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Hello Ohio!

August 14, 2011

Yesterday, I saw Ohio through my binoculars. We were looking for shore birds at Rock Point Provincial park, on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, and when I surveyed the horizon I noticed some buildings. It turns out I was looking straight at Ohio!

After a two month birding break, it was lovely to get out yesterday. Even though the algae at Rock Point smelled like the worst morning breath you could possibly imagine, we still had a fabulous day. The water was clear, the sky was picture perfect blue, and I saw incredible fossils! I must have seen fossils before, but never paid attention. yesterday, they were particularly striking. (Apparently 350 million years ago, Rock Point Provincial Park lay at the bottom of a tropical sea! That was before the continental drift, back when the earth was one big land mass. Once the drift started, the organisms in the sea gradually died and their skeletons sank into the mud that was rich in lime. Lake Erie was actually the result of a melted glacial field!)

I marveled at the Killdeer (Caradrius vociferus) running along the rocky shore. They were joined by Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus), which are not at all to be confused with Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla), which we also saw but I don’t think I could recognize on my own. The Semipalmated Plover is actually very similar to the Killdeer but only has one black ring around its neck, whereas the Killdeer has two (and is slightly larger). The Semipalmated Sandpiper, on the other hand, is quintessentially shore birdy — grey, brown, light on his feet, striped and polka-dotted, and indistinguishable from most other shore birds. It’s amazing how many different hues of grey and brown shore birds actually have! I’m beginning to feel color blind when I describe a bird, because there are only so many words I know for grey, black, and brown!

I was thoroughly relieved to encounter the Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), mainly on account of the fact that it’s a bird that finally looks like its name! Yes, the legs were yellow! A bird, much like the Red Winged Blackbird, that makes sense to me.

We also saw a Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), which left me entirely confused because I failed to see one of its most defining characteristics: the green legs. To me, the Least Sandpiper’s legs were the color of all shore birds’ legs: yellowish-greyish-brownish. Do these look GREEN to you??

It could well be that my color recognition isn’t top notch, but I’m sorry — these legs just aren’t the kind of green I’m used to associating with the idea of Green! And then that got me thinking — perhaps my conception of color is based on a color’s ideal form rather than its real nature? Maybe it’s time to revisit some Plato? To me green is the color of salad and green beans and pine trees and grass before the hideous heat wave in Toronto. I rarely think of other forms of green. Perhaps it’s time to expand my range of green possibilities.

I can already sense that shore birds are going to be almost as challenging as sparrows. I guess that’s the beauty of birding — it gets more familiar, but not necessarily easier. Actually, I don’t ever see it becoming easy. And that’s probably what I love about it: birding is an endless exercise in seeing and remembering. The more you are able to see, the more you sense that you’re only scratching the surface. Where was I for the first 35 years of my potential birding career?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2011 12:25 pm

    Julia, please don’t beat yourself up too much about color perception, I realize now that I forgot to mention that shorebird leg colour is sometimes obscured by the color of the algae or mud that they are wading/feeding in! Hope that makes you feel better, don’t forget that colour perception is very subjective, which is ALMOST like saying that “everybody sees what they want to see……..” Hopefully the next Least Sandpiper that you see in good light will actually have clean legs! 😉

    • August 15, 2011 7:59 pm

      Thanks Brete! I’m not discouraged in the least. On the contrary, my eyes have now been opened, and I’m seeing a whole new side to Green!

  2. August 15, 2011 7:03 pm

    This is a great time of year to see blue-legged peeps, thanks to late summer algae blooms. I always feel like I’m teaching an undergraduate seminar on Kant when I talk about shorebird foot color!

    • August 15, 2011 8:03 pm

      I wish my undergraduate seminars on Kant mentioned shorebird foot color! Maybe it would have encouraged me to read more Kant…

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