Most of us do our daily birdwatching in our own yards at feeders we maintain in an effort to attract the birds. However, there are others among us who live on one of this region's many lakes. They enjoy watching birds the rest of us must go looking for. Most of the lakes in Western Washington aren't very large but they often attract an interesting assortment of birds. Some do better than others and two factors are responsible: the food supply and the availability of good nesting habitat. If the birds find food and can safely raise a family, chances are they will make the lake their home for at least part of the year.
The seasonal distribution of birds on a lake changes. At this time of the year, winter residents are still around but as the weeks go by certain birds will leave and others will arrive. Some of the birds migrating into our region will stay to nest. Others will rest and feed for a while and then continue northward or to higher elevations in the mountains.
Hooded mergansers, wood ducks, mallards and green-winged teal are some of the birds that nest on our lakes. They spend a good part of their time keeping an eye out for another bird that also nests nearby. Resident bald eagles pursue both the adults and their ducklings. They consider them a source of food for their young. In about a month, the osprey will return to the nests they used last year. Some have nests by salt water but others nest near fresh water. Osprey eat only fish and need a good fishing spot when they are raising a family. The fact that their diet consists solely of fish means that these large birds aren’t a threat like the eagles.
Common loons arrive on Northwest lakes every spring but they only stay for a few weeks. They are taking a break during their migration and will rest and feed before continuing their journey. A small number of common loons nest on Washington’s mountain lakes but most of the population continues north into Canada and Alaska and into the Arctic region.
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While waterbirds are a familiar sight on our lakes, there are passerine species attracted to the same habitat. Upland areas around lakes can vary considerably. This has an influence on the number of birds as well as the different species found around an area’s lakes. Cattail marshes can attract red-winged blackbirds by the dozens, even the hundreds. Once they settle in and begin raising a family, their calls echo across the lake nonstop. It’s a sound many of us love because it calls to mind memories of spring birding trips to places where the redwings were singing.
That same habitat attracts secretive birds such as the rails. Virginia rails and their cousin, the sora, are small wading birds best seen early in the morning. Their crazy calls are heard more than the birds are seen as they like to poke about in the cattails and rushes. Other birds also prefer the brushy areas near a lake’s marshy areas. It’s important to be patient and listen. Then you may be rewarded with the sighting of birds like the common yellowthroat and marsh wren.
Birdwatching can be rich and abundant on the lakes throughout this state but those of you who live on them already know that.
Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. (or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)