Birder's Journal: A Morning With Migrants

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One "off" snowy flying across the marsh caught my eye. It was not quite graceful enough, I thought. When I got my binoculars on it, the stout bill, pale blue at the base, and the greenish-yellow legs gave away an immature little blue heron.

I came to the edge of an inlet and surprised 26 double-crested cormorants, most of them submerged. One by one their snaky heads surfaced, and when all of them were up, the first in line took off, slapping the water with its wingtips and running across the surface before it got airborne. The rest followed, and with labored flight they found refuge in the widest expanse of water.

Two ducks beyond the relocated cormorants were so far away I could not identify them. I thought they were mallards until they dove repeatedly underwater. The very common mallard is a dabbler, a surface-feeding duck that tips into the water, submerging its front half only.

Then I realized that I had not seen any mallards all morning. They could have been on the sound or hidden in a tidal creek, but at this time of year, and in this ideal habitat, it was a notable miss. It is easy to forget that the absence of an expected bird can have more significance than the appearance of a rarity.

Robert Winkler's book of essays on his adventures with birds of the "suburban wilderness" will be published in 2003 by National Geographic Books.

Recent Bird Stories by National Geographic News:
500 Most Important Bird Areas in U.S. Named
Birder's Journal: This Warbler Is a Master of Deception
Bald Eagles' Manhattan Return Turns Turbulent
Birders Journal: Attack of the Flying Goshawk
Saving the Edible-Nest Swiftlet
Birder's Journal: Seduced by Dueling Thrushes
Birds Can Be Picky About Their Neighborhood, Studies Find
Acid Rain May Have a Role in the Decline of the Wood Thrush
Icelandic Kids Save Befuddled Puffins
Crow Makes Wire Hook to Get Food
Rare Warbler Eluding Extinction in U.S.
In India, Nets Save Baby Storks From Falls
Bald Eagle Bounces Back After Decades of Persecution
Birder's Journal: It's Survey Season for Breeding Birds
Conservationists Fight to Save Harpy Eagles
Birder's Journal: Chasing Down Warblers
Africa's New Safari Trend Is for the Birds
Decline of Red-Tailed Hawks Has U.S. Scientists Puzzled
A Reason to Give Thanks: The Return of the Wild Turkey
State Bird of Hawaii Unmasked as Canadian
Harry Potter Owl Scenes Alarm Animal Advocates
Ultrarare Woodpecker Spurs Ultimate Birding Trip
"Extinct" Woodpecker Still Elusive, But Signs Are Good
Extinct Dodo Related to Pigeons, DNA Shows
Bird Extinctions May Hold Clues to Human Survival, Author Says
Tagging Hobbles Penguins, Some Researchers in Cape Town Contend
Patagonia Penguins Make a Comeback
Penguin Decline in Antarctica Linked With Climate Change
Ice Buildup Hampers Penguin Breeding in Antarctica
Evolutionary Oddities: Duck Sex Organ, Lizard Tongue
Some Ducks Let Young Be Raised by Relatives
Turkey Vultures Flourish in the U.S. Thanks to Road Kill
Forecasting the Journey South

National Geographic Bird Resources:
Bald Eagles: Come Back From the Brink
Experience the Sights and Sounds of Eagles

Nationalgeographic.com Bird-Watching Sites:
Boston Area
Chicago Area
Florida Keys Area
Maine's Acadia National Park
Mount Rainier
New Orleans Area
New York City Area
North Carolina's Outer Banks
Philadelphia Area
Portland Area
Rocky Mountain National Park
Salt Lake City Area
San Francisco Area
Santa Fe Area
South Dakota's Black Hills
Utah
Washington's Olympic National Park
Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yosemite National Park

From the National Geographic Store:
Guide to North American Birds
Portable Birdsong Identifier
Birder's Journal
Songbirds Puzzle

Additional Information from Related Web Sites:
American Bird Conservancy
Fish and Wildlife Service Bird Web Site
National Audubon Society
Environmental Protection Agency: Bird Conservation

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SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES

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