spotting-scopeWhen I lead a bird walk, I always wonder how productive it will be. Will we see a good variety of birds, or will it be a quiet day? If the birds aren’t active, a slow birding day leaves me feeling disappointed that we didn’t have more success.

This past week I led a bird walk at Willow Lake, and it was far from disappointing – we had great success finding a good variety of bird species. The level of the lake is really low right now, so without a spotting scope we would not have seen nearly as many birds as we did. In spite of our summer rains, I don’t think I have seen the lake this low in many years.

The grassy/weedy habitat bordering the south side of the lake was very birdy – we saw several blue grosbeaks and flocks of lazuli buntings! We also saw the typical birds one would expect in this habitat, such as an American kestrel, swallows, phoebes, goldfinches and dove.

At one point, as I was scanning the lake with my binoculars, I caught sight of a lone tern in flight. It was really far away – probably at least three or four hundred yards – flying low over the water, below the horizon, so it was difficult to point out to the other birders. Eventually, it landed on a sand bar and I was able to get my scope on it. It was a Black Tern in non-breeding plumage, and everyone in the group got really good looks at it through the scope.

Another highlight was finding a Sora, a type of rail. Rails are typically very secretive and are difficult to find, let alone see well. I first spotted it with my binoculars as I was scanning an area with cattails. I was able to quickly get the scope on the rail, and it was very cooperative – everyone got good looks at it before it disappeared into the reeds.

In spite of being early for fall migration, we saw a good number of waders and shorebirds, including snowy egrets, white-faced ibis, long-billed dowitchers, greater yellowlegs and spotted sandpipers. Again, we were able to view all of these birds through the scope, which made a huge difference. Even with the aid of binoculars, many of these birds were so far away that there was no way to identify them without the scope.

As we made our way back to the car, we were treated to an adult Bald Eagle sitting on the highest point of a large granite rock island in the lake. Once again, we were able to use the scope so everyone could get a really good look at the eagle. We really did have a wonderful bird walk!

This time of year, the variety of birds coming and going at Willow Lake changes daily. There will be birds at the lake today that weren’t there yesterday, and there will be birds at the lake tomorrow that aren’t there today. The change of species will continue over the next several weeks as migration season progresses.

Remember, Jay’s Bird Barn offers free guided bird walks on a weekly basis. Check out the Jay’s Bird Barn web site at for a schedule of upcoming bird walks, and then call the store at 443-5900 to sign up. Our bird walks are a great way to learn about the birds in this area, and you will develop your bird identification skills as well.