Arriving at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area before dawn, my friend and I were struck by the serenity. For the first mile or so, not a single bird or mammal was seen or heard; then, the clamor of red-winged blackbirds began to echo across the refuge. Before long, these blackbirds, one of the most abundant species in North American, rose from shrub lines and groves of trees, streaming above the floodplain in massive, undulating flocks. Heading for fields and wetlands, they would consume tons of grain and insects before the day was done.
Near the south end of the refuge, another spectacle would unfold. A large flock of American white pelicans (300 or more) had gathered to fish in a shallow pool. Joined by two dozen cormorants, the pelicans were surrounded by great egrets and great blue herons that patrolled the edge of the pond. As we stopped to observe this early morning feast, the pelicans began to rise in waves, noisily skipping across the water and then climbing into the cool air; their departure took several minutes as wavering lines of pelicans flapped and glided toward the north, searching for more schools of fish.
Other sightings on this chilly, overcast morning included bald eagles, a Cooper's hawk, belted kingfishers, pied-billed grebes, American coot and a small number of blue-winged teal. But this visit will be remembered for its spectacles, provided by one of least admired and one of the most beautiful species to grace the refuge.