Friday, August 3, 2012
Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area is THE Place for Waterfowl !
Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area was closed from February through July 15 for waterfowl nesting. We decided to check out the area today and were pleased to see that there is plenty of water there and an abundance of waterfowl and shorebirds. We entered the area via the north entrance and parked at the first parking lot. The first lake, which is deeper than the others, had a number of ducks, grebes and coots swimming at the far western edge.
As we approached the next lake on the trail we were treated to a group of white pelicans flying overhead. These birds are extremely quiet and as they circled in the thermals we could hear only the whirring of their wings. The shores of the southwest lake were lined with at least 15 great blue herons, several black-crowned night herons and a spotted sandpiper. Floating on lake were numerous eared grebes tending to their squeaky babies, pied-billed and western grebes, American coots and several species of ducks in addition to rafts of white pelicans. Two Forster’s terns flew overhead as did a Swainson’s hawk, a turkey vulture and a common raven.
The southeast lake was literally filled with dozens of white-faced ibises, American avocets, Wilson’s phalaropes, great blue herons and white pelicans. Along the shore we identified a juvenile Bonaparte’s gull, a long-billed dowitcher and greater and lesser yellowlegs.
As if all that weren’t enough, we stopped at Johnson Lake at the western edge of the state wildlife area and saw at least a dozen snowy egrets, white-faced ibises and American avocets. The highlight of our Johnson Lake sightings was a single black-necked stilt – a bird that we have been hoping to see for quite some time.
We paid our entrance fee at San Luis Lakes State Park and drove past the great brown expanse of the dry lake bed. Last year at this time San Luis Lake was full of water, but this spring and summer moisture has been hard to come by. A few travel trailers inhabited the camp sites, nestled among the dry chico. At the State Wildlife Area north of the big lake, we parked and walked north through a swarm of lunettes. We saw a mourning dove in a dry low area that last year held some water. A horned lark landed nearby.
We walked onto a dry pond where two great-horned owls flew off to the southeast. Diane wandered around the dry wetlands looking for artifacts—finding only the detritus of a more modern people: shards of sanded glass and weathered red brick. I found a pool of blood red water below the weir. Diane saw another owl flying to the northwest. We found a ghost cabin—probably a hunter’s cabin—testifying to wetter times when sturdy pioneers could live on the marshlands. Oh my! What about bugs? I would believe that they hunted for waterfowl after the cold nights had put the mosquitoes into a winter sleep.
The dry wetlands are beautiful because green grasses cover the low areas, indicating that some water is still here. The darker green cattails surround these negative islands, then the gray sand of the bush. We crossed the sand looking for pieces of past people - their points, their pots, their places.
At the north end of San Luis Lake the water has been replaced by waving blades of prairie grass. Diane sat in the grass. She looked like the Wyeth painting of Helga lying in a grassy seaside field. Diane pointed to a common nighthawk high overhead. A few little brown birds flitted among the branches of an old cottonwood.
In the green waves we share tortilla wraps and Chianti out of a plastic glass. How romantic!
On our way back we stopped and visited with a couple from the north. We commiserated with each other about the dry land and the nationwide drought. We cheered each other with the fact that everyone is saying El Niño will return to the Pacific Ocean and bring water to this land.