Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Refuge Week Provides Needed Access
October 14, 2022
By Steve Grinley
This week is National Wildlife Refuge Week so Margo and I took advantage of the public access to the North Pool dike, otherwise closed the rest of the year. Back in the “old days” when I first started birding, it was always open, as was the dike around Bill Forward Pool that, sadly, remains closed year around.
We started out walk from the Hellcat parking lot with binoculars and one spotting scope, having left Margo’s car at the Maintenance Area knowing that the 1.5 mile one way walk would be enough for us. As we walked up to the dike, blue jays were actively flying back and forth to the oak trees along the edge and yellow-rumped warblers were flitting in the shrubs and phragmites.
A brief look down Bill Forward Pool revealed only ducks, most further down as usual, almost out of reach of our 70 power scope. We could make out only black ducks, green-winged teal, and a few cormorants. We did see five pintail ducks closer along the edge of the water. No shorebirds were anywhere in that pool that we could see.
Turning to the North Pool, a number of greater yellowlegs were tucked in their usual spot near the exposed mudflat. Among them were two smaller dunlin with down-curved bills and twenty green-winged teal. A great blue heron was standing next to the reeds.
We were greeted by our first of many song sparrows feeding in the path. As we walked north looking into the pool, the sun was at our back providing great light, and the light breeze was enough to keep the bugs away. It was a perfect autumn day.
A few great egrets were out in the salt marsh to the west, and only a few mallards and mute swans were in the fresh water pool. A little further down, a couple of chickadees popped up from the grass and shrubs and flew into the pool’s phragmites. A few red-winged blackbirds emerged from the reeds and flew south.
We then spotted three plovers just ahead of us on the near shore. Through the scope we could see that two were smaller. A rather loud couple approached us (“walkie-talkies” Margo calls them-quite common on the boardwalk) and the plovers flew a short way and landed just below us. One had black in the “armpits” – a black-bellied plover, and the other two did not – American golden plovers! The latter were the smaller and had dark caps and shorter bills. Nice!
We found our largest concentration of birds in a large opening of phrags beyond the water gate and around the curves where one cannot view otherwise. There we found a mix of eighteen yellowlegs, seventeen long-billed dowitchers and an Hudsonian godwit! Three white-rumped sandpipers and a semipalmated sandpiper were on a nearby sand spit. Margo also discovered a sora rail walking through the reeds behind!
There was also a nice mixture of ducks including black ducks, green-winged teal, gadwall, pintail and a northern shoveler. Our only snowy egret for the day was with several great egrets and a great blue heron. Three immature black-crowned night herons were roosting in the reeds – there were likely many more we couldn’t see!
The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful. We watched many great egrets drop into what looked like a large open area of the reeds between us and the north field. We wondered if this was a night roost for many birds and thought that would be a great spot to have a viewing tower so that we could see what else was in there!
As we reached the split where the North Pool Overlook trail went right, we went left through the small tree area and saw many more yellow-rumped warblers, a palm warbler, two Savannah and a white-crowned sparrow, many more song sparrows and our only robins of the walk.
We ended wondering why this trail couldn’t be open for wildlife observation year around as it once was. There are so few trails available on this beautiful refuge. It was certainly safer than birding the refuge road where vehicles speed by at forty miles and hour. Except for those loud walkers that flushed the close plovers we saw no other wildlife being disturbed by people presence, only by a northern harrier that passed by every now and then!
Still, it was a pleasant trek on a near perfect fall afternoon.