I am going to bet that most of you have never seen or heard of a Willet. That bird is one of the better-kept secrets of our marsh. They migrate through with the other sandpiper species and mostly winter in South and Central America. There is an eastern and western, and nobody but the real birders (not me) know the difference.
Some stick around on the East Coast. Jay and Karole and I got to see them in Texas when we migrated to Rockport to see the Whooping Cranes and other amazing birds down there. They are mostly drab gray in color and spend a lot of time digging food out of the muck on the flats. They do like small reptiles and crayfish. Their bill isn’t very long and is black.
The most striking and beautiful body parts are the wings. When a dull gray bird takes off and you see serious black and white wing streaks that are so unexpected that you do a double-take, you have seen a Willet.
They feed and walk around in our marsh all by themselves and march with a purpose in their feeding processes. I watched one for about 30 minutes this week while it was snacking on crayfish and such — it never flew so I could get a picture of those wings — but it is certainly one of the quiet elegant birds that visit us. Yes, it is worth a trip to the Bottoms to see one.
Jason has had a new machine in the marsh this past week. It is an amphibian craft that goes in shallow water or on land and chops up the phragmites and cattails. Apparently, we have Mother Nature messing with us again. We have always assumed that if cattails were in 2-3 feet of water, they would not survive. Now there is a cattail that thrives in 2-3 feet of water. You just can’t get ahead of that persistent urge to survive and mutate to improve survival. Our marsh is a melting pot of plants and animals in that process. It is amazing to watch.
Charlie Swank is retiring soon, and we are losing one of the most thoughtful and carefully observant people I have ever met. I miss him already — he has taught me so much and his wisdom will be missed. He always makes you be very specific about any inquiry and never volunteers any extra information, so you have to pay attention — but he is a wealth of information that I have admired. We wish him the very best!
Our marsh is starting to suffer some from lack of moisture. The mud flats are extending farther from the roads as the water disappears. There are so many pelicans — I don’t know what everyone is finding to eat. Fish are starting to die as the water gets shallow and hot. The poor carp swimming and struggling in shallow water are dying rapidly. Teal season isn’t that far away, and they won’t stick around if we don’t have water. Jason is busy digging out channels to move and preserve water but it will be a struggle without some real moisture.
My friend from Grand Junction, Colo., reported that some local waterfalls that have never been dry in his memory stopped flowing this week. Yikes! It is dry in lots of places.
Take a trip to Cheyenne Bottoms. Birds are arriving daily now. Franklin gulls are really neat with their little black heads. Several sandpiper species and the usual Avocets and Black-necked Stilts are around. There are large numbers of herons and egrets—lots of noise and action to enjoy. It will only get better in the upcoming weeks. This is our special window of opportunity to be amazed!
Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.