ON THIS DATE - 22 July (2000) - a Long-billed Curlew was at Honeymoon Island.
(all about the bird life of Pinellas)
SHOREBIRDS ON THE MOVE
By Dick Cissel
(He once taught a German shepherd to bark in Spanish)
We tend to take shorebirds for granted in Pinellas. After all, we’re spoiled here and shorebirds abound. Even in June when most have flown north to their Arctic breeding grounds a few remain behind and are found on area beaches with our resident Willets, Wilson’s Plovers and American Oystercatchers. July, though, we start seeing many more as migration begins.
It’s interesting to note that as a group shorebirds travel very long distances. Most traverse 15,000 miles each year from their breeding grounds to their wintering sites in Central and South America. Some can reach heights of 10,000 feet and may reach speeds of 50 mph when the upper winds push them along. While most have stopover points, others do not. For instance, Hudsonian Godwits may travel 8,000 miles non-stop between breeding and wintering sites.
It is estimated that 15-million shorebirds migrate through the United States each year. They are dependent on feeding and staging areas remaining available to them each year, unchanged. Protecting such sites like Fort De Soto Park, Three Rooker Bar and Anclote Key Preserve are obviously important. We can only hope that places north and south of us are also being protected.
The beaches of Delaware Bay in New Jersey and Delaware have been recognized as the most critical stopover location along the eastern seaboard. In spring, shorebirds arrive at about the time horseshoe crabs lay their eggs, a fact you’ve probably read about before and, perhspas, seen on PBS specials. But something we don’t often think about is how do these shorebirds all feed at one location, but not necessarily compete with one another? It is by design.
Go to your favorite shorebird site and watch. Put the camera away, find yourself a comfortable seat or stance and just watch. Notice the obvious. The shorebirds come in different sizes and bill lengths. You may see a mixed flock of birds consisting of Sanderlings, Least and Western Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and Short-billed Dowicthers. Present, too, might be a couple of Marbled Godwits and/or Black-bellied Plovers. Notice how the Sanderlings feed along the waterline, the sandpipers feed just above it picking insects at the mud’s surface and the turnstones even farther up along the wrack zone finding insects and small crabs. Dowitchers are opportunists, searching both the wrack and probing down into the sand with their long bills. They’ll also feed in the water, belly-deep, probing for crabs and other small crustaceans. The godwits, with their long bills feed in the water, usually up to their bellies, probing at depths just a bit deeper than the dowitchers. Meanwhile, Black-bellied Plovers are up on shore looking for food at the surface of the mud by walking 5-6 steps in a hurry, stopping on a dime, and then picking off an unsuspecting bug or exposed worm.
When you see a scene like that it sure makes you appreciate the biodiversity of a beach and how each species can find enough to eat without necessarily competing with one another.
While you’re at it, watch for a Red-necked Stint!