for their overall spotted summer plumage, look for a small lone sandpiper wearing drab brown on top and all white on its undersides.

Recognizable

In flight, it is recognized by the way it pumps or snaps its wings up and down.

When walking and feeding on the beach or shore, it does quick knee bends that dip and bob, or teeter, its body every few steps.

The large population of ducks wintering on Northwest waters is always entertaining, but when visiting the areas where they can be seen, don’t forget the attractive waders and shorebirds feeding in the same habitat.

Even when it’s wet and gloomy the change will brighten your mood.

This is one way to, “hang in there,” until spring.

________

Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: joanp [email protected]

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