Monday, December 28, 2009
For years I have whizzed by Thunderbird Mountain on 59th Avenue, just a few miles from our house, vaguely aware of a manmade wetland just east of the busy road that has been designated as a wildlife refuge. But if you are going the speed limit, it is easy to miss the turn off to the refuge, complete with a small parking lot, viewing benches and an interpretive display. In the photo below, the refuge is the body of water between all of the housing and the open space in the foreground. This was the first time I had the forethought to arm myself with binoculars and a bird book, with no other intention than to drive over there and check it out.
What a fun surprise to discover a flock of hooded mergansers, possibly one of the cutest birds on the planet! There were about three dozen of them, both male and female, bobbing around under the cottonwoods along the waterway. I'm taking the liberty of using a photo lifted from the internet, with all due credit to the photographer, Steve Berliner, since my camera lens is not up to the task.
Also on display today were at least a thousand common mergansers, another one of my favorite waterbirds. The males are white-bodied with irridescent green heads and pointed orange bills. The equally elegant females have rusty red heads with gray-feathered bodies. All were floating peacefully with bills tucked under their wings in the late afternoon. A few busy coots dabbled around, and a great blue heron and an egret cruised across the pond. But no widgeons or pintails as the display promised.
From now on, I will take an extra 10-15 minutes on my errands to the P.O. and library to stop in at this most unlikely desert scene.