Romance in the air May 18, 2012Posted by Bob Lewis in Birding
By Bob Lewis
Eddie Bartley and I have been teaching a new class for Golden Gate Audubon this month called Romance in the Air. It focuses on territories, courtship, song, raising families – as those relate to birds, of course! Springtime is the perfect time to give this class, and our first field trip was spectacular.
We went to Hayward Shoreline, and since the class is sponsored by GGAS, gained permission to enter the normally closed East Bay Regional Park District lands inside the gates. After passing numerous singing Savannah and Song Sparrows, we came to a channel choked with reeds where Marsh Wrens were building nests.
All this, of course, relates to our class subject matter – the song of the sparrows was aimed at defining and defending their territory and attracting mates, while the polygynous male wrens were busily building multiple nests. These nests define a courtship area, and an interested female will inspect the male’s handiwork, and perhaps then mate and lay eggs in the nest of her choice. More likely, though, she’ll select a new nest site and initiate nest building there.
Most exciting to me, though, was a flock of about 350 Red-necked Phalaropes, coming from their wintering grounds off the South American west coast. All in breeding plumage, they were an elegant group to behold. Phalaropes are polyandrous, with the female being more brightly plumaged. She may mate with several males once they arrive at their northern Canadian or Alaskan breeding grounds, laying four eggs in each nest. The male will then incubate the eggs and raise the young on his own. The birds we watched were feeding rapidly, fueling their long flight north. They wouldn’t stay long, and we were lucky to see them.
Adding to the excitement were hundreds of raucous Forster’s Terns bringing courtship offerings of fish, a few endangered Least Terns with the same plan in mind, and four Black Skimmers occasionally coursing over the marsh. On our Sunday walk to the same site (we do two walks to each field trip site – one on Saturday, one on Sunday) Eddie spotted over 20 Black Terns, a very delightful bird to see.
Romance is in the air!
Note: Although Bob and Eddie’s Romance in the Air class is underway and full, there are still spaces available in the class he will be co-leading with Rusty Scalf in June on Birds of the Sierra. See the Classes page on our web site for details.Tags: birding classes, birds, courtship behavior, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Hayward Regional Shoreline Park, Marsh Wren, nesting behavior, Red-necked Phalarope, Savannah Sparrow.