Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blustery Local Birding

Yesterday afternoon felt a lot like late winter: blustery but mild. I walked around my local park to see if the weather change had brought any change in the bird life. The snow is finally melting significantly, which left the ground soft and mushy wherever it was exposed. For the most part, the bird species were the same as during the past few weeks.

One very noticeable difference was the relative absence of gulls. For the past month or so, I would see masses of gulls huddled on the ice on the river. On most days, the gulls numbered in the hundreds. Today, with no ice on the river, there were a lot fewer gulls. Another interesting change is that Ring-billed Gulls outnumbered Herring Gulls for the first time in a while. I am not sure if that reflects seasonal changes in the overall local gull population, or if it was just a one-day variation.

There were more Canada Geese than I have seen in a few weeks. They slowly returned as more bare ground became available for their foraging. These three geese were picking grass out of a puddle on one of the athletic fields. Mallards were also more plentiful than I have been used to seeing so far this winter.

My favorite sighting of the afternoon was a raft of Common Mergansers in the vicinity of the train bridge. (Unfortunately, they were too far to take good photos of them.) Usually I see a handful on the river, or maybe a single bird. Yesterday I counted one raft of at least thirty, with other individuals scattered along the river. Seeing such a large group makes me wonder if these birds are already staging for their northward migration, or perhaps stopping to rest and feed as they journey from points farther south.