Water Games

I saw some really interesting bird behavior at the beach this weekend and was glad I got some photos to share it with you. You know how dolphins will swim in front of a boat like they’re racing it? Well did you know Canada Geese like to race too? Neither did I! But I’m convinced that’s what these eight birds were doing with the two people on jetskis, as they flew right beside them just above water level.

You can tell by the changing background boats in these two shots that this wasn’t just an accidental crossing of paths that took a few seconds; those birds were playing with the jetskis! I took about 20 shots of them as they went across in front of us. Hmmm, I suddenly have a bit more interest in “boring” Canada Geese (aka, the “poop dispensers” of many suburban parks).

We went to the beach both days this weekend, but not for “normal person” beach activities. As I’m sure my regular readers know by now, we went to watch birds. July has been very slow for birding — most birds haven’t begun migrating back down from their northern breeding grounds yet. And the ones who stay here all summer are very quiet after they’re done breeding. But the shorebirds are starting to show up on mudflats and beaches, so I’ve decided this is my time to really start learning them. Up till now, I’ve been intimidated by the shorebirds (sandpipers and plovers mostly) because they all look alike. Not really, but kinda sorta. The biggest problem is that they’re always so far away that you need a spotting scope to see plumage details. And even then, most of them are brownish on top and whitish on the belly, especially at this time of year.

It’s easier when you can see them side-by-side to get an idea of relative sizes. This shows (l to r): Killdeer, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Least Sandpiper.

But you’ve got to start somewhere, so on Saturday we took our scope and binoculars to make a first real attempt to learn who’s who out there. Luck was with us that day because only a couple minutes after we set up the scope, our friend Kevin showed up. He’s much more experienced than us and very generous with his knowledge, so we got a big boost up that intimidating first step of the shorebird ID ladder by birding with him that day. Thanks to Kevin, I now feel pretty confident that I can identify Pectoral and Least Sandpipers. And we got a good look at some Caspian Terns too, as seen here:

You may think they’re making lots of noise in this pic, but they’re just opening their mouths to cool off. (Did you know birds don’t have sweat glands?)

Common Gallinule

Eric had been wanting to check out Harsens Island for its kayaking potential, so we thought we’d go over and check out the birding action on Sunday. I had never been to the New Baltimore area — even though it’s only a 40 minute drive from home — and was surprised to find such a resort-like community so close to home. We took the cute little ferry over to the island and drove around to get a feel for the place. We didn’t find anyplace where we could get out of the car and watch birds though; there were lots of small boat launches where you can put a boat into the marshes though, so we may bring our kayaks over here some time soon. We didn’t find too many interesting birds either — lots of big flocks of European Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds, some Grackles and Barn Swallows. The best sighting was a single Common Gallinule on the edge of a marsh. I was driving, so I handed the camera to Eric and he managed to get a couple quick shots before the bird got nervous and went behind the reeds.

After our brief exploration of the island, we drove back to Lake St. Clair Metropark to check out the beach again. We reinforced what we’d learned on Saturday by watching the same species in slightly higher numbers. The beach was crowded that day, and we had a few incidents of kids running through trying to chase the birds away but overall it was fun. I feel progress has been made!

What “normal” people do on the beach….

…and what WE do on the beach!

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2 Responses to Water Games

  1. Great pictures of the geese! It is nice to see Canadian geese featured in a good way. I am afraid they are gaining a bad reputation all over North America thanks to the way they ruin beaches with their poop. They don’t always migrate in the winter now either, which is strange.

    • Kim says:

      Thanks, Kristie. I’ve read that the reason some Canada Geese don’t migrate is because they have easy year-round food sources in some areas, and there are so many man-made lakes in housing developments and parks these days. I think since they’re so common and abundant we don’t pay much attention to them…until we step in their poop!

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