I headed out this morning to do my weekly survey on seven specific areas of the refuge. Each of the survey plots is basically a semi-circle with a radius of 300 meters. That means I can’t count any water birds that may be nearby, but not within the designated perimeters. That can be frustrating to me at times since, like today, about 10,000 snow geese were just outside my count area. In previous weeks, these huge flocks chose areas within my boundaries, but not today. Instead, the count areas seemed to be inundated with immature bald eagles! I’ll get to what that means in a minute.
Three of the count plots are in closed areas that are not open to the public. These areas are closed so that the wintering water birds have very few disturbances, and can build their reserves up for their arduous migration north for breeding. As I unlocked the gate to get into this area, a little savannah sparrow was busy foraging for something to eat right in front of me. I couldn’t pass up the chance to get its picture.
As I made my way down the one lane gravel road to my first stop, I had to wade through several bunches of cows feeding in the marsh and giving the road a new fertilizer treatment. When I got to my survey location, there didn’t seem to be as many birds around as usual. That’s when I noticed three young bald eagles perched or flying over the area. The perched eagles could only be seen through the scope.
I tried to get a few pics of the eagles that were on the wing. Not very good photos, but it is what it is.
I counted what I could, and proceeded on to my second count area. It, too, had less ducks and such than normal. As I scanned through the scope that I attach to the driver’s side window, I spotted a small hummock in the marsh that had six bald eagles on it! Dang! I’m always thrilled to see bald eagles, but give me a break! With that many eagles around, it was no wonder that many of the ducks, shorebirds, and egrets had made themselves scarce.
Bald eagles generally prefer to eat fish, but they aren’t above taking advantage of waterfowl resources, and carrion. Since all of these eagles were young and under the age of four or five, they too need to do what they need to do to survive. I just wished they had chosen an area other than the ones I was surveying.
In the last week or two, I’ve noticed quite a few snow goose carcasses in this area. What’s the cause for that? My guess is that it is the result of many things… old age, disease, wounded birds from the hunt, and perhaps the unusual ice storms that we’ve had lately have taken their toll. Coyotes also take their share, but they generally eat what they kill. If you are a young eagle trying to get through the winter, eating dead snow geese will certainly help you survive. It just doesn’t help me count waterfowl in an area.
In general, I’m noticing an overall decrease in waterfowl numbers from their peaks in December. It’s that time of the year. Could it be that ducks get ‘hitch itch’ too? Or maybe with our nasty weather, they’ve headed further south. Only time will tell. Found this handsome brown pelican looking for a bite to eat in Oyster bayou today on the edge of one of my count areas. I really liked its ‘Mohawk’.
Tomorrow I’m off for my second physical therapy workout this week in the town of Anahuac. Some of the exercises are a challenge, but most of my shoulder pain is gone. I’m hopeful I can avoid surgery.
Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later, Judy