All Is Not Misplaced – 10,000 Birds

It’s been a tough yr for Michoacán, the state wherein I dwell. The state authorities has now introduced plans for cloud seeding, within the doubtful hope of manufacturing some March rains. Our grass and forest fireplace season has already kicked in, some two months sooner than in regular years. And on Monday, February fifth, one thing extraordinary occurred: The Morelian skies turned brown with smoke from… a lake, that was on fireplace.

This picture, which was shared on an area birders’ WhatsApp group, exhibits the big extension of burning reedbeds on that very windy day. And the massive flat space within the foreground could seem like a lake stuffed with water, however I can guarantee you that it’s bone-dry.

In a great yr, Lake Cuitzeo is a serious wintering floor for lots of of 1000’s of waterfowl and shorebirds. And after visiting these birds commonly for the previous ten years, I take their state of affairs very personally. So it was irritating when journey and different obligations stored me from checking in on them in all through our very dry fall months. After I lastly may go, on February twelfth, I knew it could be ineffective to go to the realm proven within the above picture. As a substitute, I went to the lake’s japanese finish, the place most water flows into the basin, and a few water stays even within the driest of years. Would that also be true, this yr? And would these birds nonetheless be there, or had they been compelled to maneuver on?

It’s a one-hour drive to my place to begin of Araró, and the street past that city is a tiresome hybrid of asphalt and potholes. So I used to be very grateful to see that my efforts had paid off. The realm west of Araró does certainly maintain a remnant lake, as of February of 2024. (A current native information article says its present most depth is 60 cm/2 ft, though I didn’t check this assertion.) And this remnant lake could be very, very birdy:

The dominant birds, moreover these American White Pelicans seen on the proper, had been Northern Shovelers — lots of of them. This was encouraging, as a result of I had not too long ago seen Blue-winged Teals, Inexperienced-winged Teals, American Wigeons, Gadwalls and Canvasbacks on smaller our bodies of water within the space, however these had been my first Shovelers for the season. And once I bought house, pictures I had taken of a flock flying overhead revealed Northern Pintails, one other beforehand missing-in-action species.

I had not anticipated to find out the whereabouts of a a remaining duck species, the lovable Ruddy Duck. I usually see Ruddy Geese on the lake’s deepest waters, and as I stated, there are no deep waters within the Lake Cuitzeo proper now. However at house, I used to be capable of manipulate a number of pictures of the closest mid-lake waterfowl, and people revealed the two-toned faces of winter Ruddy Geese. It’s so good to see all my outdated buddies are nonetheless round.

In passing, I ought to point out that winter Ruddy Geese are cute, however it’s the summer time male that earns them the phrase “lovable”. “Goofy” and “designed by committee” would work, too:

Previous to this journey, my 2024 state of affairs for shorebirds appeared even worse that the state of affairs for waterfowl. Actually, the one shorebirds I had seen in different websites had been Killdeer, which may happen removed from water, and the Noticed Sandpipers that had turned up round smaller our bodies of water. However the remnant of Lake Cuitzeo appeared to have many, if not most, of the opposite regular winter shorebirds for our area. There have been numerous Western and Least Sandpipers, as one would hope. American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts additionally get pleasure from shallow water, in order that they had been plentiful. However there was additionally a good variety of Lengthy-billed Dowitchers and Stilt Sandpipers, two similar-looking species that I wasn’t positive I’d see. Better of all, I bought to get pleasure from 5 implausible Lengthy-billed Curlews.

Lengthy-billed Dowitchers

Stilt Sandpipers, flying above Ring-billed Gulls and Northern Shovelers

A kind of Lengthy-billed Curlews, caught in flight

After all, there have been additionally Coots, Gulls, Terns, and many Herons and Egrets round. However it was two extra species that made my day full. On my method house, I made a decision to drive by Lake Queréndaro, a mid-sized lake to the south of Lake Cuitzeo. This lake is usually choked with Water Hyacinth, and barely affords greater than American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, and a group of Grebes and Herons. However this time, the Water Hyacinths had been largely cleared away, simply in time for the lake to be the one supply of deeper water for a lot of miles round. Which meant that the Clark’s Grebes, now absent from Lake Cuitzeo had a spot to remain:

And as a ultimate deal with, whereas standing on a bluff overlooking Lake Queréndaro, an American Bittern flushed from the shore just under, and flew so shut that I barely managed to focus my digital camera earlier than it disappeared in crops a bit farther alongside. This can be a hen that loves to remain hidden, so it was an excellent encounter. I solely managed one well-focused shot, however it’s a great one.

Subsequent week, I’ll present you among the extra terrestrial birds which might be additionally discovering a solution to survive my lake’s partial disappearance.

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