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Blog Birding #281

Shorebird season is on the horizon, and many birds are already heading back south. Time to get reacquainted with some of the more common migrants like Solitary Sandpiper, as Tom Johnson lays out at View from the Cape.

Solitary Sandpipers are small members of the genus Tringa, the same genus that includes the yellowlegs and Willet (and a number of Old World species that we won’t discuss here). Yellowlegs, Lessers in particular, are relatively similar in appearance to Solitary Sandpipers, but they are longer in wingspan and body length, with longer legs that stick out farther beyond the tail in flight (on Solitary, just the tips of the toes project beyond the tail in flight).

Don Freiday, of The Freiday Bird Blog, is readying himself for the coming flight too, and thinking about how to identify shorebirds as they come speeding by.

Shorebirding has much improved over the past few days here in Cape May, which is to be expected since July is an important month for southbound shorebird migration. This surprises some people, the business of “fall” migration in July (or even late June). Several mornings this week I’ve enjoyed watching shorebirds fly past or drop into the South Cape May Meadows, a.k.a. The Nature Conservancy’s Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, arguably the best July birding spot in Cape May.

At A Symphony of Feathers, Devin Griffiths also offers some thoughts on the wonders of shorebird migration, made obvious to us now in the middle of summer when most other birding opportunities are still several weeks off.

When talking about Red Knots, it’s common to speak in superlatives. This is, after all, a bird that travels from pole to pole twice a year, a round-trip distance of some 18,000 miles (one of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom)—often in non-stop stretches of 1,500 miles or more. When they hit the Delaware Bay, they’re nearly starved. But their timing is impeccable: with precision that puts a Swiss watchmaker to shame, they arrive at the peak of the spawning of horseshoe crabs—upon whose eggs the knots double their weight, ensuring that they have the reserves to finish their epic journey to breeding grounds in the high Arctic.

At 10,000 Birds Tom Brown discovers that old photos can become new birds down the road.

When I was 12 or 13, I was given a hand-me-down camera, and started taking pictures, It was at this point, or at least very close to it, that I started pointing camera at birds. To this day, there is still that one early photo, a Forrester’s tern, caught beautifully in flight, every feather in amazing detail, that is the basis for my start. Birds, and my photography have been linked now for nearly 50 years, and I am just starting to feel like I am on to something. Working my way thru college towards a wildlife sciences degree, and ever since, rarely has there not been a bird book close at hand. For a lot of those years, I was able to get some pretty good images, mostly due to my knowledge of the bird behavior. Now that my photography skills have improved, with much credit to my wife Jeanne, who really is a professional photographer, the percentage of quality images has risen substantially.

Has there been an increase of Short-eared Owls in western North America? Ron Dudley of Feathered Photography thinks so, and he’s run into several of the birds in recent days where before they were much less common.

I photographed this one last week on my camping trip to Montana and Idaho. I had good luck with a family of SEO’s six years ago in Montana’s Centennial Valley but since that time they’ve been almost nonexistent in that area. Occasionally I’d spot a single bird in the distance but usually on my trips to the region I didn’t see a single one. But last year I began to see a few more of them in that area of Montana and Idaho and this summer, over two trips and a total of about 12 days, their numbers have obviously increased dramatically in the region.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
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