Smith & Bybee in Spring

At the end of March, I ventured out to Smith & Bybee Lakes Wetlands to see what this spring season had to offer after our mild winter. It was a beautiful and warm day, perfect for getting out – and the wildlife seemed to agree! Tree swallows swooped overhead, woodpeckers could be heard from among the trees, the turtles and frogs were out in force, and the raptors were enjoying the warm air currents.

My first significant bird of the day – and the smallest! – was not hard to find: a rufous hummingbird was meticulously moving among the bright green leaves just budding on the trees, looking for a meal along the Interlakes Trail.

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As I made my way out towards the blind looking out over Bybee Lake, I also spotted a red-breasted sapsucker digging into a snapped-off tree trunk. The drumming made the bird easy to spot, but I was surprised to see a sapsucker, as I far more often find downy woodpeckers than any other woodpecker-type birds in the region.

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Reaching the lake, it was busy with many of the usual suspects: Canada geese, pied-billed grebes, buffleheads, ruddy ducks, double-crested cormorants, American coots, great blue heron, and great egrets, to name a few. Way off across the lake, a great egret rookery was in fact impossible to miss as the trees were full of the large white birds.

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While checking out the area, I was treated to one of the most spectacular viewing opportunities I have had to date: a juvenile bald eagle soared in directly overhead and perched high atop a nearby utility pole for several minutes. I was flabbergasted and ecstatic for the chance to see this enormous bird so close! The eagle did not seem to mind me standing there, so I stayed where I was until he decided it was time to move on. (Or she…) Judging by the coloration and after studying several other images, I believe this to be a 2-3 year old eagle; the head should reach the familiar ‘bald’ look during the fourth year.

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Left behind as the eagle soared on to its next perch (which I did spot in the distance, but too far for more photos), I turned my attention to the swarm of bird song surrounding me. Something was itching at me about it, and the fact that the many wrens I was seeing seemed to be acting unusual… I had thought they were Bewick’s wren (top picture, below), but it occurred to me rather quickly once I thought about it that of course these were marsh wrens – seeing as I was, after all, standing at the edge of a marsh. I had not encountered these before, but I knew they seasonally in the area. Upon closer inspection, the marsh wren has a shorter tail than Bewick’s, as well as a dark patch on the back between the wings (bottom picture, below).

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After watching three bald eagles and two osprey fishing in the distance out over Bybee Lake (unfortunately too far away for pictures and watched intently through binoculars for 20 minutes), I turned back down the trail to head for the other blind at Smith Lake. Crossing through the open field, a second juvenile bald eagle soared overhead. I stopped on the trail and kid you not that I just sat right there on the ground so I could look straight up to watch it circle for several minutes. Initially, I thought perhaps this was the same younger eagle as before, but looking at the photographs I can see this is a different bird of about the same age or maybe a year younger as it looks distinctly to be a ‘second year’ bird with almost no shift yet from the all-dark head to a streaked coloration.

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Taking the trail towards Smith Lake, I watched a female downy woodpecker creep up a trunk. I see these little woodpeckers fairly often (including a pair who visits my yard regularly), but I cannot recall seeing one use this posture before. She looks very intent on her hunt.

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Although the view was lovely out at Smith Lake, the water was busy with kayaks and canoes enjoying the unseasonably warm spring day which meant the birds were mostly elsewhere. I opted to head back out and see what else was lurking in the shade of the trees. As I walked back along the trail following the slough, I heard a particularly loud series of splashes coming from nearby. Curious, I crept along and peered through the branches to spot three river otters! Although I knew they were in the area and suspected having seen them before, this was my first clear view of the critters. They did not stay long, and such a treat certainly deserves a note in my recount of the day even if they aren’t feathered.

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One last bird of note decided to make an appearance on my way through the wetlands: a white crowned sparrow was moving through the underbrush near the trailhead. Although they may be in the area year-round, I’ve only seen them in the summer before and I was excited to add one to my list so early this year.

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Also encountered on this outing were: red-winged blackbird, song sparrow, American robin, European starling, mourning dove, Steller’s jay, dark-eyed junco, black-capped chickadee, belted kingfisher, brown creeper, Anna’s hummingbird, northern flicker, American wigeon, red-tailed hawk, bushtit, house finch, American crow, yellow-rumped warbler, spotted towhee, and lesser scaup. Plus numerous bullfrogs, dozens of turtles, a pacific tree frog, some squirrels, a red admiral butterfly, and my first rabbit at this location.

To find a little more information about Smith & Bybee Lakes Wetlands and other places for bird watching, including addresses and websites, check out my Birding Locations page.

Be sure to visit my Flickr site for more images from my trip to Smith & Bybee Lakes this day, as well as some of my other photographs.

Comments are always welcome!

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