A Day at the Marsh

Walking the marsh this past weekend we found that some of the regulars were missing: the junco, the harrier, the scrub jay, the great blue heron and the red-tailed hawk. We heard an occasional wren but saw none. Perhaps it was the wind, which pummeled the man-tall reeds like seaweed under crashing waves; perhaps it was the end of mating season. A month ago our little wrens scaled the cattails and dove through the reeds, singing loud for love. You wondered how the marsh could support so many. No sooner did the song of one fade behind you but two more began just ahead.

Among those we did spot this past weekend: gulls and terns, white pelicans, cormorants, coots, pied-billed grebes, mallards, northern shovelers and cinnamon teals, cattle egrets, great egrets, a night heron, Canada geese, a turkey vulture, a single white-tailed kite, a mockingbird, swallows, various sparrows, a house finch, red-winged blackbirds with shoulder-patches that flashed like scarlet eyes, and a great-tailed grackle. My daughter (age nine) expertly identified the teal herself, a duck I’d never seen before. We were both surprised by the grackle, which is uncommon here and something we’d also never seen.

The great-tailed grackle and the pied-billed grebe are both terrific vocalizers. From a distance the male grackle might be mistaken for a smaller, especially iridescent crow, until it speaks. No baritone this, but an alto or soprano. Its calls are more like those of its cousin, the blackbird, but louder, sharper, more tuneful, with greater variability. The pied-billed grebe’s remarkable call we heard on past visits but had never identified its source. Clearly designed to carry at distance, we agreed it sounded like nothing so much as a monkey hollering from the boughs of some South American jungle.


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