Fill of Wonder

Juvenile Red-necked Phalarope

Birders are agog because of a little bird that showed up at the Fill yesterday: a juvenile Red-necked Phalarope. This visitor from the Far North is stopping briefly on our shores to fuel up before continuing its journey south. It belongs to a unique family of shorebirds who both wade and swim. Only three species of phalarope exist on all the planet, and we have one visiting us right now.

I’ve been watching Avatar this week because I’m interested in seeing how Hollywood designers imagine an alien Paradise. Pandora, their fantasy world, is a magical place, lushly filled with strangely beautiful wildlife that the hero comes to believe is worth saving at any cost. Caught up in the loveliness of the scenery, I too come to think the same, and to wish that somewhere in our galaxy, Pandora exists.

It’s good to step outside our own reality now and then to see how someone else somewhere else views beauty – I get the same thrill from watching Nature or Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge. All of these shows, both real and un-, remind me to stop a moment and reflect on the fact that we ourselves live in a paradise of beauty, right here in Seattle. Pandora, for all its alien wonders, has nothing as really wonderful as our little Red-necked Phalarope, who is paddling serenely on Main Pond for now but who will soon spend the winter storms swimming on the deep ocean. How can such a fragile-looking creature survive the power of the sea? I don’t know. It’s a wonder. Art Wolfe and the videographers of Nature spend untold money and effort to film the exotica of our planet, yet we ourselves are hosting one of the most exotic of birds, a living, breathing miracle of life in the heart of a big city.

The Red-necked Phalarope was not the only amazing bird at the Fill yesterday. Also on Main Pond were two Spotted Sandpipers bobbing their clownish derrieres on the shore, paying no attention to two lemon-yellow Wilson’s Warblers, who spent more time chasing each other than chasing bugs to eat. A sun-bright Yellow Warbler was not so distracted and caught numerous prey while the Wilson’s were arguing. A drab Willow Flycatcher flew in to perch among the willow wands as it searched for its own brand of bug, finding much to eat in the rich mud of the pond. Earlier in the day, an equally drab Western Wood-pewee put on a masterful flying exhibit as it too looked for insects to snatch in mid-air. I also saw a Green Heron fishing on the Turtle Logs, while a Great Blue Heron nearby opened its wings like a living umbrella to shade its fishing hole. Over on Surber, a Band-tailed Pigeon (our native forest pigeon) surveyed its domain from the top of a conifer. I tried to tell it to be on the lookout for the Peregrine Falcon I had seen in the dawn, but the pigeon was much to lofty to pay any attention to me, beyond one look down its beak at the lowly human who must slog around on the ground and cannot ever hope to reach its heights. Mirabile dictu.