Dear Jane and All Nature Lovers,
Twenty-two species graced the River yesterday as I ambled, stopped, peered up into the trees, then down into the river, slowly feeling myself enter that peaceful state that this river almost always confers on me. With the dark shadow of local politics weighing heavily on me these days, I am especially grateful to this eternal flowing presence, restoring some level of sanity to my life.
I had noticed that you, Jane, had posted on eBird a sighting of an EARED GREBE on the 9th, and someone named George Cook posted a Greater Scaup on October 4th – two first-of-season arrivals on the river. I decided to venture into your salty end of the river this week and, if lucky, offer my personal welcome back greeting to these two winter migrants, the first a regular on the winter river, and the second something of a rarity.
I didn’t find the migratory grebe, but I did find the GREATER SCAUP (pronounced sk-awe-p). I almost missed this best bird of the day because some fellow river enthusiast saw my binoculars and, as often happens, stopped to chat about birds. (Carrying binoculars is almost like pushing a stroller or walking a dog. ) I was just telling him the name of the ‘white bird’ (Snowy Egret) when I fortunately glanced back at the river and realized that I was looking at my Scaup – sailing upstream with two MALLARDS. I abruptly ended my conversation.
For you readers who haven’t met this bird yet, she is more likely to be seen at this time of year migrating south in flocks of as many as a thousand, usually seen on the open ocean during migration season, or resting inland on shallow wetlands. Skaups are one of only a very few duck species that are ‘circumpolar’ in their breeding, raising their young around the globe in places like Siberia and Alaska. As a loyal Minnesota girl, I am especially partial to these birds who favor the norther regions. I started wondering how long she had been on the road from her breeding grounds in Alaska, and whether she would be staying here for the winter, or pressing on further south.
I was sad to read in Birds of North America that the Greater Scaup are listed as a “Common Bird in Steep Decline,” which means that they have seen at least a 50% loss of their population in the last 40 years. According to this source, “several factors may be contributing to the Greater Scaup’s decline, including warmer water in Alaska, contaminants, disturbance, habitat degradation, and hunting…. from 2012–2016 hunters took on average 69,366 Greater Scaup per year.” Maybe it is time to forbid hunting birds that are in ‘steep decline’. If not now, when? I dream of reaching the point in our evolutionary history when our deeply engrained predatory instincts yield naturally to choices more in line with conservation goals. But first we have to lose the taste for duck, which I used to love. No more!
One of the treats of birding at your end of the river, Jane, is the chance of seeing an OSPREY. And I wasn’t disappointed. This shaggy, almost mythical creature, with its astonishingly hooked beak that makes a sharp 90 degree turn downward, came roaring out of nowhere, swooping way too close to 9 small KILLDEERS skittering along a sandbank on the edge of the river and shrilling loudly in alarm.
Even though the book says that 99% of an Osprey’s food comes from live fish, I couldn’t stop worrying about that 1% that includes birds, snakes, voles, squirrels, muskrats, and salamanders. Maybe the Osprey was just showing off as it skimmed the sandbank next to the killdeers. In any case, it spurned the killdeer as prey and returned to the sky, grandly circling overhead for a few turns, then returning to take a bath in the river, not too far from the killdeers but far enough so that the small songbirds calmed down and continued bobbing along on their own less dramatic but still predatory journeys .
Happily, Ospreys are a conservation success, their populations growing by 2.5% per year from 1966 to 2015! Killdeer populations declined overall by about 47% between 1966 and 2014, with steeper declines in Canada and the West, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. But they are a common species and not yet on the list of birds of concern. Still….
And in the controversial AMERICAN CROW department, I was impressed at the kitchen tool discovered by this clever crow. The crevice in the rock seemed the perfect device for safely securing whatever this tough orange delicacy was that the crow hammered away at for quite some time. Any guesses as to what the goodie might have been?
And don’t you all love the way that cormorants lift their heads so proudly as they swim along, like this DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT perhaps showing off her beautiful butterscotch-colored pouch.
Check out my eBird list from yesterday – click here – if you want to see what else I saw on my healing walk downriver.
Quote of the Day: “In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
Robert Lynd, Irish poet and nationalist
May you all spend some time this week in a silent space.