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Audubon outing: identify shorebirds and waterfowl

A week from Saturday (Oct. 23), members and friends of the Weminuche Audubon Society (WAS) will view and identify shorebirds and waterfowl along the banks of various waters within the Pagosa Lakes area. The public is welcome and, with a little luck and good weather, participants will find the three-hour outing both exciting and educational.

Those planning to attend should meet at the Alco parking lot by 9 a.m. Appropriate seasonal attire — including comfortable footwear — is a must. So are water and snacks, while binoculars and bird books will also be useful. WAS will have spare binoculars for those in need, while members will also carry reference materials to advance species identification. Event organizers ask that attendees leave pets at home.

During a similar jaunt last fall, participants first traveled to the western shoreline of Pinon Lake. There, a few mallards dabbled among the more prevalent northern shovelers, buffleheads and common goldeneyes. American wigeons and redheads were also seen in good numbers, as select pairs of common mergansers kept more to themselves. Though never clearly identified, a few American gadwalls apparently dawdled among the hordes.

Like mallards, shovelers, wigeons and gadwalls are dabbling ducks (or puddle ducks) that feed at or near the surface of most waters. While taking flight, they typically jump straight into the air.

Buffleheads, goldeneyes, redheads and mergansers, on the other hand, often dive deep for food, while scuttling over the surface before becoming airborne. Typical of most waterfowl, the males — or drakes — of each don more colorful plumage than their female counterparts.

American coots lined Pinon’s shoreline, too. As dark gray members of the rail family, they are actually shorebirds with lobed toes, rather than webbed feet. Like diving ducks, they readily swim, dive and skitter over the surface while taking flight, but most often feed on small invertebrates on shore or near the water. Members of both sexes appear the same, even down to the thick white bill.

Upon moving to the roadway between Village Lake and Lake Forest, the Audubon group quickly spotted two grebes — one a pied-billed, the other a western. While immensely entertaining water birds, grebes are not ducks. As terrific swimmers and divers, they have long necks and lobed toes, but their legs are positioned far enough to the rear of their body that surefootedness is difficult at best.

Of course, Canada geese and resident trumpeter swans are often seen on Lake Forest (and Pinon), sometimes including young signets born to the trumpeter adults the previous spring. This year, the family includes four such youngsters, all of whom are quickly growing to adult size. Their much grayer plumage readily identifies them as the young of the year.

Lake Hatcher also provides consistent viewing for shore birds and waterfowl, as potentially thousands of individuals dabble and dawdle, take to the air and splash down. It’s sure to be a popular stop during next Saturday’s outing, with countless beautiful water birds exhibiting natural behavior in the midst of another fall migration.

For more information on the Oct. 23 waterfowl outing, or other upcoming Audubon events, contact Weminuche Audubon Society Vice President Dottie George at hgeorge000@centurytel.net, or Audubon Colorado’s Southwest Regional Director Becky Gillette at rgillette@audubon.org. You can call Dottie at 731-5759 and Becky at 883-3066.

chuck@pagosasun.com