It’s incredible the difference one week of water diversion can make on the Blanca Wetlands. Early in the season we got so familiar with the birds and their feeding habits that we could usually predict which ponds would have the most birds on them, and what area of the pond they were most likely to be. But with fall coming quickly, and fall migration in full swing, there have been many changes happening rapidly out on the playas. For starters, water was not available for a number of days to supplement the standing water on ponds 114, 134, 141 or 148. As a result, just as quickly as we watched the wetlands come alive at the start of the summer, they are slowing down and finding a balance between water, birds, bugs and plants. Being a newcomer to the wetlands I entered into a mild state of panic last week when we pulled up to pond 114 to look for Snowy Plovers only to see that the water had shrunk up to a fraction of its’ former glory, leaving behind a wasteland of salt deposits and a bare, muddy shoreline. Where were the flocks of Avocets that gathered every morning on the west bank going to go? How were they going to feed on the macroinvertebrates that would fuel their journey back to their wintering ground? I didn’t understand how no one else was concerned about the lack of birds and water on this once full pond.
But again: I am a newcomer to the wetlands. I would soon realize that my concern was misplaced. I needed only to make my way over to Pond 16 to see that the area that was once placid water with little shoreline and even less shorebirds was chock full of at least one of nearly every species of bird we’d seen all summer on the wetlands. So many phalaropes were feeding in their usual upwelling manner in the shallow water that it gave the impression that the lake was spinning. It was ridiculous! I was surprised that the birds had congregated in such large numbers after they had been so spread out all summer. It was then I realized that they suddenly had a reason to relocate to a bigger pond: it had water. They rarely ventured over to this larger pond earlier in the season because they had plenty of other options. Now, with less water being available but feeding being as necessary as ever, they had shifted their feeding habits and gone to find food. I learn everyday that birds are more like us than I’d ever thought. Creatures of both habit and necessity.