Saturday, October 27, 2007

It's hard to do this justice without a photo

Today I spent some time along the Lake Michigan shoreline, looking for late October migrants. While my success was somewhat limited ( I stayed in Milwaukee County, and posts on the Wisconsin Birding List show that points north of Milwaukee were somewhat more productive today). But I managed to see approx. 10 Common Loons offshore from the well-known lakewatch spot known as North Point (near Milwaukee's Bradford Beach). There were also a few Horned Grebes, about a hundred each of Mallards and Gadwalls, a few Northern Shovelers, American Black Ducks, several dozen Buffleheads, the ever-present Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. North of this location at Doctor's Park, the waterfowl present were similar but also included 6 White-winged Scoters, some flocks of Greater Scaup, and some Red-breasted Mergansers. If you've never watched loons and diving waterfowl well offshore in the Great Lakes, it's not at all like searching for landbirds. Until the sun came out after noon, the sky was leaden, it was blowing hard from the northwest, and the lake had that look of hammered steel. The loons were FAR offshore. You could look at excellent photos of the Common Loon like the ones Mike McDowell makes (this is an example), but this gives you a close-up view. That's a great view, but the birds I was studying were hundreds of meters offshore, moving at a good clip southward. Loons in flight really look distinctively different from waterfowl. Their heads are held lower than the body as they fly (here's an example online from Cornell, with a photo by B.L. Sullivan). Wish I had a photo of my own to illustrate what I was seeing, but alas, no such luck.

I've chosen to at least partially limit my birding to locations closer to home, at least for the majority of the time. I'm finding this creates some obstacles in communication with other birders who question or disagree with this approach. I'm hopeful it won't stay that way. There are some uncomfortable silences in some situations. Obviously, our choices are different, and that can create misunderstanding. But again, I'm hopeful that this will change over time. We can have a dialogue, and maybe foster understanding and the exchange of ideas, with a willingness to be open to the ideas of others. And that obviously goes for me, too! I am humbled every day by all that I don't know.

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