It was a minus 0.55 tide early Saturday morning, low enough to expose yards of mud all along the parkside shore of the North Basin. The water receded in a broad arc from the corners down by the Virginia Street extension. The Schoolhouse Creek outfall looked like a river delta. Although the creek flow is modest this time of year, it has carved a definite track in the bottom, making clear that the North Basin is truly an estuary — a cove where fresh water flows into salt. A month ago such a low tide would have drawn hordes of overwintering birds. I’ve photographed some of them here at various times. But it’s summer now, and the snowbirds have migrated north. Even the female Scaup that missed the migration, together with the males that likely came back to get her, have departed. And so this bountiful banquet of mud with all its delights attracted only birds that are more or less permanent residents. There were Western Gulls, of course. When are there ever not gulls? The gulls pecked selectively, almost always coming up with something edible. A group of three that were probably Ring-billed Gulls — hard to tell with the sunlight behind them — stayed out further in the water. Three Marbled Godwits soon flew in. They have the opposite feeding method. They stitch the ground rapid-fire like a sewing machine, relying on the law of averages to come up with edibles. Half a dozen Snowy Egrets stalked the shallowest water, hunting little fishes trapped there. The birds worked hard, darting in all directions to spear their tiny prey. Then a pair of Mallard drakes joined in, beaks plowing under the surface, the iridescent green of their heads matted and streaked with mud. A pair of Brown Pelicans floated in deeper water, occasionally dipping their beaks below the surface, without joy; they soon flew off. I might have seen a Grebe as well. A little flock of five Coots has been hugging the western bank of the basin and seems to have taken up year-round residence. (They’re not ducks, they’re Rails.) The Coots are still skittish and paddle out to deeper water when a human looms up over the edge of the bank. Perhaps in time they’ll take a lesson from the gulls and mostly ignore us.
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