Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 5, 2009

Toto, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:48 pm

It wasn’t the first time a White-faced Ibis showed up in S.E. Michigan, but the event was rare enough to cause quite a stir among the birding sort. Needless to say, these sickle-billed things aren’t from around here. They aren’t found in Kansas either, but seeing one there wouldn’t be quite as dramatic since they are usually restricted to places west of the Mississippi River. Sighting any Ibis east of the big Miss is a small, but significant, event. This species generally hangs around the Texas gulf coast -with spotty breeding locations in Utah, California, Nevada, and Idaho. They also inhabit parts well south of the border, but their distribution is difficult to outline.

Any description of the range of the White-faced Ibis is peppered with words like “usually” and “generally” because they seem to be homebodies of a nebulous nature. You’d think they’d stick to a certain range like all the other birds, but nooooooooooo, they have to be all discontinuous and un-dependible like. Apparently, it’s in their nature to be geographically flaky. Their larger breeding colonies tend to disappear from one place and re-appear in another and they have a reputation for finding brand-new habitats, created by temporary floods or over-abundant rains.

Given the above discussion, I guess seeing an Ibis along the shore of Lake Erie shouldn’t be all that surprising. It is tempting , however, to blame the event on the sustained southwestern winds that preceded it’s appearance. It may have been blown off course – forced to take a left at Albuquerque as it were. Forced down onto the wet puddled grass of Lake Erie Metropark  in late April it resumed normal activity as if nothing was wrong. Strong southern winds probably kept it here, but the food situation wasn’t desperate. Everything it needed was to be found here. Seeking it’s normal diet of insects, worms, frogs, and crayfish the bird spent the next week methodically probing the soggy ground with it’s magnificent “decurved” beak (see below). True to form, it vanished from time to time, but became a regular visitor at the picnic area at the south end of the park.

Still, this lone bird looked a bit out of place.  White-faces are gregarious birds.  I watched it for several extended periods and saw that it would stop, stand erect, and look around as if looking for the “rest of the gang.” When it stopped to scratch it’s head with one of it’s long toed feet (see below) it looked even more be-fuddled. The occasional company of a Red-winged blackbird or a Ring-billed Gull did little to alter the situation. Seeing this bronze plumaged bird next to a gull did provide visual confirmation of  it’s small size (only 19 inches long with a wing span around three feet). One can’t help but to be amazed by that steel gray bill either, but I guess I mentioned that already didn’t I.

In all likelihood, my anthropomorphic impressions are just that – plain wrong. Perhaps this bird was a confident explorer among his kind. Perhaps it was deliberately seeking new lands. This is, after all, how species exploit new territories. Perhaps sometime in the future the descendents of this I-bis will not be A-lone alone in the G-lake country. Or, maybe they will!

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