Monday, January 3, 2011

If ducks attended football games

We've had several successive days without rain, here in Seattle, though with relatively cold temperatures. The cold weather has made walks at the Union Bay fill a bit different from the rainy winter norm. Most critically, all of the ponds, even the biggest ones, have frozen over, as well as some of the lake's inlets. Which means that waterfowl are for the time being pretty much restricted to the large expanses of the lake. Yesterday, during our walk, as we were looking out at all the ducks, coots, grebes, and cormorants amassed in the cove, Tom remarked that if ducks attended football games, this is what it would sound like. The sound was an incredible mix of the nasal honks of mallards and gadwalls, the cute barks of buffleheads, the growls of northern shovelers, and the squeak-toy cries of American widgeons. Now that the main pond is frozen over, the only birdsounds to be heard there are from red-winged blackbirds and other perching birds.

The hottest item of bird gossip this last week has been about the trumpeter swans visiting the lake. Last Wednesday a woman I encountered on the main loop breathlessly told me "There are six swans over there!" and pointed toward the western inlet of the lake. Someone else had told her they were trumpeter swans. (She didn't have binoculars with her and so couldn't verify that for herself.) Tom and I accordingly took off in hot pursuit (abandoning our fix on the Cooper's hawk we'd been watching), but we never did see them. On Thursday, though, we saw a pair of them in another part of the lake, and they were without doubt trumpeter swans, unmistakable with their black beaks-- very beautiful, and very big. In my binoculars I spied a rowboat very near them and fiercely envied the people who were getting such a privileged close-up. I was struck by how swiftly the swans were moving over the water, faster than I've ever seen any waterfowl move. But the final piece of gossip came yesterday. The white board at the fill's kiosk mentioned six trumpeter swans-- and asserted in parentheses and with a couple of exclamation points that these were the three grown-up swans and their mates of the babies that had been at the lake two years ago.

I've decided I love the bareness of the branches of the fill's trees in winter. Not only can you see where the nests are, but you can also spot hawks very easily from a great distance. The red-tailed hawk I got a picture of yesterday is one of the regulars. But there are also a couple of Cooper's hawks, plus, of course, the pair of eagles who have a nest in a tree on the residential street that borders one side of the fill, who spend a lot of time in the fill. At the fill, every season has its particular pleasures to offer. Color me fascinated.

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