Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gotcher biodiversity right here!

I moved back to Oakland, near Lake Merritt, in February, and walking around the lake a couple times a week, I was struck by the paucity of bird species compared to when I visited Lake Merritt as a kid. For most of this year, we have had Canada geese, Herring gulls and pigeons hanging around, species that gladly live off of whatever humans throw out. In the water, there are coots, drab gray water birds with white beaks, and the occasional mated pair of mallards.

All I had to do was wait. Now in late November, Lake Merritt is teaming with bird species. There are many species of ducks, including several exotic looking critters I didn't remember from my youthful days as a bird watcher. The ducks I could definitely identify were canvasbacks and ruddy ducks. There might have been a few teals as well. The only species I remember from my childhood that I didn't see yesterday were wood ducks, which is a shame because they are one of the prettiest duck species of all.

Besides ducks, there were also swans and geese, and not just the omnipresent Canadas. There was a big light brown goose that I looked up on the interwebs, and as far as I can tell it is called a buff goose. I couldn't find a picture that did it justice because it is HUGE. It towers over the Canada geese like the Canada geese tower over the ducks. The buff is supposed to be a farm goose and extinct in the wild. You come to Oakland and tell him he's extinct yourself, buddy, because frankly, he frightens me.

There are also other waterfowl that are kinda sorta like ducks, but without the duck bills. I'm sure I spotted both grebes and mergansers, as well as some obvious and better known critters like pelicans and cormorants. Since I have been in the area nearly a year, my guess is the surprise visitors are on their migration route. They aren't planning on staying long, but Lake Merritt is a nice stopover where there is stuff to eat and people don't hide in bushes with shotguns. Or if they do, they aren't hunting ducks.

A couple other sightings of note were the American bittern and the night heron. The bittern has a distinctive cry "allukidsgetoffmylawn! allukidsgetoffmylawn!", which is why they call it a bittern, I suppose. And in Oakland, the night heron completely psychs people by showing up in the day time. Kind of like with Canada geese, humans call these critters whatever we want to, but they live their own lives, thank you very much.

It's really nice to see all these guys back in the neighborhood.


FranIAm said...

Nice post, really good reading. And very dguzman-y of you!

Tara Mobley said...

Geese in general frighten me, so I am absolutely terrified of the idea of an extremely large goose running around. Yikes.

Matty Boy said...

Fear of geese is not irrational. Some farmers use geese as guard animals. When they get territorial, they will chase off nearly anything, humans included, and a goose bite, while not life threatening, hurts.

A lot.

Undersquid said...

I love geese. My son and I have fed local (or visiting) varieties bread pieces. Of course we've had to wade past their greenish poop pellets, but there's no particularly bad smell to them.

And thankfully they haven't been the attacking kind, so far.

You are lucky to get such variety of waterfowl around your parts. All I see in my nearest body of water is different kinds of abandoned shopping carts and booze bottles.

Karlacita! said...

I love Bitterns and Herons.

I like how Herons just look through you, as if they're waiting for you to leave. But then, they look at fish under water, and those fish are just about to be dinner.

Maybe I don't like Herons so much? Nah! They're cool!

Anonymous said...

Oh, awesome. I do believe DGuzman will be making her way there when she learns of this!

Matty Boy said...

You're right, Dcup. DG is talking about moving out to Northern California next year possibly, and a trip down to Oakland in late November looks like an ideal trip for a serious birdwatcher. I walked the lake again today, and there were plenty of folks with binoculars and cameras taking pictures of the lots and lots of water birds who are here for the short run.

dguzman said...

HOLY MOLY. You have so many of my favorite birds here! Ruddy Duck (though their bills aren't blue right now--that fancy bill's just for breedin' season, buddy!), American Bittern, Hooded Merganser, Canvasback Duck! Your Lake Merritt ROCKS. And you're right--they're hanging out in a nice safe place with food. Can you blame them?

I'm trying to learn about buff geese. Maybe he was just a farm goose on vacation? Geese frighten me too, Matty Boy. I've been chased and scared out of my wits by them.

I will definitely visit this lake (perhaps with you!) if I go west--tons of potential lifers out there for me to see!

Karen Zipdrive said...

I can think of a certain lame duck I'd love to throw in that lake. And he'd probably drown.