photos/perception - fun/frustration
I've reviewed Denny's photos from Wenas Lake on Sunday and mulled over my own
experience at the lake on Friday. I'm tempted to make a return trip soon.
The Peregrine calls...a tough county bird for me. But I'm also having trouble
clearing my head about summer shorebirding. I can't decide why. Is it
because it can be fun or because it can be frustrating?
Denny posted nice photos; working from the photos, I may have settled on the
Wilson's Phalarope's identity much faster than I did in first hand
observation. Out on the mud, I dismissed phalarope based on the bird's size and
behavior. Not being familiar with summer plumages didn't help either.
I see phalaropes more often in the spring when their plumages are almost
unmistakable. Why was I confused about the bird's size? After all, they are the
same size in spring and fall. It has to be the company they keep. A Wilson's
Phalarope is roughly 9 inches long and weighs 2 ounces. In the spring, I
find them in the company of American Avocets (18" & 11oz), Black-necked Stilt
(14" & 6oz), Greater Yellowlegs (14" & 6oz), as well as with ducks...Cinnamon
Teal (16" & 14oz) being one of the smaller ducks, for example. Tossed in with
these guys, the phalaropes look small and, in my mind, petite.
However, on the summer mud at Wenas Lake, they hang out with 6 to 7 inch,
less than one ounce peeps. They no longer look petite; by comparison, they are
buff beach bullies.
If pressed for a phalarope's most distinguishing behavioral trait, many would
offer its propensity for swimming...often spinning in tight circles to churn
up prey. On Friday, my mystery bird never swam but walked about picking at
the mud. I do not recall a spring phalarope being able to resist at least a
quick swim when water was at hand (or toe).
Its plumage eliminated Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. Birders normally
enjoy finding something unusual. As Stilt Sandpipers are uncommon in Yakima
County, I really wanted to turn this mystery bird into one of those. Lots of
similar field marks but in the end, there were too many differences. I was home
for an hour before I decided the bird was a Wilson's Phalarope.
After picking through references, I have gained knowledge. The Wilson's are
the largest of the three phalaropes; the most terrestrial (swim less); lack
the lobed toes of the other two species but their toes are bordered by a narrow
fringe; their eyeline is a postocular eye stripe; females are significantly
larger than males; and, at least in certain circumstances, tend to feed in the
fashion of Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers.
Denny states in one of his photo captions that leg color, in many instances,
will quickly confirm or eliminate species. True...but often easier said than
done. The light has to be good...maybe even perfect for a novice like me to
determine leg color. Backlighting? Forget it! Sun directly overhead? Dark
shadows make dark legs. Shorebirds at Wenas are wallowing in mud. Wet mud on
legs looks black; dry mud looks more gray. Even in his photos, only the legs
in the foreground reveals color. The legs in the background shadows look
black to me. Stir in movement (by the bird, the background water or grass) and
color becomes the old shell game. Now you think you see it; a flash later, you
know you don't.
A couple of things on the lists Denny and I compiled. He did not list any
Spotted Sandpipers while I thought there were a minimum of eight two days
earlier. He noted 12 Killdeer and I estimated 50 plus. Time of Day? Or falcon?
Neither of us reported a Wilson's Snipe. In past summer shorebird visits to
Wenas, a dozen would not be uncommon. Is it because the level of the lake is so
low? Past years, the snipe seemed to favor vegetation areas close to the
water. This year, there is a baked expanse of mud between the lake and any
vegetative cover. Or is it too early for Snipe hunting?
Now that I have vented, maybe I can get on with my life. Wouldn't mind going
shorebirding. Until I got hot and/or frustrated. Maybe there are no bad
birds, just badly befuddled birders?
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