Autumn Birding at the Arlington Reservoir
The Reservoir Comes to Life
The water level in the Res is rising, and so is the bird population.
There are some large rocks on the emerging sandspit opposite the beach. One day last week a Great Blue Heron stood tall on the biggest rock, like a sentinel watching over the crowd of Mallards, Canada Geese, and gulls resting on the sand and occasionally slipping into the water.
In the shallows at the northern end of the Res another Great Blue stood in water almost up to his heels (which are in the middle of his long legs), fishing. On the mudflats along the berm two Ring-billed Gulls were engaged in a shouting match which eventually got physical: they seemed to be trying to bite each other’s bills until one gave up and flew away. A fat Herring Gull stood nearby, ignoring the combatants completely.
Noisy Killdeer were running back and forth among more resting Mallards. A few American Wigeons mixed with more Mallards and Black Ducks in the water. Tiny drab ducks swam among them, and one flashed an emerald wingpatch, confirming my suspicion that they were Green-winged Teal out of breeding plumage. Two oddballs stood out on the mudflat: duck-shaped but distinctly larger, all black with a hint of green sheen on their heads. Probably strays of some domestic breed, or hybrid descendants of strays.
Off to one side a beautiful Yellowlegs was foraging, unperturbed by my slow progress along the berm. I couldn’t tell whether it was a Greater or a Lesser, but its legs were certainly bright yellow.
The final treat was a young Green Heron fishing near the end of the swimming area. Every feather was clearly visible in the sunshine: the dark greenish head, rusty-brown sides of the neck, streaked throat and breast, slightly speckled sides, and dull gray back which seemed to belie its name. Its feathers may have fallen short of adult coloring, but it was already an effective hunter: it gobbled up three small fish in quick succession, zip-zip-zip, then strutted about a bit before catching a slightly larger one. It was fishing in an oval patch where the outflow from a drainpipe had pushed away the floating vegetation. The water in this patch looked strange – almost milky in one area, brownish in the other. I hope there was no contaminant in it to spoil the young heron’s lunch.
Peterson’s field guide devotes two pages to pictures of “confusing fall warblers.” Amen to that characterization. It’s fun to meet the challenge of identifying tricky birds, but it is also fun just to observe the easy ones that conveniently parade before you.