A World Turned Upside Down

I perceive there are nonetheless folks on the market who deny human-induced local weather change. Maybe these folks have by no means needed to personally expertise more and more erratic local weather patterns. I, nonetheless, am nonetheless a California boy, regardless of not residing in that state for 4 a long time now, and I nonetheless preserve observe of the climate there. There appears to be two sorts of California climate these years: these with half the traditional rain and historic wildfires, and people with 50% extra rain than regular, and historic flooding. Final winter was a historic flooding winter.

And now, in my long-term residence of Michoacán, Mexico, we’ve got skilled a one-year drought in contrast to something I’ve seen in my 30 years right here. I’ve usually seen the western half of our massive Lake Cuitzeo dry up in early or late spring, simply earlier than our summer time wet season. Three years in the past, all the lake primarily dried up from January by Could. However this yr, 2023, one thing most extraordinary occurred: The lake principally dried up at what must be its wettest time. Right here is a photograph of me, standing one kilometer from its “shore”, on the very finish of August. (We must always have had extra rain in September, however that month was nearly utterly dry.)

Now, this has some main significance for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. The previous ought to quantity no less than 100 thousand people every winter, whereas the latter must be current within the tens of 1000’s. So when there isn’t a Lake Cuitzeo on which to winter, the place do all these birds go?

Our 2020 drought taught me that any physique of water, regardless of how small, would possibly host these “drought refugees” in dry years. Final week’s drop-in on a small pond close to our church definitely strengthened this speculation, once we found a most-unexpected vagrant Hooded Merganser on a most-unexpected pond.

Nonetheless, I used to be nervous once I pushed a group of highly-qualified buddies (4 ornithologists and a botany professor) to accompany me to the small San José de las Torres reservoir, simply above town of Morelia. In any case, on a traditional yr this physique of water solely affords a great variety of American Coots, a handful of hybrid, semi-domestic geese, just a few Pied-billed Grebes, Cattle, Snowy and Nice Egrets, a Nice Blue Heron or two, and maybe just a few Noticed Sandpipers and Killdeer. For Michoacán within the winter, this doesn’t precisely signify a thriving and diversified wetland. However one other native biologist had reported a hyper-endemic Black-polled Yellowthroat there, and I wished to seek out out whether or not it was nonetheless there, so push I did.

It didn’t take lengthy to calm my nerves. As quickly as we had parked beside the lake, we noticed all kinds of migratory geese: Canvasbacks, Gadwalls, Blue-winged Teals, American Wigeons, and even a pair of Redheads. Mexican Geese have been additionally current; these are residents within the space, however not usually on this physique of water. Not unhealthy, for a reservoir that usually doesn’t host any wild geese.

Gadwalls flew overhead

The Canvasbacks stayed on the water.

The shorebirds have been a bit much less shocking, with at first solely a Better Yellowlegs, a Inexperienced Heron, and one White-faced Ibis becoming a member of the standard suspects. However then… Oh look! Two Ospreys flew overhead, turning up many times to fish on this small physique of water. I can usually go for as a lot as three years with out seeing an Osprey in Michoacán, and have by no means seen any by Lake Cuitzeo. However right here they have been, above only some hectares/acres of water. And so they have been clearly fishing, with some success.

There have been loads of different birds within the space, with 72 species across the reservoir for the day. A Merlin joined our extra frequent American Kestrel and Cooper’s Hawk. A Belted Kingfisher joined the ranks of the drought refugees. And the Black-polled Yellowthroat? None of us noticed it early that morning. However after a while spent birding in close by pine-oak forests, bringing our whole for the day to 94 species, just a few different nice species did present up, on our journey again to our vehicles.

First, the Yellowthroat turned up. In truth, we noticed no less than two. It is a huge deal, as this species is historically solely seen in three locations: on the shores of Lakes Pátzcuaro and Cuitzeo in Michoacán, and the Lerma Marsh in Mexico State. I discovered myself questioning if this historic drought would possibly drive the species to maneuver into some new habitats, really reducing its inhabitants’s weak state.

If you already know your Widespread Yellowthroats (which we additionally noticed), there isn’t a doubt that this all-black cap belong to a Black-polled Yellowthroat.

After which I noticed an uncommon heron. The Least Bittern is rarely a straightforward discover. And that this one ought to select to spend no less than 20 minutes removed from the reeds that normally disguise it was a brand new expertise for all of us.

It was odd to see a high-quality species like a Least Bittern subsequent to a wholly home duck.

We had observed Sapsucker holes on the tree beneath which we had parked, and certainly, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was our closing cherry on the day’s sundae.

I’ll finish with an replace on our vagrant Hooded Merganser — and her buddies. She was nonetheless on that pond the Thursday following our preliminary Sunday sighting, in addition to the next Sunday. Two days later, she was not seen there. However now there have additionally been one or two Canvasbacks on the pond, and this Tuesday a Wilson’s Snipe additionally turned up, most unusually in a shoreline that’s made up of subtropical thorn forest, reasonably than that chook’s common marshland. Additionally, each eBird and Wikipedia state that Canvasbacks “winter on any massive physique of water”. Our Canvasbacks appeared confused concerning the definition of the phrase “massive”.



Most definitely not a “massive physique of water”.

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