On one of my evening bike rides this past week, I rode around Willow Lake to check the water level. Arriving at the paved parking lot, I came across the same huge gopher snake that I saw in late August – the one I was holding in the picture that ran in the Courier on Aug. 28! I gently encouraged it to leave the parking lot, as I feared it might get run over. He wasn’t too happy with my prodding, but at least he moved to safety.
Last Friday, I led a Jay’s Bird Barn bird walk to Willow Lake. We approached the lake from Willow Lake Road and birded along the southern shore. The water level has come up so much over the past four weeks and has affected which species are using the lake. We did not see any wading birds in the margins of the lake-not even a single killdeer. We did see a group of six white-faced ibis in flight, flying first in one direction, and then in another. It seemed as though they could not settle on a place to land, so they just kept flying around and around the lake.
One of the biggest surprises was the discovery of a pied-billed grebe sitting on its nest. I readily admit that I don’t know a lot about grebe breeding behavior, but I was really taken aback to find an active nest so late in the year. Interestingly, later the same day, I was on an evening bike ride around Watson Lake and I saw two different pied-billed grebe families with two little babies each. Apparently it is not unusual for this species to breed late in the year.
Probably the most thrilling sighting of the day was two adult bald eagles. When we first caught sight of them, they were in flight, approaching Willow Lake from the direction of Watson Lake. As they approached the lake, one eagle landed in the rocky dells and the other eagle, spotting a red-tailed hawk, decided to have a little fun by chasing after the hawk! After successfully chasing the hawk away, the second eagle landed on a large granite rock clear on the other side of the lake.
At one point, the eagle that was perched closest to us left its perch and flew out over the lake. We watched it dive into the lake and then head back up to the exact same rock where it had been perched just moments earlier. It wasn’t until it landed that we could see that it was successful in catching a fish – which it consumed in short order. I am glad I had my scope with me to catch all of the action! In addition to the eagles and the red-tailed hawk, we also saw a northern harrier and an American Kestrel. In total, we saw four different types of birds of prey.
The lake has hundreds if not thousands of America coots and a good number of mallards and ruddy ducks. There also were quite a few eared grebes, some pied-billed grebes, a few western grebes, and a big group of double-crested cormorants. It won’t be long before rafts of shovelers and scores of gadwalls, pintails, American Wigeons, canvasback, ring-necked duck, bufflehead and other ducks start showing up.