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Norman Sperling
2625 Alcatraz Avenue #235
Berkeley, CA 94705-2702

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Water Birds

© Norman Sperling, January 23, 2011

My bike rides got boring. The same trees, the same curves, the same streams and beaches. Even scenic trails aren't so scenic after many years.

Lately I've paid more attention to a big variable: water and shore birds. My brother Barry, a long-time birder, commented that they're very attractive because they're big, and out in the open. I might point out the avocets and black-necked stilts to a passing kid: "Those are shore birds." "Yep", she'd reply, "they shore are".

Songbirds, by contrast, are small, flit by too fast to identify, and hide in bushes. You may merely hear them. Barry's quite an expert at identifying them by their songs but, for now, I'd rather actually see the birds.

The ever-changing array of water birds brings unpredictable variety to my rides.

I almost always see pigeons (rock doves), crows, ring-billed gulls, haughty cormorants and Canada geese (only a few in recent weeks), mallards, great egrets (more lately), and American coots. But birders told me that certain species "don't count", like pigeons. Are there published standards for what doesn't count? Are they different from place to place, or category to category? What "doesn't count" in other fields?

For months I saw no canvasback ducks, and now there are plenty. A few days featured a great flotilla of 16 huge white pelicans, then none, and a few days ago one pair. Colorful northern shovelers dropped in for a week or 2 and left again. There's a great blue heron that might be seen within a hundred meters of a favorite spot.

That heron, and the many great egrets, stand motionless for long minutes while waiting for a morsel to swim to them. Kind of like street performers on the San Francisco waterfront, who imitate a statue, till a tourist tosses in some money, earning a thank-you. Snowy egrets, my favorites, wade along the water's edge, kicking up the mud, gobbling tasty critters they rouse. Journalists used to muckrake before giant conservative corporations bought most of their outlets; now that’s left to us bloggers.

No pelicans or cormorants along the lagoon today. But a big flock of short-billed dowitchers is poking away at a couple of sand bars.

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