BIRD WATCH: ‘Tis the season for a Christmas walk

FOR MANY, CHRISTMAS is the season when cherished traditions envelop us.

They make the season special.

One of the more simple traditions is a Christmas walk.

The busy rush begins to wind down and winter cocooning encourages us to enjoy the moment.

The urge to grab a partner and spend some time strolling along a favorite stretch of beach or that trail through the woods takes over.

Part of the enjoyment is the birds you meet along the way.

This varies depending on where you walk.

Because I live close to the water, that’s where my walk usually begins.

Another favorite jaunt is visiting a nearby marina.

You never know what or who you might see when walking on the docks and looking at the boats.

We’re fortunate here in the Northwest to have convenient public marinas in numerous areas.

Seals are often seen and so are some interesting birds.

When the tide is low, you never know what surprise awaits.

Black turnstones belong on rocky shores where they engage in their “stone flipping” style of feeding.

However, when the tide is high, they leave the shore and rest until it subsides.

Then they return to searching for something to eat.

When your walk takes you along a shoreline where there are birds on the water, one bird almost always puts on its own show.

Goldeneye ducks, especially if the weather is clear and cold, almost turn inside out with excitement.

Perhaps the conditions remind them of their spring and summer home.

They will go through all sorts of displaying actions, trying to get the attention of the females or to impress the other males.

Heads toss backward almost to their backs.

Then they jerk their heads up and down while pointing bills skyward.

If this isn’t enough to get your attention, they begin to chase each other across the water while kicking up as much spray as possible.

Everything in their demeanor says, “look at me!”

The ducks that winter on Washington’s inland waters nest in the far north as well as near some of our mountain lakes.

Cold weather is the climate they do very well in during the summer months.

These include Barrow’s goldeneye, common goldeneye, bufflehead and three scoter species.

In addition to the ducks, there are other waterbirds sharing the same habitat.

They all add to the pleasure of a winter walk along the shore.

Several species of mergansers, loons and grebes will be found where the above sea ducks are seen.

Woodland walks during the winter months are less productive when it comes to seeing or hearing different birds but there is one bird you always expect.

It is usually heard before it is seen.

This tiny, dark brown bird with the very short tail considers the dark woods its private domain.

Enter therein and you will be scolded by this fierce little creature.

Winter wrens are always poking about in dark and damp places close to the ground.

Small insects, grubs, bugs and spiders are its fare and you have to poke and pry into these scary areas to find a meal or two.

While it hunts, it also warns or informs by calling incessantly.

The sound is a harsh, rapid-fire chatter.

Now the challenge to find the hunter begins. Just stop and listen.

Look in the direction of the sound and keep your view low, no more than three or four feet above the ground.

Try and find a log, stump or tree truck where the sound is coming from.

The bird is crafty and can keep out of sight if it chooses to.

However, this bold little fellow will also pop right up in front of you and let loose with more scolding.

The secret to spotting a winter wren, or even a Bewick’s wren, is patience.

The rule is, “stop, listen and look.”

It doesn’t matter where we enjoy our Christmas walk.

There will be birds to see and enjoy. Merry Christmas.


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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