"Wintering Birds on Capitol Lake, 3 Dec 2011" Top 5 Page for this destination Olympia Travelogue by glabah
Olympia Travel Guide: 108 reviews and 337 photos
Capitol Lake in Winter: it may not seem like much at first glance. It is, after all, an artificial conversion of a salt water body into a fresh water lake, mostly for cosmetic reasons as part of the "City Beautiful" movement in the early 1900s.
However, a closer look at those thousands of little dots down there reveals that they are not, in fact, common domestic ducks or the swarms of mallards that normally inhabit such urban water features.
Instead, during the winter, this lake features quite a variety of other wintering water birds as well.
As noted in my Capitol Lake tip, this semi-artificial lake is now off limits to domestic animals and humans due to an infestation of invasive snails, plus frequent problems with several different communicable diseases.
However a problem this may be for the original designers of Capitol Lake, the wintering birds that come to Puget Sound from various colder climates like having the lake to themselves. In the summer months, the lake is mostly inhabited by a large group of mallards, which are attractive birds but they are also one of the most common in North America. The variety in winter is far more interesting.
I stopped by Capitol Lake on 3 December 2011. Bird sightings included:
Several hundred American Wigeons
Several (two or so) Eurasian Wigeons
5-6 canvasback (this was the first time I had ever gotten a decent up close look at a canvasback)
20 or so bufflehead
100 or so coots
mixture of gadwalls and scaups.
Mixed flock of several ruby crowned kinglets with about 20-30 bushtits.
A small group of hooded mergansers.
1x bald eagle (mature) having a dispute with one of the local gulls in the top of a fir tree near the lake. If it hadn't been for the ruckus they were making, I would not have noticed the eagle.
While walking along the west side of the lake, I happened to hear a rather bizarre tangle of sounds from high up in one of the trees. There was some typical gull screaming, plus the high-pitches whistle call of a bald eagle.
Due to the horrific traffic noise along Deschutes Way, where this part of the trail around Capitol Lake runs, it was very hard to determine exactly where the sound was coming from.
Until the gull gave up and flew away from the eagle.
Unfortunately, the eagle was quite high up, and it would not have been possible to get this photograph without some reasonably good telephoto equipment.
Bald Eagles are usually fish eaters, but they won't hesitate to grab and eat a duck or goose if it happens to present itself as an easy target, and there certainly were a lot of potential lunches down on the lake surface.
Unfortunately, the hooded mergansers were so far out on the lake as to be nearly impossible to photograph with the camera I have. It may say it is 26x optical zoom, but when faced with typical winter lighting in Puget Sound the number of pixels (the effectively the same as film grain in high ASA film) goes down and drops the quality quite a bit.
Yet, they were quite visible through my 10x binoculars, and this is one of those cases where you just have to appreciate the beauty of hooded mergansers for what they are, and give a very vague impression of what was seen by the photograph.
Coots can be interesting to watch. They can sometimes form fairly large rafts in winter. They can dive if they feel the need to do so. Sometimes, they get annoyed and chase other birds off, and the antics of several coots have earned them quite a reputation. This is where we get the phrase "Crazy as a Coot" from.
However, look closely enough at the group of coots in Capitol Lake. I found that the "Coot" raft also included wigeons and gadwalls, and a few others I couldn't quite sort out as they pretty much constantly had their heads under water.
Indeed, there were a number that I could not identify due to the tight spacing of the birds in their favored feeding locations and the fact that they never let their head up out of the water very long.
Scaups of some sort (I can't tell the difference between greater or lesser) were certainly present, however, and the females with the characteristic white band around the area where their bill joins their heads was what first got my attention.
However good the rest of the birds were, however, the Canvasback sort of stole the show for me as it was the first time I had been able to get to see these excellent divers up close.
One added word of warning about bird watching on Capitol Lake: stay away as much as you can from people with dogs. The birds recognize that dogs are used in hunting, and that they are a potential threat. The birds will take no notice of people watching them and taking photos of them to no end, but if someone walks past with a dog, they will all abandon their feeding and get as far away as possible.
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