elusive aves

I doubt I will ever be able to capture them. Spotting them with my eyes is difficult enough, although hearing them, these days, is no problem at all. My ears are attuned to  birdsong, whether I want to hear it or not. Sitting and studying, then through an open window comes a call I haven’t heard before. What IS that? I’ve think I’ve positively identified one bird that lives near my home this spring by sound, although I haven’t seen it yet with my eyes, at least this year.

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

The Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) has a distinctive song and call. As I am a very inexperienced birder, I have not yet developed the knack of translating bird vocalizations to human speech (pip-pip-pip yeeee or trill-deep, trill-deep, just for examples). I won’t try to describe the Towhee. Click the link, listen. Have you one heard before? Probably. The Spotted Towhee is common in Washington. I think I’ve spotted one near my garden shed in another season, ruffling in piles of alder leaves. It seemed a silly thing for a bird to do, and it stuck in my mind.

harper high tide

Less elusive are the birds of the Harper Estuary. I’m able to both hear and see them, although I despair of capturing them on film. I don’t have the experience, patience, or equipment to get it right. Every time I go back, however, I add another bird to my list.My faithful companion at every visit is the Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) atop the Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis; edible but bitter fruits pictured in the header photo) to the south of the culvert on the marine side. His call is also distinctive, and I nearly know the Red-winged Blackbird by sound alone.

Red-winged blackbird M
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Other birds I’ve seen often this spring at Harper include flocks of American Widgen (Anas americana), feeding at the water’s surface in the harbor, and American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) scavenging on the beach for a snack.

Less common but still a frequent site at the estuary this spring is the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). I’ve only seen solitary Herons there thus far, and only once hunting for prey while standing in shallow water, but more usually flying above and away, neck tucked back with long legs trailing. They are one of my favorite birds; I feel lucky I see them so commonly here. Apparently they range over most of North and Central America, with a few rare sightings reported historically in Europe I was surprised learn that in spite of their large size, reaching 4 feet tall, Great Blue Heron may weigh only 5 pounds.

A couple of birds I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing once each at Harper Estuary this spring are the Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), buzzing at me as I sat watching the incoming tide from the comfort of my camp chair and fitting its reputation as “the feistiest hummingbird in North America”, and a solitary Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura), with its distinctively spotted rump and pigeon-like manner, walking and pecking in the grass near the shore.The Mourning Dove is apparently extremely abundant in North American, and is also a game bird, shot for sport and sustenance here. I didn’t know!

My favorite sighting thus far while visiting Harper is certainly the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). I was able to watch her for some time with my binoculars one evening as she flew back and forth across the bay, from electrical wires along Southworth Drive to the trees near the freshwater marsh. Even hidden among the leaves I was able to spot her large body and dark blueish-gray and white feathers from far away. Each time she flew across the bay she gave a loud, rattling call. Her markings and manner were distinctive enough that I was able to accurately sketch her dark cape across her chest and reddish band below, along with her large, fluffy-crested head, and find her in my bird guide at my leisure once I got home.

Female Belted Kingfisher
Female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

I’m interested to know what other birds have been spotted at Harper, and also to record what increase of birds and waterfowl may occur post-restoration. It’s already a lovely place to observe them; I can only imagine what increase in diversity and abundance might occur with an increase in suitable habitat here.



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