BIRD WATCH: ‘Walking the edge’ produces prime pickings in late summer

Late August to September are the best times to get up and get out.

LATE AUGUST INTO September is one of the best times of the year to take a bird walk.

You never know what you might find, and the way to see the most birds is to “take a walk on the edge.”

No, I don’t mean a scary walk along a cliff’s edge — not with my fear of heights.

Forests and brushy areas bordering fields and wetlands produce the best birdwatching.

Right now, those habitat types are supermarkets for birds.

They’re overflowing with Nature’s food.

Combine this with a burgeoning population of young birds, and the combination is in our favor when it comes to seeing lots of birds.

Walking the edge, where two or more habitat types come together, makes it possible for us to see species found in a variety of habitats instead of just one.

Most birds are habitat-specific.

An easy illustration is that you won’t see meadowlarks in a rainforest.

Chickadees find nothing attractive about tidal mudflats.

Robins and starlings may visit multiple habitat-types, but they have favorite places — like a well-groomed and well-watered yard that makes for easy worm digging.

If mountain ash trees loaded with ripe berries are part of the landscaping, that’s even better.

Boardwalks that traverse wetlands on the edge of heavy brush or through a stand of mature forest make perfect birding walks.

I have a favorite walk that starts out on a boardwalk through a boggy forest where skunk cabbage and ferns grow under the trees. Winter wrens and woodpeckers feed in these cool, shady and bug-ridden spots.

The boardwalk eventually breaks into the open where you face a large grassy estuary and manmade ponds.

Red-winged blackbirds, ducks, grebes and even a rail or two feed and shelter in the ponds and its cattails. This is a good spot for finding marsh wrens.

You hear them before you see one. These crafty little birds hide in the cattails and fire a scolding chatter at you.

The estuary grasslands are viewed from the walk that now follows along a dike separating the area from open fields on the other side.

Swallows fly overhead while Savannah sparrows flit about in the tall grass.

Great blue herons hunt here and ducks shelter in the wet areas hidden in this spot.

The pastures attract large numbers of geese and ducks. Small trees mixed with wild rose bushes line the edge of the dike and are often full of feeding birds.

Cedar waxwings, chickadees, finches, towhees, song sparrows, goldfinches, flycatchers, kinglets, bushtits and jays are attracted to the food found in these thickets.

One more “edge” borders this brushy spot. The Union River flows along here as it winds its way through the marsh and out to the end of Hood Canal near Belfair.

This favorite spot of mine is the Theler Wetlands preserve.

I’ve hiked it many times, but this is the best time because the weather is pleasant and the birds are plentiful.

Winter can also produce good birding here, but the weather is a big question mark.

I’m sure there are many favorite birding walks, and if I had to pick a second one, I would be considering Sequim’s Railroad Bridge Park trail.

It’s rich in birdlife and the walk is a pleasant one.

There are more wonderful walks in this part of the Olympic Peninsula.

They don’t need to be long hikes, but it is important to get out while conditions are perfect.

This is the best time of the year to “walk the edge.”

________

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: joanpcarson@comcast.net.

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