The chaos and drama of sunrise at the Tualatin River Refuge a couple of weeks ago (Celebrating the Dawn) inspired me to wonder if sunset would provide equally dramatic moments amidst the masses of water birds wintering there.
It was 3:00 PM when I parked near the highway and hiked up the hill to the visitor center.
From the observation deck overlooking the pond, I watched hundreds of ducks and geese moving about on the water.
I was fascinated by one small duck swimming into the middle of a group of geese, staying there for a few minutes, then moving on to another party of geese, seemingly introducing himself again and again, as though he was making the rounds at a cocktail party
Birds came and went from the pond in bands of four or six and sometimes in groups as large as fifty.
The prehistoric croak of a Great Blue Heron announced his short flight from an overcrowded area of the pond to a quieter spot. It’s not the first time I’ve observed that the Blue Heron seems irritated with the masses of birds wintering in his home.
I shivered as I watched birds noisily jostling for position water or gliding quietly on the surface. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many birds as I had seen rise together at dawn only a few weeks ago.
Like the frog in boiling water, I had barely noticed how quickly the temperature was dropping until my cheeks began to sting and my bare hands to ache. I’d left my gloves in the car.
To avoid the cold wind, I backed up under the overhang of the building, held my hood tightly in place, and continued to watch.
I had been so sure there would be some dramatic end to the day for these creatures, something to match their wild dawn awakening of a few weeks ago. The sun gradually dropped behind the hills, the temperature continued to drop, the cold wind grew wilder, and the birds grew quieter. My curiosity and resolve waned.
Shivering and miserable, lacking the fortitude to last five more minutes until sunset, I quit that cold, windblown place.
I was still shivering as I reached the highway, started the car, and waited for circulation to return to my fingers. On the other side of the highway I saw that many hundreds of birds were gathered on wetlands, more birds than I’d been watching at the pond. As I watched, the sun slipped away and the birds across the highway rose suddenly, and noisily, together. They spread across the sky and flew over my head to the ponds at the refuge. Many of them appeared to be landing at the pond where I had been keeping watch.
This was the main event I’d been waiting for, and I was catching it because I’d given up! There must be a lesson there.
From the warm car, I watched until every last bird appeared to have flown to the refuge. If there were birds left across the highway, it was too dark to tell.