Birds come here in the winter to enjoy days like today. The temperature was in the high fifties and there was so little wind that large stretches of the North Basin were mirror-like, free of ripples. Hundreds of Scaup formed three or four separate flocks stretched clear across the whole expanse of the North Basin, mostly hugging the eastern shore and out of reasonable camera range from the park. Closer in, nevertheless, there were feathered creatures of interest.
A sole Western Grebe dove and swam underwater faster than I could walk on shore to follow him. I was lucky that he doubled back and took a short meditation break, or I would never have got a picture of him. After checking the Audubon and Cornell Bird websites, I’m confident this is a Western Grebe and not a Clark’s Grebe, because the dark on his head extends below his eyes, and because the yellow on his beak is muted. The Clark’s has a more neon yellow and the eye is surrounded by white. According to the sources, these grebes tend to travel in big flocks, but this fellow was a sole operator. Maybe he’s a scout casing the joint. They eat practically nothing but fish, and judging by the submarine velocity of this individual, it would have to be a fast fish indeed to escape him.
Further north along the path, I came on a pair of Marbled Godwits. I’ve seen them here before, and they never fail to impress me with their long, straight, pink, needle-like beaks. They jam them into the mud repeatedly probing for bugs and worms. They worked within a few feet of the shoreline rocks and showed no fear of a human walking nearby overhead.
A family of seven Mallards also busied itself dabbling along the shore. The tide was receding and some of the birds came to the surface with strings of green vegetation hanging from their beaks. The group included both the colorful males and the less dramatic brown-speckled females. They also ignored my presence.
Further along I spotted a scattering of duck-like birds I can’t recall having seen here before. They were smallish, with short necks, mostly brown in the visible body, with broad flat bills tending toward blue, and splashes of white or dark grey along the heads under the eyes and on the cheeks. Based on the Cornell bird and the Audubon websites, I’m saying they’re Ruddy Ducks. Judging by photos on bird websites, the ones I saw were mostly adult females. I may have seen these before, but I hadn’t identified them until today.
Out in deeper water, outside my camera’s clear telephoto range, I saw a couple of much larger ducks, very dark bodied, with one or two white spots along the side of their heads. I apologize for the blurry quality of my images. After looking them up, I’m guessing that they were White-winged Scoters. If you know your ducks and have a better idea, please let me know.
So: Grebe, Godwit, Mallard, Ruddy Duck and maybe White-winged Scoters — not a bad Birds-day.