Shorebirds: The most effective present in summer time


When spouse Linda and I first began relationship, we, in fact, requested one another the requisite questions:

What’s your favourite colour? Blue.

Who’s your favourite singer? Joni Mitchell.

What’s your favourite season? Winter.

“Not summer time?” she requested, not fairly believing me. “I hate summer time,” I replied. “The warmth, the humidity, the mosquitoes…”

However that was then, earlier than transferring to shorebird-rich South Jersey.

Rising up in North Jersey, I found that the summer time warmth bakes the music out of the syrinx of woodland birds by mid-June, and walks by toasted summer time woodlands are made all of the extra oppressive by that silence. Oh, certain, each occasionally, an American Crow sounds off or a squadron of Blue Jays make the air ring with brayed insults levied at no matter occurs to afflict jays for the time being. Normally, it is just a curiously twisted department or an empty cavity the place as soon as a screech-owl had been. However principally what I heard on these scorching summer time outings was silence that added layers of insult to the sultry sunbaked air.

Even the Brickyard Ponds a quarter-mile from dwelling provided no reduction from the summer time doldrums. Canada Geese had but to ascertain, and the steep reduce banks provided no shallows for Nice Blue or Inexperienced Herons to forage. So, on the most popular days, I merely stayed indoors and browse books, counting down the times until autumn migrants would enliven my woodlands with motion, if not music.

Then I moved to Cape Might and into an entire new world of surprise and pleasure. Summer season means shorebirds. Failed breeders arrive as early as late June, profitable breeders flood marshes in July, and juveniles seem in August and September.

Till Cape Might, my expertise with shorebirds was restricted to 3 species: Noticed and Solitary Sandpipers, which confirmed up in Might, and the Killdeer that attempted each spring to nest someplace close to dwelling plate on our college baseball subject. However Cape Might in the summertime of 1976 was a summer time of discovery. The South Cape Might Meadows and Bunker Pond had been my home windows into an thrilling new chapter in birding: shorebirding. Each day discovered extra and totally different arrivals and ample alternative for research. 

Better and Lesser Yellowlegs, aspect by aspect, surrounded by Quick-billed Dowitchers. It was there that I first famous the totally different feeding behaviors that distinguish the birds at any distance. Better Yellowlegs are loners that cost round stabbing on the water. Lesser Yellowlegs decide on the floor and are extra social. Dowitchers cluster and probe with metronome regularity. Stilt Sandpipers sew the water with fast jabs and (usually) heads submerged. Solitary Sandpipers transfer methodically by the shallows, the place Noticed Sandpipers race alongside the shoreline.

Peeps? Sure, lots. They had been more difficult than the bigger shorebirds, however even and not using a recognizing scope, it was evident that Least Sandpipers had been relegated to the drier fringe of the pond and that Semipalmated Sandpipers appreciated to maintain their ft moist. Western Sandpipers? Just a few, with most adults in heavy molt. Sanderling, Crimson Knot, and Semipalmated Plover? These species most well-liked the sandy seaside, and Western Sandpiper typically joined them.

Better of all had been the members of the grassland guild. The South Cape Might Meadows was actually a meadow in these days, the grass shut cropped by Les Rae’s voracious cows. Upland Sandpipers had been an on a regular basis prevalence. American Golden-Plover a uncommon deal with. In August, small flocks of Buff-breasted Sandpipers would settle in for a day or two. Wanting like golden-brown crop-tailed doves, the winsome birds allowed shut strategy, which was a lot their undoing throughout these horrible market gunning days when a whole bunch of hundreds of Buff-breasteds had been slaughtered on the prairies in spring, packed in brine-filled barrels, and shipped to jap markets. 

Early accounts document an abundance of Buff-breasteds. However plentiful or not, year-by-year market gunning thinned the ranks of northbound birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 got here in time to avoid wasting the Buff-breasted and golden-plover from extinction however, sadly, not Eskimo Curlew. In the present day, the one curlew to go to Cape Might is Whimbrel, whose flocks kick off the autumn shorebird season in late July.

Godwits, phalaropes, greenheads

Godwits? Each Marbled and Hudsonian are uncommon and a particular deal with. Hudsonian migrates in V-shaped flocks nicely offshore in early September. As soon as throughout robust easterly winds, I noticed a flock whose identification was solely secured through the use of a recognizing scope.

Phalaropes? Wilson’s is unusual however common. Crimson-necked uncommon. Crimson? You’ll want a pure coronary heart and numerous luck, however one yr, a well-oiled feminine spent the summer time within the Meadows. Not too a few years in the past, I noticed a streak-backed phalarope flying throughout Bunker Pond and yelled out to all assembled on the hawk watch: “Incoming Crimson-necked Phalarope.” Luckily, or possibly not, Tom Johnson had the presence of thoughts to {photograph} the fowl because it handed and offered me with the crisp, clear viewscreen picture of a juvenile Crimson Phalarope. Oh, nicely. I suppose I’m nonetheless studying shorebirds.

As for summer time. I prefer it so much higher since I found shorebirds. The New Jersey warmth continues to be oppressive and the humidly stifling, however as an alternative of mosquitoes, I now must take care of the evil greenhead fly, high predator in coastal marshes. When deer flies chunk, you say “ow,” however when greenheads get their fangs into you, you employ expletives.

Solely a idiot wears shorts right here in summer time. And greenheads have been recognized to snip proper by new denim.

Shorebirds are an acquired style, however for birders-in-the-know, they’re one of the best present on the town in summer time. However you needn’t journey to coastal New Jersey to savor the southbound passage of migrating shorebirds. Fall migration is continent-wide. From late June to September, any drought-stricken reservoir will draw shorebird migrants. The morning after the passage of a chilly entrance is finest. Wastewater remedy amenities additionally lure migrants, as do sod farms and lately mowed fields. Recognizing scopes are close to requisite, and The Shorebird Information by Michael O’Brien, et al., will make it easier to kind out the gamers, though I discover the plates within the Sibley Information to Birds immensely helpful, too. 

I nonetheless hate summer time warmth, however having found shorebirds, I now don’t have any excuse to take a seat indoors beneath the AC and watch for fall migration. In fact, should you dwell close to a nationwide wildlife refuge, you possibly can drive the auto loop and have shorebirds and AC, too. Preserve the automobile chilled, and you may roll down the home windows and freeze the hearts out of half 100 greenheads. 

Shorebird distribution is ruled principally by the abundance of prey. They go the place small invertebrates abound and water ranges are calibrated to leg and invoice size. At excessive tide, the birds search larger floor; on a falling tide, they arrive out to forage.

Maybe one of the best factor about shorebirds is the hours they hold. All day, day by day for so long as migration lasts. Look ahead to looking falcons and harriers to information you to a focus. When hawks are on the prowl, shorebirds take to the sky, usually gathering in tight wheeling flocks, and seem like puffs of smoke on the horizon, a smoke sign to discerning eyes that reads: looking raptor right here. Look under the flock. Many falcons make use of what known as a “ringing up” maneuver. Forcing shorebirds larger and better till one weaker member of the flock breaks rank, and predator and prey develop into one. 

This text was revealed within the “Birder at Massive” column within the July/August 2022 situation of BirdWatching journal. 

Pete Dunne on the riches of birding in late summer time

Pete Dunne on the items of winter birding

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