Mud Is a Magnet

Low tide on west edge of North Basin. Most of the birds in the foreground are Marbled Godwits.
American Wigeons working for their rations for a change, instead of stealing from Coots
Part of a flock of Black Turnstones who quickly headed for the rocks where they feed on barnacles and limpets
A pair of Mallards dabbling
Greater Yellowlegs
High end drone equipped with 35mm camera

The negative low tide at 4 this afternoon (a minus 0.14) exposed yards of mud in the North Basin and attracted scores of shore birds.  Besides the usual Sandpipers, Marbled Godwits, and Gulls, I saw a small number of Greater Yellowlegs and a flying flock of maybe two dozen Black Turnstones who quickly settled on the exposed wet shoreline rocks.  Apart from one lone Snowy Egret, I saw no egrets or herons, which is unusual.  

Down near the Virginia Street extension, where the American Wigeons have been hanging out, I saw the Wigeons for the first time earning an honest living by dabbling for their own food, instead of stealing it from the Coots, as they have been doing for weeks during higher water. The Wigeons are dabblers, like Mallards, not divers, meaning they can reach whatever underwater food is within reach of their necks; but they can’t dive underwater to feed, as can the Coots, Scaup, Cormorants, Grebes, Bufflehead, and many others.  When the water is too high for dabbling, the Wigeons steal from diving birds who are too dimwitted or too nice to get away. 

Also flying over the North Basin during my visit was a high-end drone with a 35mm camera attached.  Kevin, the operator, is a professional photo director and will use the device for his job.  He was out testing it.  This model, which set Kevin back quite a few thousand dollars (he didn’t immediately volunteer the price tag) operated much more quietly than the cheaper toy drones that we see more often. When he kept the device at a considerable height, it had no perceptible effect on the birds, but at one point I saw him flying it too low and flushing a flock of Coots from the water into frightened escape.  I spoke to Kevin about that and pointed out that this body of water held probably thousands of birds at this time.  Birds came here in large numbers for the winter.  The best time to test motorized devices here would be like in August when the bird population is low.  I much appreciated Kevin’s responsiveness; he said “Thanks for the heads up” and moved the drone off the water and over land.  

I’m personally not anti-drone.  I would love to have a very quiet drone with a good zoom lens for taking nature pictures in situations where my ground based camera can’t reach.  But I’ve seen some drone operators in the park whose devices emit a nasty whine and who have no consideration for the wildlife, or for that matter for humans.  

In the dim light of this late cloudy afternoon I took fewer photos than usual.  Here are just a few.  There’ll be more negative low tides in daylight on Dec. 29 and 30 and I’m hoping to be there and to have some sunshine.


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