Marsh of the Sparrows
B and I took a drive to the Maple River State Game Area on Sunday night to do a little birding and to allow Dylan, our new dog, an outing in a new and exciting place. We arrived at about 7:30PM to find the parking area empty - it's not a particularly popular time of year for visitors. Spring and fall are busy times with migrating birds and waterfowl - birdwatchers and hunters are equally common. Since we were not sharing the area with anyone, we let Dylan enjoy his time off-leash. He stayed on the paths and didn't get too far ahead, so we weren't worried about him disturbing wildlife too far in front of us.
As we hiked along the dikes, we saw a pair of green herons and a pair of American bitterns keeping their distance just in front of us. We began to get the feeling that no one had hiked back into the area this day. We appeared to be the first intruders in some time as the birds were closer to the paths, not as concerned about keeping a safe-distance. A few kingbirds were flycatching over the waterways. The best birding is often enjoyed at the far end of the managed wetland, on one of the largest (about 1/4 square mile) artificially-flooded ponds. Sure enough, as we approached, a small band of Sandhill cranes let us know we were making them nervous somewhere on the other side of the reeds. Their voices are so piercing, I usually find it difficult to guess how far away they are - they always sound close. They were wading on a small sand spit out in the pond in the company of geese and herons. When we emerged from the reeds that had been concealing our presence, a group of white Great Blue Herons took off and flew away to a big tree on the furthest side of the pond. The blue Great Blues weren't offended enough to flee. The white and blue morphs definitely functioned as two separate groups.
There were a lot more bird species present than we expected to find. A quick scan with the binoculars and we found a small flock of 12 or so Cinnamon Teals, a few Mallards, a pair of Mute Swans with 6 adolescent young, lots and lots of Great Blue Herons and a few other waterfowl we couldn't identify. Cormorants came in and landed and a single Osprey flew over while we stood watching. Swallows of various persuasions were catching dinner over the big ponds and the spillways in between.
We watched for a half-hour or so and started our hike back toward the car. The sandhill cranes were happy to see us go; they'd been honking at us the whole time. On our walk back, we spotted an American Goldfinch that confused us for a couple of minutes. His black cap was shaped more like the black mask of a yellowthroat. We went back and forth on his ID for awhile. Ultimately, we decided he was far too yellow and his beak was too big to be a yellowthroat.
We were quite satisfied with our quick evening bird outing. We saw some common birds and some less common ones. I think I'd have had more species to list if I was able to focus more closely and look for small birds in the nearby brush and trees instead of being so overly-fascinated with the big species like herons and cranes. I suspect there were a few warblers and sparrows that I walked right past...I need more practice.
ADDENDUM: This post was included in I and the Bird #4 hosted at milkriverblog (8/18/05).
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