Thursday, December 2, 2010

An aquatic surprise

I may be out of sorts today-- forgot to take my morning medication until 4 p.m., have had several small accidents involving objects, and am irritable, perhaps because I've passed the halfway mark of my residency and still have much to do on the collection-- but my walk on the beach offered some wonderful distractions. It's cold today, but with little wind. At around two this afternoon, when I happened to shift my eyes away from my computer screen as I was thinking, I realized I was seeing an eagle in my view out the window. I ran for my binoculars, of course, but by the time I'd gotten tem the eagle was out of sight. But it made me realize it was time to do my walk.

From the overlook I could see plenty of waterfowl in the waters off the south beach, so I decided to walk on that beach today. Close to the Marine Center's pier I immediately spotted a western grebe, and about fifty feet south of it, another. Both were doing a lot of long dives. Further south, more grebes. And then the cluster of buffleheads, grebes, and hooded mergansers I've come to expect to see together. Where, I wondered, were the puffins? I was getting nowhere looking for them with my binoculars, so I just stood and watched for awhile with my naked eyes, and as if they knew I was expecting them, they entered my field of vision stage left (from the north), again in single file. (I think I've seen ducks swimming in single file only when they're ducklings.) One has to stand very still when using the binoculars, of course, but it was too cold really to do that for very long. So I settled for just finding them, then walked on. On my return trip, I was sure enough I was seeing something moving in the water that I spent a lot of time trying to locate it in my binoculars. Finally I did. And what a surprise! It was a pair of river otters-- with long tails that reminded me a bit of rats' tails and long necks that were sort of sea-dragonish, and very distinct faces. They weren't, of course, diving the way grebes do. They dove as they swam, in a continuous, sleek motion, looking very slippery and slithery.

It's always a thrill to see creatures you're not looking for...

By the way, the photo posted here is a view of what I was looking at when I spotted waterfowl that I then identified with my binoculars. I think that a year ago I wouldn't have thought there were any ducks out there at all.

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