As winter fades, the first faint sounds high in the air are Ducks returning north. Or so it seems. The ducks were here all along, as attested by hunting season mid-October through January. Yet it seems like they’re migrating back, at least the majority of them. Their V-formation flight is a sight to behold, because we can behold Spring and the beginning of sailing season. Ducks populate Sarah Creek around York River Yacht Haven. Their ducklings love to paddle between boats.
Heron are found along the shore of the York and in the creeks. The majestic height and lean appearance of the Blue Heron belie a substantial size. Mark Garland’s “Birds of the Mid-Atlantic Coast” describes the Tricolored Heron as 26 inches tall with a wing span of 36 inches.
The Osprey is king of the York. They migrate back from South America in early spring, taking roost in the day marks along the channel. The male fetches the sticks for the nest, and the female arranges the nest (just like our house). The existential question I pose to guests of Let’s Go Sail is: How do they get the first stick to stay? Once completed, the nests are weatherproof up to hurricane-strength winds. It takes the US Coast Guard to remove them in the fall.
Hawks co-exist with osprey, who are really glorified hawks. The distinction is that Osprey rely 99% on fish while hawks will eat most anything. The fish dependence requires that baby osprey learn how to dive 3 feet into the water to find and catch the fish. Problem is, the refraction of light in the water throws off their view. It’s some sort of miracle that it works so well. Eagles do not play well with Osprey, so we see few of them. Eagles are found along the James River instead.
Flying close to the water
Cormorants, aka Loons, are found along the shore and are notable for swimming with their head and neck above the waterline, rather like a submarine. They gather in flocks, but the ones we see on the York seem more scattered and independent. They fly close to the water, within inches of tripping.
Pelicans fly the closest to the water line, except when they rise up to dive. They fly three stories up and then WHAM! Oddly, they come up empty much of the time, compared to Ospreys which have a 70% catch rate. It’s wonderful to see how Ospreys rotate their claws so their catch is aerodynamically held into the wind.
Egrets are a wading bird like the Blue Heron, only smaller and white. Garland describes the Great Egret as one who “stalks fish patiently.” They stand in the water like a statue for long minutes at a time before striking.
Finally, Seagulls as shown in the illustration above are few and far between on the York. They portend bad weather, having flown inland from the sea for safety.
Cormorants, Pelicans and Seagulls avoid the York in summer because, like the Eagle, they don’t coexist with osprey. Come fall when the osprey leave, the river lights up with other birds. The seasonal cycle continues.
Let’s go sail, among the birds
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