Reflections

It is snowing this morning, and the yucky weather here in southern Minnesota means the wildlife has deserted the backyard (temporarily, I hope). Even the chickadees are absent from the feeders this morning!

So, it’s a good time to reflect back on the adventures of the summer — to warmer times and prettier views. I found a lot of photos from Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge north of San Jose CA that I had never posted. That’s a good excuse to go back a couple of months to October and revisit the marshy pools in southern San Francisco bay

Shorebirds are abundant here in spring, fall, and winter. Even late summer is a good time to catch migrants moving through these shallow pools, which apparently provide enough sustenance to attract a great diversity and abundance of birds.
The reflections of these Dowitchers (type to be determined in later images) were mirrored perfectly in the still water.

Dowitchers are medium-sized chunky shorebirds that use their very long bills to probe deep into the mud of shallow pools to find insect and crustacean larvae and small molluscs, as well as seeds and even vegetation that is buried there. Extremely sensitive tactile receptors in the tips of those long bills help them discriminate what is animal, vegetable, and mineral. Their continuous up-and-down motion as they probe the mud has been likened to the action of a sewing machine needle moving through cloth.

Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers are common (often seen) to abundant (very numerous) in these pools during spring, fall, and winter. But how to tell which species this is? I am always confused by these birds and wanted to find some characteristic I could use to more easily identify them.

Unfortunately, despite their names, bill length is not a definitive characteristic! Long-billed Dowitchers are mostly found in fresh water, and the Short-billed species is mostly found in salt water, but the pools here are full of a mix of salt and fresh water depending on the tides in the bay. And in their drab, non-breeding plumage, all their distinctive coloration is missing, so one must rely on their different calls to determine the species. However, I have no memory of what they sounded like, so what else can I use to tell them apart?

Fortunately, “how to tell long-billed from short-billed dowitchers” is a frequently asked question on Google. And one website clued me in to differences in the black and white barring pattern in the tail feathers, which can be seen on the bird on the left. Long-billed Dowitchers have more black than white in their tail barring — that’s the answer. These are Long-billed Dowitchers.

Not all of the shorebirds are so difficult to identify. Two species of long-legged wading shorebirds stand out: avocets and stilts.

Avocets are easily recognized by their long, up-turned bills. It wasn’t particularly cool on this morning, but the birds seem to be conserving heat by standing on one long leg at a time. The long bill of this bird is used as a sieve rather than a deep probe. The birds swish their bill side-to-side in shallow water to filter out small prey suspended in the water.
Black-necked Stilts really are on stilts. They have the second longest legs in proportion to their body size — Flamingos having the longest stilts. As they wade through the muck, with water levels sometimes reaching up to their breast, they peck at and seize small crustaceans, amphibian larvae, snails, or even tiny fish swimming in the shallow water.
Such attractive birds with their stark black and white plumage, long pink legs, red eyes, and rounded forehead.

floating on mirrors

I can’t resist posting more photos of Wood Ducks — but this time the scene was what made them stand out.  We encountered a few ducks foraging in a marshy pond in a residential area of Minneapolis near Cedar Lake.  The water was absolutely still and the light was in the perfect direction to highlight the colors of their plumage.  

You don’t often get a reflection as perfect as this one (or a shot of a Wood Duck without sticks in front of its head).

Even the water droplet hanging off the tip of Mrs. Woody’s bill is mirrored.

Even the Great Blue Heron fishing for its breakfast had an almost perfect mirror reflection.

But the mirror reflection of the Heron’s head on that extremely long neck got fuzzy in deeper water that was moving.

What if the water where the Heron was standing had been as quiet as that where the Wood Ducks were swimming?  Would the Heron’s reflection look more like this?

Great Blue Heron mirror reflection with a little help from Luminar photo editing.