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Coot Ballet

Sunday, February 24, 2013

You never know when nature will present you with something amazing. Sometimes it's hidden in the seemingly mundane.  On Saturday, January 19, a group of us carpooled to Back Bay NWR near Norfolk, Virginia, for a field trip for The Virginia Beach Winter Wildlife Festival. 
Now, though I grew up in Richmond, I had never come back to Virginia on a real live birding field trip. Odd but true. I never realized people other than me went out looking for birds--together--until I went to college. I was thunderstruck that there was such a thing as social birdwatching. And I took to it like a coot to water.

gotta love this hat!

So we're tooling around the frozen impoundments at Back Bay with a freezing wind whipping through the open tram in which we're riding. I'm sitting next to my new friend Susan and her sister Annie and we're having a grand old time sharing an afghan. I'm shooting out the side of the tram.

Ring-necked duck and hen bufflehead take to the air.

A hen ruddy duck does, too. Her reflection is sharper than she is!

The famed tundra swans of Back Bay are consorting with a drift of snow geese, quite some ways away. The geese are in the foreground, but all the long straight necks you're seeing are swans.

Everywhere, we could hear the mellow hooting of the swans above the gabble of snow geese.
That beautiful sound took me right back to my first visit to Minneapolis when I was twelve years old, the first time I heard it. Skeins were going over downtown. I looked up when I heard their calls and there they were, the first wild swans I'd ever seen. I lit out down the crowded sidewalk, grabbing people's arms and pointing up. "Swans! Wild swans!! LOOK!!"

That was surely an epiphany for me. Not just seeing the swans, but finding myself absolutely compelled to get others to see and appreciate them, too.

Still at it, as you see. 

A rather forlorn sight: a flock of white ibis moping in snowy branches. I think they're rushing their push northward. There weren't any white ibis in coastal Virginia when I was a kid! You poor things should be in Florida or Georgia. Somewhere warmer than 20 degrees.

Find the forest fairy in this photo.
Might need to click on it to get a larger version.

but about that amazing thing I mentioned...

We're tooling along and there's a big flock of coots in a roadside ditch that somehow has remained open through the deep freeze. There were the usual disparaging remarks about the ordinariness of coots. But I was on fire. I like coots and I especially like coots in motion. These ungainly aquatic rails with their petal-lobed toes do a lot for me. Especially when they run.

As the coots pattered over the water and ice, I spotted a pied-billed grebe amongst them. "Grebe in flight! Grebe in flight!" I hissed to the group. Because you just do not get to see pied-billed grebes fly. Ever.
He's at the back, center. Look at that. Not to mention the fabulous thundering herd of coots.

My parting shot--grebe ballet. 

O beautiful.

My sincere thanks to the Virginia Beach Winter Wildlife Festival for having me down. I had a blast from start to finish. Check it out next January. Terrific people, great birding, all kinds of fun. Do it!


"Coot ballet"... 2 words I shan't ever have expected to find in proximity of one another.
More importantly... I want THAT hat!

Wonderful outding. And I like the coots takeoff myself. Of course, being an old one myself may make my view somewhat prejudiced....:)

The next time you're in the VB area you must come to Knotts Island, NC. I drive the causeway through the Mackay Island NWR everyday. Tons of birds to see but the coots are my favorites! Lots of Bostons here too. Zeke would be glad to give you a Bossie fix.

I just found your blog, and am only a casual birder (I do plants and bugs-too impatient for serious birding). I'm really enjoying your photos.

I've never seen swans fly overhead before. I was struck by how much the shape of them resembles the constellation named for them (Cygnus).

You make me feel so knowledgeable, when you highlight my Fresh Pond buddies. Nope, now that you mention it, never have seen a pied grebe in flight. Don't see coots afoot much either, but do love how they do that sort of bobble-headed momentum builder-upper, to make up for their lack of webbing between their toes.

Would that the ibis would head this far north. Eric would get a kick. Any with monocles?


Posted by KH Macomber February 24, 2013 at 5:40 AM

Oooo, lookit that little golden crowned fairy! And the "snowy" Ibis, and dancing coots and flying grebes. I love the coolness of it all. I birded this morning and it was 82 degrees by 10am, I am pretty sure, and felt like 88 with the humidity. I was just going to get on facebook and ask to see peoples' snow because it was so warm. Here you have already done it! Thanks!

Kathy in Delray Beach

Posted by Anonymous February 24, 2013 at 9:35 AM

I love the last photo of the grebe running/flying over the top of the water. I present programs in local elementary schools, including one about birds. One of the biggest "Wow!" moments is when we compare replica feet from a wood duck, mallard, and coot. The size and weird shape of the coot's foot really gets a response from kids.

Believe it or not..a very similar crazy but practical hat shows up today in my son's FB post from Denver.
And I love coots too. Great pix.

I've been in love since my first coot. I had no idea they were the target of disparagement. I'm always finding them in amongst a spraddle of ducks and they're splatting through like the drunk uncle at the dinner party. What's not to love? And the FEET.


I love coots so much. I love the noise they make when they're moving away from you. And their crazy feet. And how when nothing else seems capable of withstanding the cold in Utah, you can still find a lake full of coots.

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