Thursday, April 28, 2016

Black-necked Stilts and Symmetry at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

During our visit to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, we saw several new birds, but there were some familiar ones as well. One of them was the Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus). The birds are primarily a tropical species. They migrate north in the summer, mainly in the western states. The Great Valley represents just about the northern margin of their year-round habitation.

I was thrilled to see three of them all lined up in a row, posing for me, so I snapped the picture above. But as usual, Mrs. Geotripper saw a symmetry that I didn't notice, a 90 degree angle made by my Stilts, and a group of Long-billed Dowitchers. She got the nice shot below.
I enjoy watching the stilts more than most birds. Their ungainly appearance belies a graceful gait and hunting dance. Only one bird, the Flamingo, has longer legs in proportion to their bodies. With their long beaks and legs, they are clearly birds of shallow waters, where they search the mud for invertebrates, and sometimes small fish.
The stilts form colonies when they nest, and they can be quite aggressive towards predators, surrounding them flapping wings and mobbing them. According the Cornell site, their populations have been holding steady, which is pretty good since most birds these days are declining.

The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge protects 42 square miles of floodplains, wetlands, swamps and grasslands along the San Joaquin River in the Great Valley. There are a number of auto tours and hiking routes available, and we've seen interesting birds in every season of the year.

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