This afternoon while I was sitting outside on the back lawn studying for my trig final, a group of birders appeared on the marsh, trying to get more birds for the local Birding Cup competition. Roana and her group are also participating, but they chose to hit a different marsh, so this was a nice surprise. I didn't get a picture, but they were on #135 when I asked them, and I saw the leader raise his arms in triumph three or four more times, so they were cruising. He told me they'd seen a marsh wren and a snipe already and were looking for rails. I'm sure they found them, as I've seen at least four or five Virginia rails out there each day I've looked from the porch with my scope.
After studying for about three hours, I couldn't resist going out on the marsh to find and possibly photograph some beauties. I checked the scope and spotted two rails and a sora from the porch, so I figured I'd have a great time. I headed out on the road beside the marsh and almost immediately spotted the bittern!
See him there? This was scoped through my binoculars; here's the full digital zoom:
Not great, but it's documentation, right?
So I got really excited, marked the location in my mind and got some landmarks, and set out to find him up close. I headed out on the small path that runs along the shallow little ponds in the front area of the marsh first, hoping to see a sora or a rail. No luck. However, I saw this:
This should've served as a bad omen, but I chalked it up to the circle of life. Not sure what or who had finished this bird off, but I didn't worry about it too much.
I then headed back to the big path beside Long Pond, looking through my binoculars to try to find anything good, and that's when I saw him: a dog. A big dog. A big yellow wolf-looking, horse-sized dog. Loose on the marsh. He was back toward the creek, and he disappeared quickly into the brush back there, so I figured he was accompanying some fisherman on the creek. I don't really like dogs, so I was kind-of glad he disappeared. I moved on.
I saw a little muskrat:
Shortly after I snapped this picture, he flipped and splashed and went underwater, no doubt miffed at my stealing his soul with my camera.
I kept looking through the binocs for the bittern place, and that's when I witnessed the disaster. That damned dog was attacking a Canada goose nest, rolling the eggs off it and trying to bite them. I ran at him and screamed "No!" and he got scared and ran away. But the damage was done.
Mother Goose (I guess) was honking her head off, and very soon, Father Goose showed up.
They both honked and honked, and suddenly there were more geese coming, landing close by and just sitting. I thought they might be standing guard.
The geese were on a little island, and there was at least 15 feet of water, the depth of which I could only guess, between me and their nest. I couldn't even help them by moving the eggs back onto the mound; I couldn't do a thing but watch their agony.
During my screaming and running at the dog, I spooked the bittern, who flew away. I managed a photo:
By this point, I wondered if perhaps my presence so close to the nest might be upsetting the geese, so I walked away. I hope they can somehow push the eggs back onto their little mound. That stupid dog. And that stupid dog owner, whoever he or she may be, leaving him loose on the marsh.
On my way back, I heard the bittern several times, but I never saw him again. I did, however, see this sign of life:
That's the tree swallow I photographed a few weeks ago, at the same nest box! I hope they have a little clutch of eggs in there, and I hope they raise lots of young.
Back on the road home in the gathering darkness of sunset, I saw two neon orange sparks flashing through the air.
The Baltimore orioles are back! Last year, they raised a baby here; now they're back!
I guess the circle of life really does go on. Still, I can't help but feel terrible for that family of Canada geese; I just hope they can lay another brood. I checked my Stokes guide: ". . . the number of broods a bird has in a season. . . is marked by a B." Dangit, the B under Canada goose has a 1 after it. One brood. "Shown is the number of successful broods a species will attempt in a normal season. It does not include cases of renestings after failed broods.(my emphasis)"
Maybe they'll be able to scoop their eggs back onto the mound.
Or maybe, just maybe, they're out there right now, trying again.
Perhaps I should play some romantic music.