The Pandemic continued to cast its shadow over gatherings in May, but the officially cancelled 4th-Wednesday walk at Lake Merritt drew seven birders – including three newcomers who’d been meaning to join the trip for years and decided this was the month to start.
The bird turnout was typical late-spring light (the more-or-less usual 33 species) – but we hardly noticed, with three sets of new eyes to see through. New birders make everything interesting again: the difference between adult and juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons and adult and juvenile gulls, the way to tell a domestic goose from a wild bird , the reason we see so few species of ducks in May.
Story sharing brought out the news that we have a Crested Duck back at the lake – over on the Harrison Street arm rather than in the bird paddock where it belongs, but enough to trigger the origin tale, untold for several years. Crested Ducks are gorgeous domestics – shaped like the common barnyard waddler and colored anywhere in that range, but one and all wearing some sort of ball of feathers for headgear. The new one is particularly fine: all shining white, with an orange beak and a huge puffy white feathered beret. A pleasure to see – but a tad grisly to consider once you know that only one of that bird’s parents was a Crested Duck; the other had to have been the ordinary smooth-headed variety. Why? Because the gene that causes the trait kills with a double dose: the skull doesn’t fuse and the baby dies in the egg. And people still breed for it…. At least our new Crested Duck is hanging with a very attentive smooth-headed drake.
A Green Heron visited the tidal flats in front of the dome cage at the beginning of the trip, high-stepping through the couple of inches of water-logged algae and occasionally snapping up something small and wriggling. It may have the way my toes curled as I watched, but it really looked as though the heron didn’t much like the footing despite the rewards of hunting there.
Later, we enjoyed another Green Heron appearance, this one on the near island’s east-side rip-rap – in an expected location, but not prowling for tidbits or watching for them. Instead, it had a crow crowding it along the shore and attempting to dive-bomb it. The heron responded by moseying away from the ground-level approaches and making a spirited attempt to spear the crow when it dived too close. An astonishing encounter; something I’d have called unique had I not seen almost the same thing a week or so earlier. On that occasion, my companion Lyla captured part of the action, visible at https://www.facebook.com/hilary.powers.16/videos/2886075981507787/ – no Facebook account needed for viewing.
Over in Lakeside Park, we encountered all the usual tree birds – the chickadees and titmice and juncos and robins and the rest – but no warblers and no rarities. It was hot enough to make deep shade very welcome, so we sat awhile under the oak by the composting area in the garden. While we rested, a Cooper’s Hawk made the day by buzzing up the path past us about ten feet off the ground; it skimmed over the fence and away, failing to snag a snack en route. Good days are thin on the ground now – even thinner than a month ago – so it was a very good day to be at Lake Merritt, where they’re still to be relied upon….