When I came to Hart’s Basin yesterday, the sun was brilliant, the air was hot, and the birds were few. But today the scene is dramatically different.
No sun but rather a dense overcast. The air is heavy with high humidity? Or a wildfire or a dust storm somewhere? A somber, summer day.
There are birds, though. At least 70 American white pelicans along the waterway that we call “the inlet” even if it’s only a ditch. And in the dry areas there are a couple hundred Canada geese. No other birds. I suppose that they’ve all gone to the mountains. The reservoir’s water is so far away that the pelicans look small.
Close to the roadway the cockleburs have filled the space while the salt grass has taken over the northeast pond. But in my mind’s eye there is a different scene. A breezeless twilight and the strange mewing call of marbled godwits. I look at the legs and necks … long! I focus on one brownish-gray, 16-inch-long bird … the bill is impossible! It’s at least three times the width of the head! It looks orangish at the base … darker toward the tip and slightly upturned.
Godwits winter along the coasts and each spring some of these birds appear at Hart’s Basin during their migration to their nesting grounds in the grasslands of Canada and the northern United States. I always listen for their call: I think of it as a soft “meow” but with a clothespin clipped on that long bill. The dictionary suggests that the name “godwit” is echoic of that call.
I remember that on that evening I saw at least 30, simply standing, sleeping or preening. Two were probing in the mud with that long, long bill. Another was delicately dressing a wing feather. The bird’s scientific name is Limosa fedoa and of course I had to check that out. The genus (or group) name is Latin meaning “muddy” from the habitat of the birds and this group name is applied to all three species of godwits. The second name, fedoa, comes from a lost Old English name for a godwit. Curiosity satisfied for now.
It’s hot and muggy, but I know that the reservoir will fill with water, that the cranes will come, and I’ll see the godwits again next spring.