©Bert Gildart: All across the wetlands of eastern Montana, the American Avocet has returned, has laid its eggs and is ushering its young into the world. These are colorful birds and you will recognize them the moment you see them.
Because they are wading birds, they have long, thin gray legs, which give the species its colloquial name, “blue shanks.” Plumage is black and white on the back with white on the underbelly. But setting it off in the summer is the bird’s orange-colored head.
The other conspicuous feature is the long, thin bill which is upturned at the end. This feature helps the avocet locate food, something that is fascinating to watch and which I have seen often. Inserting beaks into the marsh, the avocet will stir the water, creating as they do a mini cyclone effect which draws aquatic insects up from the bottom.
Unlike the pelican of several posts ago, young of this species are fully capable of foraging for themselves shortly after hatching. Such birds are referred to as precocial.
Pelican young, on the other hand, are helpless when hatched and require weeks of care before they can fend for themselves. Such birds are referred to as altricial.
Like the pelican, avocet nests on open ground, often in small groups, sometimes with other waders. A pair will rear one brood per season, with both male and female providing parental care for the young.
Because summers on the prairie can be so short, the time to enjoy this species in now, for all too soon, it will head south, taking with it that colorful splash of orange that helps add color to a setting that might otherwise be quite drab.
These photographs could not have been made without the use of a photographic blind. I made these photos several years ago at the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge over a period of a couple of days.
First I erected the movable blind some distance from the nesting pair, and then gradually inched forward until I was close enough for the birds to fill the viewfinder of my Hasselblad camera and the 500mm lens I was using at the time. Later, the images were used for a book I wrote on Montana Wildlife, used by several professors for their classes in wildlife management at local universities. Images such as these continue to sell through several photo agents who market my work.
About five more days until departure for Alaska, which will take us along the world-famous Alcan Highway. We’ll be providing extensive coverage. Obviously we’re excited and have made plans to see many of our Native friends. While there I’ll be covering the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. As well, we’ll be hiking the Chilkoot Pass.