I was starting to think they’d never come. After being out in Alamosa for a few weeks I had seen more ducks than I could imagine. And geese. Duck, duck, goose. Every visit to the wetlands had shown me no shortage of waterfowl, and I had begun to get used to going out to the ponds and dismissing the large collection of ducks, coots, geese and gulls floating happily atop the water – these were not the birds I was here for. So when Anjelica and I made a 7am trip to the wetlands I pulled my binoculars out of my backpack and sighed as I began to scan the shoreline and spot the scattered ducks on pond 16. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the beauty of a mallard or a ruddy duck just as much as any other bird, but I was getting a bit skeptical that shorebirds were going to show up in colorado one day.
As I took sweeping glances across the pond I realized I am much more of a bird nerd than I thought. My heart literally skipped a beat when I thought I saw a flash of orange and black in the shallow end of the pool. Could it be? I darted back to the left and saw a distinctive black and white wing topped with a buffy orange head. “THERE’S AN AVOCET” I practically screamed at Anjelica. I began to frantically search the surrounding area for more evidence that there were finally shorebirds in my neck of the woods, and I saw another. Then another. Then another. There were 13 avocets on pond 16. I laughed at my own enthusiasm, sitting in the car shocked that I had seen a bird that I was hired to come study over the course of the summer. As if someone had whispered “well DUH Talisa…!”. Yet, I couldn’t help myself! The avocets looked so foreign and exotic amidst the black and brown birds floating just behind them.
I will back up to give a little perspective. Avocets are short-distance migrators, and many spend their winters in Texas and the gulf coast. Their breeding grounds, however, are usually in parts of Washington, Canada, and Minnesota, so they stop to refuel at sites like ours in the middle of their journey (which in my opinion is not a “short distance” at all, but I digress). So seeing them in our wetlands felt like somewhat of a small victory to me. These birds depend on our wetlands to refuel before they fly literally over 1,000 miles to their summer home. I can’t even fully comprehend how difficult that journey would be. Some birds must double their body weight just to make sure they have the energy to make it the whole way. With this in mind, seeing a couple avocets pleasantly feeding and replenishing their lost fat stores is like a small battle was won this week. The wetlands are more than just a pleasant view and a place to go fishing – they are the lifeline for these birds. The last frontier. So if I happen to scream a little and shout and do a little dance and scare Anjelica with my ridiculous excitement at seeing a small shorebird in the area they literally named “Avocet Pond”…. I think it might be alright when you consider the big picture. These birds worked hard to get here, and I will undoubtably continue to cheer for each one when they arrive. I may need to buy Anjelica some ear plugs.