Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bird of the Day: Yellowlegs at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

I learned a little about muskeg last summer as we traveled through British Columbia and Alberta. I didn't really see any of it, but it sounds like a challenging place for human beings. The muskeg is made up of bogs and swamps, frozen over in winter and mosquito/black fly paradise in summer. The bogs are full of water and mud, and have been known to swallow heavy equipment. If I were an ornithologist, which I am not, I would rather study birds on a tropical Pacific island like Hawai'i. So it doesn't surprise me to read that the breeding habits of the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca and Tringa flavipes) are not all that well known because their breeding environment is deep in the arctic muskeg of Canada and Alaska.
Luckily for us, they come south for the winter, and a number of them show up locally. I've seen them at the mini-wilderness on campus, in the irrigation canals near the home pasture, and at the local bird refuges. Today's pictures are from the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge a few miles south of Turlock in the Great Valley. I visited in mid-October.
I'm still no expert, but the guides say that the Greater Yellowlegs are distinguishable from the Lesser Yellowlegs (what an insulting name...) by a longer beak that has gray color at the base in the nonbreeding season. The Lesser has a straighter and sharper beak. I'm uncertain, therefore, as to which kind I have photographed here. Which species are these?
They are attractive birds (aren't most of them?), and they weren't too concerned about us driving by on our driving tour of the San Luis Refuge. It is a real privilege to have such wonderful bird habitats so close by...

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