January 8, 2012

Coot Tales...and Feet

Twenty hearty souls turned out for this month's Great Meadows walk.  With no obvious signs of this season on the ground, we set out ready for surprises.  The low sun angle cast a raking light across the marshes, highlighting every detail.  Clouds in the western sky brimmed the setting sun, focusing its light dramatically across the landscape. 

Along the way, we studied patches of ice, the plants in the floodplain forest, and ducks in the river (female buffleheads and mallards).  A harrier perched on a duck box, a pair of swans swam serenely in the late day light, and gatherings of Coot were bobbing in open pools and skittering across the ice.

One of our walkers discovered piles of dark feathers strewn along the eastern Dike Trail under an overhanging tree.  Trying to make sense of someone's apparent demise, we then discovered pieces of brilliant red carcass and the telltale foot of a coot...distinguished by its green color, lack of webbing, and distinctively shaped toes.  It likely was lunch for the day's visiting bald eagle or marsh hawk.

India Rose holding coot's foot

The foot's reptilian-like scales highlight the coot's distant ancestry

Silver-lined clouds and silhouetted lotus stems gave painterly detail to the setting sun's deepening glow.

And many coot skated across the ice toward the Dike Trail as the sky darkened, coming close as they waited for us to move out of their way.  Over the past few weeks, I've become very fond of these gregarious and awkward little birds, who have become the easy meal of choice for the refuge's many winter raptors.

As we neared the parking lot, some 60 robins flew in from the marshes and perched, mumbling in the oaks overhead.  India left the coot's foot under the blackboard for all to see.  The evening's geese flew in and we all bid farewell.


  1. oh, i wish i could have joined you! such beautiful light.

  2. Cherrie -- you did a great job of capturing the unreal light last evening. Thanks again for a great walk.

  3. Loved the walk. So much fun and so much beauty! Thanks!