bearriver Blog : bird

Marbled godwit encounter

A note from recent visitors!

"Lots of marbled godwits at 2 p.m. in shallows along east leg of auto tour route.  Estimate of 2,000.  Sky was filled with brown with bars.  They circled around into reeds to the south but eventually cam back in smaller groups flying fast and close to water.  Eventually re-gathered in large group flying 200-400 feet high like starlings. This was a sight we had never witnessed before!." From:  John E. Houser and Dennis Allen

A bit more about Marbled godwits. Marbled godwits breed from central Canada south into Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota.   Large flocks of wintering Marbled godwits can be found in southern California and western Mexico. The Refuge is an important staging area for Marbled godwits as part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. Refuge may host up to 6 percent of entire population during fall staging periods while entire Great Salt Lake system may host up to 19 percent (Oring et al. 2000).  A five-year survey of the Great Salt Lake yielded a mean population of 15,125 (July-August) (Paul and Manning 2002). The Refuge mean from the five year survey was 8,867 Marbled godwits. They are some of our earliest migrant arrivals with the first waves coming as early as late July, but they are also some of the last to leave just before the Refuge ices over.

Uncommon for shorebirds, Marbled Godwits sometimes forage almost exclusively on plant tubers during migration. Main food items taken on interior staging areas and breeding grounds are insects (particularly grasshoppers), aquatic plant tubers (sago pondweed), leeches, and small fish. In Idaho, foraging birds noted as common on large mudflats, occasional on moderate mudflats caused by reservoir drawdowns. In Manitoba in fall, Marbled Godwits feed in shallow water with soft mud substrate. They feed primarily by probing substrate, but known to glean insects from water surface or terrestrial habitats, and small fish from shallow water.

Photo by: Larry MuenchMarbled Godwit  foraging, by Larry Muench

Whether we are open or closed, the seasons march on...

 I speak for everyone when I say ‘it’s great to be back!’ We are working hard at getting back on schedule.  The birds are here in full force, the waterfowl hunting season has opened, birders and photograhpers are here as well. Water levels are being checked and adjustments made. The L-line construction project will start up again. And at the Wildlife Education Center we are the getting back to business as usual. 

 It was an interesting 16 days during the Government Shutdown.  Everyone but our Project Leader Bob and LEO Greg were sent home.  Lucky for us Zone Officer Lisa was able to stay on the job as well.  Together they spent countless hours at the Refuge gates upholding the shutdown status. 

During the closure the waterfowl migrated into the Refuge in large numbers.  It was a ‘duck-nado’ said one officer.  The arrival of waterfowl signaled the departure of other birds.  Shorebirds, egrets, and pelicans are all moving to warmer climates.  The swallows are gone, but the American pipits are arriving and whether we are open or closed, the seasons march on.

In the past week since we re-opened, visitor's are reporting Rough-legged hawks, Tundra Swans by the hundreds, and the diving ducks are starting to arrive as well.  Plus, double-crested cormorants and great blue herons are gathering in flocks. Its a good time of year to see the Mule deer that frequent the Refuge as well. Come on out and see the Refuge for yourself.





VOLE FOR LUNCH! - by Kristin Purdy

(Sunday, January 16, 2011)

Today’s rain after the snow gave the refuge a foggy, dreamy look, and because of the wet snow muffling the sound of tires on the auto tour loop, the place seemed utterly insulated from the sounds of man. Most of the Rough-legged Hawks I saw today exhibited the species’ characteristic wariness by flushing long before I was close. But one adult male standing on the ground along the west side of the auto tour loop held his position as I approached. Perhaps my quiet approach helped explain why he stayed; the other reason lay in the dark pile of fluff atop the snow next to which he was standing. He was pulling flesh from an object pinned beneath his feet. I had found the bird at his dinner. He tugged a few more bits from his prize and then stomped away from the dark pile like a person learning to walk on snowshoes for the first time. The heavy feathers on his legs looked like pantaloons streaming behind him and under his tail. The bird stood quietly, not concerned about my presence, and took in the gray scene around him. Several times, he leaned down and swiped his beak in the snow; once, he drove his face into the snow and swiped his whole face from side-to-side. I was watching the equivalent of a human dabbing his napkin at the corners of his mouth.

Once his post-meal primping was complete, I began to ease forward in my vehicle to get a better look at him and the remains of his prey. The bird was relaxed enough to stand on the road until I was about 25 yards away, then, he flew into the murk. That gave me the chance to study the scene of his meal.

The hawk had taken a vole. The dark pile of fluff was the plucked fur of the creature, punctuated with odd curlicues and S-shaped segments of entrails that were staining the snow yellow. A deeper depression where the hawk had been standing when I first saw him tugging bits of flesh was bloodstained. The vole’s head remained in the pile, bright orange incisors obvious within the gray fur of the face. The hawk’s tracks, smaller than the many pheasant tracks that formed a crazy latticework all over the refuge this morning, led from the depression and to the main tire track of the dike road where he had swiped his beak.  It was also easy to see where the hawk had struck the vole and to imagine the bird dropping out of the sky onto his prey.


I did not see another human visitor on the auto tour loop this morning. While poor weather discourages visitors, the birds must continue with their struggle for winter survival and great wildlife watching opportunities exist even in rain and fog and snow.

 - Kristin Purdy