By Constance Taylor
When it comes to bird identification, where’s a beginner to start?
“General shape is a good thing to look for when you’re first scanning a lot of birds,” said Marissa Ortega-Welch, our walk leader for the November 2013 bird identification walk around Lake Merritt. She showed us a number of silhouettes of various water birds, showing us the main physical differences between grebes, ducks, egrets, gulls, and cormorants.
Looking out onto the water and seeing birds with blunt, rounded bills and relatively short necks, we decided we were looking at a bunch of ducks. The binoculars confirmed! Buffleheads, Barrow’s goldeneye, common goldeneye, canvasbacks and ruddy ducks swam into view as we watched from the shore.
“At least five grebe species can be found at Lake Merritt- the pied-billed, western, Clark’s, eared, and horned,” Marissa told us as we saw a few pied-billed grebes. Grebes are diving birds with their legs placed very far back on their body, making them ill-adapted for walking on land but excellent at swimming and catching fish. Grebes tend to live most of their lives in the water, even building floating nests to avoid being out of their element.
For a fantastic guide of migrating birds you’ll find around Lake Merritt during the winter, go here…