“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”John Muir”
Manabi Province, Ecuador –
Many birds feast in the shrimp ponds; when the water is drained for harvest, the avian telegraph announces the all-you-can-eat buffet!
Elusive white ibis flock to the ponds for their ration of shellfish; petite kingfishers perch near the outlet pipes and spear random hors d’oeuvres. Great egrets tower over snowy egrets and little blue herons as they scramble, squawk and poke for shrimp and fish.
Conceited snowy egrets, pairing black leggings with bright-yellow slippers, fluff their wispy feathers to claim entitlement to the choicest morsels!
In formal attire, the black-necked stilts add a modest touch of elegance and keep a low profile along the edges of the pond! Although the stilts have always captured my attention, I realized that I knew little when I began a study based on an old photo. They are black and white and have very long reddish-pink legs. Do they all have pink legs, or do the male and female have different colorations?
Consulting a bird book, I was surprised to learn that stilts have red eyes! (Red eyes?) I looked at photos on the computer. The less-than precise images showed dark eyes. Details were lacking on the bill as well, and I was unsure – was it curved slightly like an ibis, or did it have a slight upturn – or was it straight as a sewing needle? Rather than guess, I waited for an opportunity for field research.
Several days later my friends harvested a pond, and I stalked the wading birds and watched their movements. The black-necked stilts, eager to please the naturalist, meandered along the edges while providing ample poses. At times the snowy egrets bullied the stilts, and I called out, ‘BULLY!”
There were no food fights, but the different species dashed after a just-seen fish andshrimp in the way children dash after Easter eggs!
Returning home, I relived the bird-watching session while examining photos. Yes, the stilts do have red eyes, though the red tint is hard to see on cloudy days. Yes, the bills are straight, and they taper like a needle.
So here’s the image in progress:
The photo session provided reference material and also recorded the memory of a well-spent afternoon.
What I gleaned most was a greater appreciation for the social life of the birds at an all-you-can-eat buffet!