river offers wondering…observing…searching

Good Morning Barbara and Fellow River Lovers,

1st winter HEERMANN's GULL
1st winter HEERMANN’s GULL

I am getting that creepy suspicion that the gulls will rob me of my birding confidence. You have heard me whine about their changing looks, which occur over a 3 year cycle. So here I was looking at a dark brown(almost black) gull with dark legs, wondering who it was, when Alex Rinkert saved me from wandering down the ‘???’ path: it was a 1st winter HEERMANN’s GULL, obviously ignored the spring season. Alex is one of the best birders we have in our community and I was elated when he confirmed my ‘is it a CASPIAN TERN or not?’ dilemma. I had hesitated to id the TERN, because it was partially hidden by a gull crowd, but for Alex the questioned bird moved right out into the open.


It’s really rare that GREBES and LOONS drag themselves ashore, because their legs are useless for walking, which makes them highly vulnerable on land. Their bodies evolved to be highly efficient at diving and swimming, requiring their legs to be positioned far to the back of their body. If any of you have seen a GREBE or LOON labor ashore, I bet you instantly thought the bird is injured, because accessing the shore is definitely a chore for these species. So both Alex and I were taken back to see a WESTERN GREBE on the river shore, preening itself thoroughly. As I walked upstream I watched a RED-throated LOON slog itself onto the sandbar, where it collapsed to rest from that ordeal. Two close by WESTERN GULLS were bored and starring off into space, snapped into ‘who is that?’ mode: with their heads raised, they slowly approached the resting bird. The trusting RED-throated LOON started to preen its feathers, but got suspicious when 1 of the gulls inched straight forward and the other one pretended to walk by and then suddenly turned towards the LOON. The long, sharp bill targeted the nervy gull with a quick jab, that send a clear ’back off’ message, which caused the gull to re-think its pestering strategy. Meanwhile the 1st gull was near the LOON with a stretched out neck as if it was trying to sniff the leg less dweller, who turned to strike the intrusive head, barely missing its target. While the 2 gulls were contemplating their invasion tactics, the RED-throated LOON had enough of its land excursion and trudged back to the safe water. It performed a long dive and swam across the river…never looking back.

RED-Throated LOON on sandbank…

On Saturday I was checking on the newly planted natives and when I looked up, I saw a small flock of 7 NORTHERN ROUGH-winged SWALLOWS zooming over the levee banks by the Riverside Ave. bridge. I kept hoping to see CLIFF SWALLOWS, who have been rumored to have arrived, but I didn’t spot any at the Riverside Ave. bridge. BTW: the native plants are thriving!
I am also on the look-out for the other 2 little feather delights: the KILLDEER parents, who have nested for the last 2 years in the Fruit Orchard by the Mike Fox Park. This time of year that they are choosing their nest location. I find myself listening for their shrill, trilling, wailing call, which they activate at the slightest threat. So far that sound is absent from the river shore and the Fruit Orchard. Can you let me know if you see or hear the KILLDEER along the river?

COOPER HAWK(googled)

Several days ago I was standing at the river point, feeling grateful for the sight, when the COOPER HAWK was flying straight at me. Just inches before landing right in front of me on the railing, our eyes met and it realized that I was a potentially dangerous human, causing it to sharply veered off to the left and perch a few feet away on the cliff. We inventoried each others intentions and I got its point: the COOPER HAWK was on an early morning hunt. So I slowly backed away from its territory, honoring its pursuit for food. A few minutes later I saw it glide over the banks on the look out for breakfast.
I send you all rich river joy, jane

2 thoughts on “river offers wondering…observing…searching

  1. HI Jane,

    As usual, your blog is always a delight. I am glad that the loon can do a good job of defending herself but what a pain those seagulls can be… can’t let a bird rest.

    I have heard killdeers on the river as recently as two days ago but it was up at our stretch near the Water St. bridge. They are heard up here pretty frequently, often at night, but this one I heard during the day.

    Thanks for being so thoughtful about the Cooper’s hawk and for all of your great observations and amazing pictures. I hope I get to bird with you again some day.


    1. Thank you, thank you! Love reading that you enjoy my observations. Gulls always remind me of a bunch of wild teenage boys…always testing the limits:)
      I think my Killdeer might have migrated upstream. They vocalize more during nesting, because they are ground nesters, everything is a threat! Should you be able to locate their nest then maintenance crew can rope it off. Chirps to you & love your ongoing support, jane

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