Wandering the Wetlands

Join me on a morning stroll through a unique wetland in our own community: The Cordelia Slough.

A slough (pronounced “slew”) is a type of wetland where freshwater and tidal ocean water mix along a stream or river. This unique environment provides food and shelter for a thriving ecosystem of birds and other wildlife. 

As we begin our walk with clear skies overhead, marsh grasses, shallow waters, and mudflats on either side, a series of high-pitched yips rings out to your left. The first thing you notice as you look for the sound is a pair of long, bright yellow legs. They belong to the aptly named Greater Yellowlegs, a large, vocal shorebird with a long bill that probes for small invertebrates to eat. 

Farther out, beyond the trail, the water runs deeper.

Through binoculars, you see a variety of ducks along with Canada Geese and huge white swans. These birds have flocked together to rest and forage while on their migratory journeys.

Red winged blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird. Photo by Hal Moran

Your ears pick up an unusual call that is both lyrical and mechanical. You look toward the nearby reeds and find it comes from a shiny black bird with bold red shoulder pads. The Red-winged Blackbird sings loudly to stake his territory as several mottled black and brown females busy themselves in the reeds, constructing hidden nests where they will raise their young this spring.

Two White-tailed Kites perched in a tree

White-tailed Kites. Photo by Angie Trumbo

As you round the corner, a burst of wingbeats startles you as a small flock of Western Meadowlarks leaves the trail for safety in the nearby grasses. The streaking of the feathers on their backs kept them well hidden and now they seem to have entirely disappeared once again into the vegetation. This camouflage not only hides them from humans but also the overhead eyes of birds of prey. Perched in the top bare branches of a tree, you see a pair of White-tailed Kites–elegant white and grey with piercing red eyes. They take to the sky in search of food, and we round the corner of the trail.

Black Phoebe bird perched in tree

Black Phoebe. Photo by Angie Trumbo

The final stretch of our walk is dense with trees growing along a trickling stream that flows from a dam, the handiwork of American beavers. The shade and green foliage starkly contrast the browns and blues of the marshland we’ve been strolling through. In the shrubs, you see several small finches and warblers hopping from branch to branch. A Black Phoebe performs aerial acrobatics over the water before perching on a low-hanging branch to eat the winged insect it caught, and a tap-tap-tapping brings your gaze to a small black-and-white Downy Woodpecker working its way up a tree trunk.

Slowly and quietly we walk further down the path, taking special care not to disturb the resident of the next tree.

Here, a magnificent Great Horned Owl is catching some daytime shut-eye after a busy night of nocturnal hunting. This rare but beautiful sight is the perfect way to end our walk through the wetlands.

A woman standing with her back to the camera at the Cordelia Slough with binoculars

Wetland ecosystems like this one, once threatened and destroyed, provide critical habitat for a wide range of vulnerable and endangered wildlife, including thousands of migratory birds traveling along the Pacific Flyway. Access to the Cordelia Slough has been generously granted to International Bird Rescue thanks to the Pacific Flyway Fund, and we are working to bring this outdoor experience to youth in surrounding communities.

We invite classrooms, scouts, boys and girls clubs, and other youth groups to participate in the Cordelia Slough Youth Education Program. For more information, visit www.birdrescue.org/education and www.pacificflywaycenter.org

Cordelia Slough photos by Angie Trumbo