Whether they are called shorebirds like these avocets, wading birds, waterfowl, marshbirds or just plain waterbirds, the birds gracing area marshes right now are worth taking time to see.
Avocets, willets and sandpipers all shared a flooded field near Roberts with white-faced ibis, Franklin and California gulls. This eclectic mix was all feeding on invertebrates that were trying to escape the sheet of water several inches deep in places. These birds and many more share two commonalities: a love of water and hence the name, waterbirds.
Broadly defined, waterbirds are birds that are tied to water for some essential portion of their lives. They may feed in water or along water’s edge, they may breed in water and/or make their nests on or over water. That expansive definition actually makes bedfellows of a wide array of species drawn by a commonality of habitat rather than ancestry.
Waterbirds are further characterized by the way they forage. This introduces some other terms that are frequently used but seldom defined.
Seabirds are ocean-loving birds. They spend most of their time foraging over the open ocean and some may see land only during nesting season. This group includes frigate birds, albatrosses, shearwaters, boobies and puffins.
Waterfowl include the ducks, geese and swans. They may be dabblers that feed in shallow water or divers that hunt for food well below the surface. These are the species sought after by hunters and are considered poor to excellent table fare depending on species, locale and preparation. Waterfowl are not colony nesters like many other waterbirds.
A word commonly batted around this time of year is shorebird. Shorebird migration is really ramping up right now as shorebirds are heading toward northern breeding grounds. Shorebirds forage along very shallow water and mudflats. Their legs are longish, often as long as their bodies. Most have elongated beaks suitable for plying in mud and searching just beneath the surface. Sandpipers, avocets, black-necked stilts and willets are examples. Long-billed curlews are the largest members of this group.
Wading birds are the long-legged beauties that are a joy to watch. Egrets, herons, ibis, spoonbills, storks and more are all generally grouped as wading birds. These birds are usually fairly large, with legs longer than their bodies and very long bills. They will wade in water that would drown a shorebird and stealthily hunt for prey including fish, frogs and invertebrates.
Marshbirds are secretive or inconspicuous birds that are often easier to hear than to see. They form solitary nests, not colonies. Some authors include loons, bitterns, non-colonial grebes, rails, gallinules, coots, limpkin, and cranes in the marshbird category. In a way this seems to be a catchall for species that don’t readily fit into the other groups as some do not prefer the emergent wetland habitats known as marshes.
If that is not confusing enough, the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan focuses on seabirds, coastal waterbirds, wading birds, and marshbirds. Shorebirds and waterfowl have their own conservation plans.
Shorebird, waterfowl, wading bird or secretive marshbird, they will put on quite a show for the next month. Be sure to get out to a local marsh and enjoy it while you can.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho