BIRD WATCH: Waterfowl, shorebirds mingle at Fort Flagler

BLACK AND WHITE was the uniform of the day at Fort Flagler State Park.

Hundreds of black brant geese stretched along the shoreline looking very dapper in their tuxedo-like plumage.

They are such handsome little geese and so obliging. You can enjoy watching them swim past you just a few feet from the water’s edge.

Even their voices are a pleasant sound. It’s hard to describe but resembles a rolling purr and is nothing like the raucous honking of Canada geese.

The Canada’ are all paired off and scattered throughout the park. They’re very territorial.

Not only were the brant occupying much of Flagler’s shoreline, but you could hear more of them across the water on Indian Island. They will continue to be a presence here until sometime in April.

Then they begin moving northward to nesting grounds in North America, Eastern Asia and Europe. No other geese nest as far north as these. Few birds have as long a migration journey.

Evidence of spring’s arrival was the number of paired birds we saw on this trip.

A Flagler specialty is harlequin ducks and the ones we spotted were all in pairs. They even dove together when feeding.

These are one of the most beautiful ducks in North America and Flagler is a great place to see them. Right now, they are scattered about on the Park’s saltwater. Before long, they will move up one of the local rivers to nest on fresh water.

An exception to the black and white rule for dress was the shorebirds. At low tide, hundreds of them fed along the shoreline on the inland side of the sand spit.

Once the water covered the beaches, they moved onto the flat, grassy area above the beach. The flocks were mostly mixed when they fed along the edge of the water but on the dry land, they segregated themselves.

Black turnstones were in one group. Black-belled plovers, mostly in winter plumage, were in another. Dunlin made up one more bunch.

From time to time the flocks would pick up stragglers from one of the other groups. Sanderlings looked a little strange running back and forth across the grass.

They are usually seen playing tag with ocean waves. All of the shorebirds, not just the plovers, were still in their winter plumage.

Next month the black-bellied plovers will undergo a dramatic plumage change. Their undersides will be black and it will run up their neck and across the face. A broad white line will separate the black from their speckled backs.

When flying, you can spot this handsome shorebird because its black “wingpits” are easy to see.

Flagler presents an opportunity to sharpen shorebird identification skills. You are close to the flocks and their numbers aren’t as overwhelming as at the ocean beaches.

Dunlin with their long and drooping bills look very different from the smaller sandpipers and sanderlings.

Sanderling standout because they are still in winter white with dark patches on their shoulders. These patches don’t stand out as much once the birds acquire the overall speckled brownish breeding plumage

There was only one disappointment on the Flagler trip. We didn’t see the black oystercatchers that are always a highlight.

However, a “surprise” made up for their absence.

One lone surfbird was feeding with the black turnstones and the only reason we saw it was due to the close distance. This grayish shorebird often feeds with the turnstones and black sandpipers on the ocean jetties. The occasional one can also show up on inland waters, especially during migration.

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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: [email protected]

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