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The diversity of the avifauna associated with the aquatic habitats is continually astounding. On one of my earliest censuses, I saw a small flock of sandhill cranes (left) winging over, but haven't seen any since. Water levels are apparently too high in the flow-way this winter to attract them, though they have been there in huge numbers in years past.
The bird on the right is a coot, one of the most comical and seemingly stupid (and I mean that in a good way) wetland birds. They are present in huge numbers wherever there is open water (and even not so open). If you've never heard a couple thousand coots yukking it up, you're missing something. In the center is a fulvous whistling duck. I've rarely seen these ducks elsewhere, but they are often present in flocks of over a hundred in the more thickly vegetated areas of the wet marsh. Its a neat opportunity to be able to observe these ducks - they fly more like geese, and their wheezy whistling calls are a dead giveaway that they're around, even if they stay out of sight, which they seem to prefer. Its a lousy shot, I know. My collection of duck photographs from Emeralda is remarkably small - probably because people shoot at them for part of the year with shotguns instead of cameras, they tend to be a bit stand-offish, and my puny little 400 mm lens (even with telextender) just won't do the job. If any Nikon representatives or wealthy donors out there are reading this and would like to support my efforts at duck photography, a 500 or 600 f/4 lens with matching teleconverters would be gratefully accepted.
Shorebirds are one of my favorite groups. There are a few species that have been reliably present thus far, and I'm hoping that diversity will pick up as migration gets underway. In fact, I saw my first black-necked stilt of the year today (3/17), and if I'm lucky, I'll have some shots to put up when Fuji sees fit to return my film.
The two shots on top are least sandpipers, which are quite active little birds. A lot of slides ended up in the circular file. The easiest of the peeps to identify though, if you can see them lit well enough to show their yellow legs. On bottom left is a snipe, which are usually cooperative if you can spot them. On bottom right is a killdeer that was doing quite a strange behavior. That's a mat of floating mud and roots that he's on, and he would walk a few steps, lift his right leg slightly, and vibrate it rapidly against the mud. He would usually then reach down and pick up some minute food item. I have no idea what the purpose of the leg shake was. It reminded me of descriptions of "worm-stomping" by wood turtles in Pennsylvania, a bizarre behavior those turtles use to drum up prey. Hmmm... maybe killdeers are phylogenetically closer to emydid turtles than to other Charadriiform birds and the similarities are all convergence ... if I could back up that story, I'd make the cover of Science.
Raptors are diverse and abundant in the flow-way habitats. Most are a bit flighty, though, so difficult to photograph. That's an immature red-shouldered hawk on the left, and a red-tailed hawk on the right. Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks are also common, and on one occasion, I saw 3 merlins within a couple of minutes. No photos, though.
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