Freshwater ponds are communities that are generally full of wildlife. Many mammals, insects, amphibians and birds are all at home in freshwater ponds and their surrounding vegetation. I visited a pond recently where at least 15 species of birds called it home. As I stepped onto the grassy edge of the pond, I was greeted by the, sweet, sweet “shredded tweet” of the yellow warbler, the quacking of a mother mallard as she tried to keep her babies close, and the raucous “konk-a-ree” of a red-winged blackbird.
The pond itself has a hedge of cattails between the grass and the water. As I stood on my tiptoes to peer into the pond, I was startled by the whinny of a sora, a small chicken-like bird that frequents the reedy areas of ponds. I have heard it for several days now, a sign that it has decided to take up residence there.
Continuing my sojourn around the pond, I stopped at an opening in the bulrushes. Two pair of lesser scaup were swimming peacefully in the dark bluish-green water, when all of a sudden, the harmony disappeared and they began chasing each other all over the pond. I think they were looking for dibs on the pond. Soon the chase was over and the foursome went back to swimming and minding their own business. I wonder how long that will last? Their antics were thoroughly entertaining.
Female red-winged blackbirds were protecting the patch of cattails where they had built their nest, while the males just sang from on high. No other bird dare come near when the mommas were on guard! As this scene unfolded, a pair of American goldfinch stopped by to take a look at the vegetation around the pond, as if looking for real estate in which they could settle down and raise a family. Farther down the way, a male robin was going at it, trying to keep other birds from its nesting area and the American coots went about the business of tending to their newly hatched young, complete with reddish bald head and orangey-red scraggly hair around the fringe.
Across the pond on the other side, which is lined with poplars and small shrubs, came the soft mewing of a gray catbird, and the “whitchity-whitchity” of a common yellowthroat. Cedar waxwings joined in the fun by flying out from the trees to snag an insect for lunch.
Tree swallows took flight over the pond, gobbling up insects on the fly to take back to their nesting box in a nearby resident’s yard. They stayed high so as not to interfere with their colleagues that were using the lower reaches of the pond.
The highlight of my visit to the pond was being able to bear witness to the production of a nest by a pair of horned grebes. They were building a floating nest just inside the cattail hedge. One of the pair dragged the biggest old reeds or sticks it could find. In some cases, the pieces were so long that the nesting material had to be dropped and abandoned. The grebe was unable to control such large pieces, although it kept trying before dropping it in favor of a smaller treasure. The other half of the pair, was smarter … ”she” selected smaller, more manageable bits of nesting material in the first place. I think she was doing the bulk of the nest building!
Horned grebes breed on small to moderate-sized shallow freshwater ponds and marshes, just like the one I was visiting. We do not often come across nesting horned grebes on the Peninsula or the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, even though they are resident in all seasons, but we do see them fairly regularly in winter along the coast. They often frequent the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta and the Ilwaco harbor.
Freshwater ponds can be a hive of activity and can provide great entertainment for the nature enthusiast. The next time you take a walk around a pond, look for the actors and entertainers of the bird world that bring life to the pond. You will be royally entertained and your soul will be soothed.
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available at the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Center.