At this time of the year, many of us enjoy gathering for a traditional Thanksgiving feast, honoring the (somewhat embellished) story of the first Thanksgiving dinner, which involved a shared feast of …
At this time of the year, many of us enjoy gathering for a traditional Thanksgiving feast, honoring the (somewhat embellished) story of the first Thanksgiving dinner, which involved a shared feast of native foods.
Whether in times of abundance or scarcity, we can choose to step into a mindset of gratitude. I am grateful to be here in our little corner of the world, with nature close at hand: wild beaches, wild salmon, and wild forests. And I’m grateful for the return of the winter birds!
Migrating birds poignantly mark the seasons, connecting us more deeply with the cycles of the natural world. With the arrival of winter storms comes the annual return of many birds from afar.
Their sudden appearance, often in large flocks, raises many questions for curious humans: Who are these feathered visitors with incredible stamina and determination? How far have they come? Is this their destination, or just a rest stop? What life events have they seen during the last six months? How do they manage to withstand this arduous journey, flapping wings continuously for hundreds of miles? And how do they know where to go?
November walks bring sightings of winter birds seeking rest: At Kah Tai Lagoon at dusk, a flock of some 200 wigeon circled and swirled into the brackish waters, joining small groups of Bufflehead ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and a few small Grebes. Growing numbers of Hooded Mergansers splash with glee in the waters of the historically-named Chinese Gardens lagoon, while flocks of Red-breasted Mergansers dive for fish off North Beach and Fort Worden. Gulls embed themselves into the diving ducks’ flotilla, hoping to pirate a small fish. Various species of shorebirds, sometimes in mixed flocks, gather on beaches and rocky spits of our peninsula.
The Brant geese, champion long-distance travelers, have begun arriving from their Arctic breeding grounds. Twice each year, flocks of Brant will traverse thousands of miles — much of it over open ocean — between the Bering Sea and the lower mainland of the continent, wintering along the coast from Victoria, B.C. down to Baja California. Good places to see the Brant locally, between November and April, include Point Hudson and Fort Flagler spit, always close to salt water and their beloved eelgrass. (In the Port Townsend Library, I found a fascinating old book about the “Sea Goose,” written in the 1960s, that gave me a greater appreciation for the tenacity and stamina of the Brant.)
Getting back to Thanksgiving: Wild Turkeys (who are not migratory) have roamed North America since before the time of the Pilgrims, from the Atlantic coast to parts of eastern New Mexico. They prefer areas with oaks, since they like to eat acorns.
By 1930, the Wild Turkey had been hunted to extinction in 18 states, prompting a nationwide conservation effort. The National Wild Turkey Foundation (www.nwtf.org/) has worked tirelessly to restore the game bird to all of its original range, and beyond — now wild Turkeys are found even in states where they were not native, like Washington and Oregon. According to conservation biologists, the expansion of the turkey’s range has not hurt other species; rather, it just blended into the existing ecosystems.
Learn more about wild turkeys at www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/wild-turkey.
Indigenous people who for millennia have lived by hunting and wild harvesting know much about birds, while modern scientists and amateur observers have added to our knowledge base. Before the 20th Century, the tradition of a Christmas duck hunt had evolved into a competitive event (who can shoot the most in one day) that saw a wasteful slaughter of wild birds.
In 1900, biologist Frank Chapman proposed a more sustainable event to replace it — a Christmas Bird Census, a day on which all wild birds would be tallied. Binoculars replaced rifles, and gradually the annual bird census took root.
Now, more than a century later, the Christmas Bird Count takes place annually in all 50 states and Canadian provinces, as well as a few other places. Locally, the Admiralty Audubon Society welcomes seasoned birdwatchers and newbies to participate in this year’s Christmas Bird Count, set for Saturday, Dec. 18. Please contact me at the email below to learn more. You can even count birds at your backyard feeder!
To learn more about bird migrations, visit this page: https://www.audubon.org/news/ask-kenn-do-migrating-birds-take-same-routes-spring-and-fall.
Your comments are appreciated! Please send me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Gary Eduardo Perless is education director with Admiralty Audubon Society. Find out how to join one of his bird walks by looking at the Events page at admiraltyaudubon.org.)
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