On our first venture to the park shortly after noon, we saw a group of Mallards making themselves at home in a huge puddle near the entrance to Spinnaker Way. I wrote about this recurring flood and the lack of drainage in an earlier post here. The San Francisco Chronicle had a photo of this puddle a couple of days ago, featuring the yellow “Flooded” sign in the middle. Today the sign had blown over and drowned. The Mallards thought the distinction between a puddle and any other body of water rather academic, and the three males were busy dabbling and chasing the sole female.
In less than half an hour, the gentle rain grew intense, and we beat a retreat home to dry out. Later in the afternoon, I went out again solo, starting at the North Basin, and got lucky once again. A mixed flock of Willets and Turnstones announced its presence by rising from the dark shore, flying in a few compact circles, and settling again. This group counted more birds of both kinds than my previous encounter with them a few days ago.
What is it that brings Willets and Turnstones together? The Willets are so much larger that the Turnstones almost look like the Willets’ babies. Possibly the Willets offer the Turnstones protection against aerial predators. But the Turnstones have a reputation as fierce defenders of their nests against much larger birds of prey, back in Alaska. Do they really need Willets as bodyguards while feeding? And what do the Willets get out of the partnership? Mysterious are the ways of birds.
Although the setting sun, the rain clouds, and the shade of the embankment left few photons to illuminate the birds, there were enough to reveal the bright hidden feathers of both species. Willets look rather drab and uniformly grey with their wings folded, but their wings show bold contrasting arcs of white and dark when extended. One of the Willets present was kind enough while standing still to fluff his feathers repeatedly, showing off their stylish pattern.
The Turnstones show the sky a mottled dark back when walking among the rocks. In flight, they show the water underneath a white belly and white underwings. A bold black and white stripe graces their tailfeathers. My photos aren’t as sharp as I’d like, but you can get the picture.