Mud: a Feast for Birds

Low tide early this afternoon again exposed the mud bank on the east side of the park, and this time the coots didn’t have it to themselves.  Compare last week.  The coots had moved on, in fact, and a variety of feathered diners arrived in their place to feast on the buried protein in the muck.  Several of the birds were new to me in this location, namely the Lesser Yellowlegs and the Marbled Godwit.  The Godwit buried their beaks in the dark mud up to the eyes so that you couldn’t tell that their beaks were naturally pink.

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit

The Marbled Godwit, according to a bird reference site, breeds on the ground in grasslands or marshes in the Great Plains, and visits the coasts in wintertime.  Breeding adults stick to their nests and don’t fly away when approached, so much so that sometimes they can be picked up off the nest by hand.  They’re not in immediate danger of extinction but are on the watch list, meaning that they can tip into danger unless measures are taken to conserve their breeding environments.  I saw perhaps two dozen of these birds.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs

The Lesser Yellowlegs is easily recognized by its legs and by the active use it makes of them.  I only saw one, and I had to walk swiftly along the shore to keep up with it and take its picture.   They nest in open boreal forests — the mixed evergreen and leafy woodlands in northern Canada — and come here and elsewhere during the winter.  Both parents take turns hatching the eggs, but the female leaves fairly early and the male takes over.  His job is probably not very hard as the hatchlings can walk straight out of the eggshell and within a few hours can hop out of the nest and feed themselves.

Willet (juvenile)
Willet (juvenile)

I’ve seen the Willet here previously, but this one is a juvenile.  They are said to be tasty and were hunted heavily for food until the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 made sport hunting of Willets illegal.  Both parents work at hatching the eggs, but only the male sits in the nest at night; the female goes off elsewhere.  They have sensors in the tips of their bills that allow them to find food by feel, which allows them to feed in the dark.

The Black Oystercatcher also made a repeat appearance in my camera lens.  This one also had his characteristic dark orange beak partly coated with mud.  I haven’t seen any actual oyster shells along the North Basin (the water on the east side of the park) but I’ve seen clam shells and mussel shells that seagulls have picked up and dropped on the hard asphalt of the pathway.  The Oystercatcher apparently doesn’t need the help of gravity and a hard surface to crack open shellfish.  Its beak does the job all by itself.  I hope some day to see how they do it.

Sooty Oystercatcher
Black Oystercatcher
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

The Snowy Egret is a heron but is smaller than the Great White Heron, which visits the park fairly often.  The Snowy is very common year round in Central and Southern California but ventures up here mostly in the breeding season.  Its appearance in early February may be a sign of an early spring.

 

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit

 

 

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