Sunset in the Wetlands

March 5, 4:00 pm

The day has turned out to be clear and warm. Last weeks snow and rain have disappeared, leaving the Willits valley with more water in the wetlands. This is a boon for the waterfowl and associated species that depend on the inundation for food and survival. I have come out, to what is called the Watson land, to experience the late afternoon activity and to stay for sunset. There is no wind, it is still and at first, seemingly quiet. But as I approach the wetlands, the sounds of many hundreds of ducks and chorus tree frogs let me know that I need to be cautious so as not to disturb them. Walking slowly through the upper field towards the west side, a large herd of wild turkeys move as a group, looking for insects and any other moving thing in the grass. 

I stand behind an Oregon ash tree, trying to not scare up the multitude of ducks I can see through my scope. They are aware of me, with their necks craned, making warning sounds. An American wigeon makes a sound that is like a squeaky toy. I can see through my scope, that there are over 200 wigeons in the area in front of me, talking to each other.  It is a sound I find funny so I am smiling broadly to myself, trying to be inconspicuous, standing perfectly still. In the midst of those wigeons are the small Green-winged teal chasing each other and making their own high whiney sounds.  I can see Mallards, Northern shovelers, and a couple of PIntails busy looking for food on the edges and in the water. All of the male ducks are in their beautiful fancy breeding plumage. In the late afternoon sun, it is a wonderful sight. 

I hear a loud ruckus and look over to my right where a Red-shouldered hawk is hassling a Great blue heron. It is squawking and flapping its enormous wings, keeping the hawk from getting too near. It settles down in the grass and begins to hunt.  I wonder if the Red-shouldered hawk is upset because the heron is hunting frogs or gophers, two of the animals that the hawk loves to eat! 

A Belted kingfisher rattles by, while in the distance I see a group of elk cows running through the water. The air fills with hundreds of swallows all at once. They are mostly Tree swallows with a few Violet-green swallows mixed in. It is delightful to watch them weave up and down, in and out of the trees, then down to the water. I am reminded of the dancing dragonflies that were here in the fall.

The sun is going down behind the western hills and as I turn to leave, chorus tree frogs, ducks, swallows, even the kingfisher, all sing their goodnight songs. 

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