Dawn chorus at Evergreen Lake brings new bird sightings

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By Sylvia Brockner

Time flies. Already it is Friday, May 9, as I write, and spring, which has come and gone several times this past week, is now promising another 15 to 16 inches of snow on Sunday. Every day, the grass grows greener outside my window.

I am at the moment at the Life Care Center of Evergreen, since I slipped at home and hurt my back. My hope is that a few days of physical therapy will set things right so that I can go home. I really need someone to live in with me. So far, I haven’t found anyone, so it may be awhile.

Last week, Sunday, May 4, was the annual dawn chorus at Evergreen Lake. This national event is sponsored by the Audubon Society and birding clubs across the country and locally by Evergreen Audubon and the Evergreen Nature Center.

I was not able to attend this year, but from what I have heard, it was a highly successful affair. This is the 20th year that Evergreen Audubon has sponsored this spring count at Evergreen Lake, and this year’s figures bring the grand total of species seen over the 20 years to 105.

Most of the usual spring migrants were seen. The most outstanding birds added to the list this year were 15 white-faced glossy ibis, 18 willets, two Wilson’s warblers, two Say’s phoebes and two western wood pewees.

The first blue winged teal, avocets and two western grebes had been seen at the lake during the previous week. Although many of those spring migrants only linger for a day or two, they do pass through every year. Often these migrants are weary and spend one day feeding and resting on the lake. Then they continue their journey north the following night.

The spring and fall migration of birds is fascinating and has been well studied, both in the Western Hemisphere and in Europe and Asia. The best book I know of about the migration of birds is “Living on the Wind” by Scott Weidensaul. It is not easy reading, but it is fascinating.

Willets are large shorebirds that are easily seen. They stand out by size alone, but as soon as they open their wings, a bold white stripe is seen. Their body is mottled gray with a white belly.

Their song or call is clear and distinctive. It is often written as “pee, willy, willet” or as “pill, will, willet.” They used to be more common as they nest in northern wetlands and winter along the Pacific coast and the Salton Sea in California.

Unfortunately, the Salton Sea is highly polluted, mainly from agricultural chemicals and is a disgrace to our country. If all the conservation groups and individuals would band together, they could hopefully raise enough money to clean up this disaster over a period of time, and it certainly needs to be done before thousands more birds are killed.

Several people have asked me why the wetlands at Evergreen Lake are so dry. This is probably because I think there’s a valve below the entrance has never been opened, or maybe the September flooding changed things so the water isn’t flowing into the wetlands as it used to. It is not something I can do anything about, but the wetlands are a vital part of Evergreen Lake and must be maintained.

The western wood pewee and Wilson’s warblers are regular nesting birds in the area. The wood pewees are not locally around the lake, and Wilson’s warblers nest above 8,000 feet at such places as the eastern end of Echo Lake. Say’s phoebes are not common around Evergreen because they prefer lower, less forested areas. They can be seen fairly regularly at Red Rocks Park and along the plains.