“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” -Henry David Thoreau
I was late getting to the lake this morning. We had a transfer just before shift change and it was nearly 10oo when I got out to Spring Canyon. It was beautiful out there, no wind (always a special treat here in the panhandle,) sunny, and warm. The large pond was mirror smooth and I got a few nice shots of the heron flying low over the water. I could hear the Eastern Phoebe that has been there this week calling from the far shore and could see the Belted Kingfisher sitting on his fence by the spillway (too far away for a good photo as usual.) A half dozen Tree swallows flew over the dam and were feeding in the swarms of small insects above the spillways. This seem to annoy the kingfisher and he chattered furiously at them for a few minutes and then flew off to a tree on the east end of the pond. I tried to get a photo of him as he flew by but he was just to quick for me.
I walked down the north side of the pond a bit and saw a single American Coot grazing in the weeds at the edge of the water. There has been a flock of 12 or so here all winter but I hadn’t seen them for a week or so and was surprised to see this one all by himself. There were several Red-winged Blackbirds and Western Meadowlarks and Killdeer feeding in the green grass and as I turned back toward my truck (couldn’t get too far away, I was on call still) I saw a Northern Roadrunner scoot across the road and disappear into the brush.
Just before reaching the truck I saw what I thought were a few Song Sparrows and took a few frames of them–they were quite accommodating and posed splendidly for me. Later, as I was looking through the day’s produce, I looked closer. After comparing the pics to a few field guides I decided that they were actually Vesper Sparrows, a new bird for my lists.
Just before I left Spring Canyon I saw a Rock Wren. I’d see one occasionally during the winter, but these little guys seem be everywhere now. I really enjoy watching them hunt and sing. They flit quickly from rock to ground to bush and explore every little crack in the rocks with such energy, chirping and chattering as they work. Then they jump up on a large rock or post and sing unabashedly, bobbing madly up and down all the while.
My only other stop today was Fritch Fortress, to check on the eagles and the pelicans. There has been a large gathering of Bald Eagles here this winter. The Rangers at the lake tell me that they gather every winter, but that this winter has seen more than anyone remembers. One day I was able to count 17 of them, a mix of adults and adolescents, sitting on the sandbars across the lake from Fritch Fortress and on another day was able to photograph them flying just off of the cliffs of FF-the highlight of my birding career so far.
Unfortunately the eagles seem to have headed north. I’ve not seen one for over a week. There were, however, about 60 of the pelicans in place of the eagles on the sandbars. I was also able to see about 20 Northern Shovelers and at least that many American Avocets. Along with the avocets were several dozen smaller waders that I have so far been unable to get close enough to identify. I think I might have seen a couple of Cinnamon Teal mixed in with the Shovelers, but once again was too far away to be sure-could have been shadows on a female shoveler. We saw Northern Shovelers and Cinnamon Teals when we went to the coast a few weeks ago, but I haven’t seen any Cinnamons here since I started birding.
Turned to be a productive day despite the late start. For more photographs of the birds mentioned in this article and other birds I have had the pleasure of seeing in the past nine months check out the galleries.