Whenever we visit my parents, we spend our days outside hiking the countryside. They live near Puget Sound, and the landscape varies here to an astonishing degree.
The other day, it was just three of us, my dad, my son, and me. We chose a trail atop a dike in the flat muddy land near Padilla Bay. The dikes are earthen walls intended to keep the water from constantly flooding the surrounding farmland as the tide goes in and out. Although the land was picturesque in its own way, I held out little hope for spotting interesting wildlife. But of course I brought the camera--you never know.
The trail was winding (my favorite kind) and around a bend we spotted our first of several Great Blue Herons. This one actually flew in a little closer and we watched him quietly for a very long time.
We followed the ditch for nearly a mile, and we noticed that there were quite a few ducks in the water. From a distance, they appeared to be common mallards, and rather drab, but on closer inspection they turned out to be Green-winged Teals (male and female). A second pair of ducks proved to be Gadwalls.
The more time we spent walking, the more we became aware of various kinds of tiny birds sitting in the hedges and poking about in the mud. We believe these birds are Western Sandpipers, although there are several species of sandpipers that are almost indistinguishable.
We also spotted a number of White-crowned Sparrows. My father found them unremarkable but I had never seen them before.
The wind picked up and my son's little legs started to give out, so we turned back to the car. Just before we departed, we spotted a bit of a row in the sky as a bird (no doubt guarding a nest) determinedly charged a large bird of prey until the intruder wheeled off. We thought it might be a hawk, but using binoculars we discovered it was none other than a bald eagle.
We don't see such fascinating sights every day, but as time goes by I start to think that we make our own luck. If you get out as often as possible, you just never know what you might see. And bring your binoculars!
I must share that I was fortunate enough to identify these birds using a fabulous book my father owns--National Audobon Society's The Sibley Guide to Birds. Even more fascinating (a book we may have to own ourselves some day) is National Audobon Society's The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. From the latter book I was reminded, for example, that water birds hatch with feathers and the ability to feed themselves right away; nesting birds are born without wings and rely exclusively on their parents for food until they learn how to fly.
If you are out and about, be sure to share your experiences in the comments of a post, link to your own nature walks you blog about, and post your photographs on the TMG flickr pool.