Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Northern Waterthrush

The fall bird migration is underway.  The Northern Waterthrush is a bird that gets an early start on migration.  It is important to start early because they have a long way to go. 
 They leave their breeding grounds in Alaska, Canada and the Maritime Providences in late July and head for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. They treat the United States as a fly-over country on their way, but we get to see them briefly as they pass through, if you know where to look. 

I learned where to look for these Northern Waterthrushes from the Internet, thanks to the many, many birders who post sightings of new and rare birds migrating through our area.

The Northern Waterthushes’ migration is long and there are many of them making the trip, so food is a primary concern.   Places like the Lion’s Den Gorge are important resting and refueling stops on their journey. 

The Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve is a 73-acre parcel on the west shore of Lake Michigan and is a stopping point for many migrating birds.  It’s impossible to say where these particular Northern Waterthrushes started or how long it took to make it this far, but they seem to be enjoying our pond scum. 
Weighing only 0.5-0.9 ounce, walking-on-water doesn’t present much of a problem.  Searching for insects, arthropods, and even small fish, they glean the algae. They will be in warm climates well before the snow flies. 

They are enjoyable to watch because with every rapid scoot across the scum, an accompanying up and down tail bob marks the beginning and end. The tail bobs aren’t something they do for balance…they are well footed.  It’s just something they do naturally. 
I got to the Lion’s Den Gorge minutes after a Lake Michigan sunrise. My friends, Fred and Bonni, met me there.  They enjoy the birds too and it didn’t take long for us to find the pond mentioned in the Internet post. I found a waterthrush almost immediately in the brushy understory of the pond’s bank and was imagining myself quite lucky. When a waterthrush decided it was safe to come out into the sunlight I was happy to take his picture.  It was going to be a good day.  That is when the first small airplane flew over the pond. 
The waterthrush scooted back undercover. 

We waited until he felt secure enough to come out again.  That is when the second small airplane flew overhead.  The waterthrush disappeared again.  We waited again and eventually he felt safe enough to reappear for a third time. We got a few more pictures and that is when the Flight For Life Medical Helicopter whop-whop-whopped overhead.

I mumbled a few damn words as he disappeared again. 

Hunger eventually won out and he came back a fourth time. A few last pictures and then we left him eat in peace.  He will need his strength to get to his winter home.  He’s about a third of the way there now, but looks quite fit for the journey.