When I walk in the yard or the field, around the wetland or among the trees, I learn more than just being stationary and looking out the window or from the deck at these habitats. So, I do a walkabout somewhere several times a week. Last week, when I did such a walkabout, the reward was enormous!
Bald eagles have been conspicuous by their absence, but not on that day. As I followed the path to Willapa Bay, I turned to look back toward the house and there front and center in one of the big spruces was a Bald Eagle looking outward toward the Bay! It was a welcome sight. In yet another spruce was a flock of red-winged blackbirds feasting on the seeds of the tree’s seed cones. I have never witnessed this behavior before. They were so engrossed in their task that they paid little attention to the clicking of the camera or my presence.
The wetland was alive with one song. A single bird was singing its heart out. It sounded like an old Singer sewing machine so I knew right away that a marsh wren was hunkered down somewhere in the long, tall grasses. I am hopeful it will stay though the colder months of the year, and I think it will because later that day it showed up at the bird bath. Another thin, high pitched song was heard in the riparian area. Guess who it belonged to? It was the Pacific wren! It is one of the autumn bathing beauties this year at the bird bath.
Continuing on down the path to the bay took me through the grassland. A fast flying bird zipped through the air grabbing insects as it flew. It flew so quickly that it was almost impossible to take a decent photograph of it. It looked like a cigar with wings which suggested a Vaux’s swift which is the only swift we see in our area. It is uncommon and here in all seasons on the Peninsula except in winter. It has been many years since I have seen a Vaux’s swift in our area so it was thrilling to see it again.
Now that the nesting season is over, raptors that we haven’t seen for a while are beginning to make their presence known on a daily basis. Both the red-tailed hawk and the northern harrier are included. The northern harrier is best identified by its white rump and its habit of flying low over the grasslands as it hunts for small mammals. It used to be named the marsh hawk because it also flies low over marshes and wetlands looking for tasty morsels. The Red-tail is best identified by its rufous tail. The red-tail tends to sit in the trees at the edge of the grassland so it can look out for small mammals too or to just rest from the hunt.
As I reached the edge of the grasslands the scrub/shrub area came alive. Little birds were flying in and out of the small shrubs and thick undergrowth. Evergreen huckleberry, and salal dominate the area, along with a few small fruit trees that resemble miniature crab apples. spotted towhees, golden-crowned sparrows, chestnut-backed and black-capped chickadees and bushtits flitted from branch to branch. Golden-crowned sparrows are with us in every season, but summer. They arrive in the fall, stay for the winter and leave in the spring.
Finally, I reached the shoreline of Willapa Bay. There I witnessed the common loon diving for its dinner, the California gull resting on the mudflats and the black-bellied plover feeding on the same mudflats.
All of these sightings were only possible because I was on a walkabout. What one can see from windows or a deck can be enhanced by a walkabout. Walkabouts at Tarlatt, Leadbetter Point or in other places where there is a variety of habitats will enhance your understanding of bird behavior and will help to improve your bird ID skills. I highly recommend regular walkabouts!
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Visitors Center.