This spring Ash Creek Wildlife Area in Modoc County CA had what seemed, at least to Leonard and me, unusually large numbers of American avocets (Recurvirostra americana). Although the range maps indicate we are on the border of the American avocet’s breeding range, we do not see them at the wildlife area outside of migration. The shallow wetlands that teemed with American avocets in June, when these photographs were taken, are now totally void of these elegant and stately waterfowl.
American avocets nest directly on the ground with no vegetation or shade to protect the eggs. To keep the clutch from overheating during incubation they dip their bellies in water to cool the eggs. When the eggs or young are threatened, American avocets fly straight at the intruder. Leonard and I were observing these birds from a couple hundred feet away. Using binoculars we unsuccessfully searched the area for nests. Suddenly an avocet, with no provocation that we could discern, flew directly at us, veering away at the last second. Then another. . . and another. . . We decided it was time to move on.
Although American avocet populations currently appear stable, reduction of wetland habitat in the early 20th Century caused population decreases. More recently rice fields, salt ponds, agricultural evaporation ponds and sewage ponds are providing habitat lost to wetland destruction. Unfortunately selenium from irrigation and methylmercury from coal burning is now causing low reproductive success, embryo deformities and chick death.
My 04-08-12 (“American Avocet”) post further describes these easily identified birds.