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Archive for August, 2011

Doug Buri and Bob Janssen provide great information at their annual Shorebird Workshop.  Here are some of the useful tips that I learned from them:

  • Don’t agonize over determining leg color.  Instead, compare it to the color of the bill.  Is it the same or different?
  • If you find a sandpiper in a wooded pond, it’s probably a Solitary Sandpiper.  Spotted Sandpipers prefer more open habitat.
  • Stilt Sandpipers look similar to Lesser Yellowlegs, but their feeding styles are completely different.  Yellowlegs are dainty visual feeders.  Stilt Sandpipers probe for food in belly-deep water and frequently submerge their heads completely under water.
  • Feeding flocks of Short-billed Dowitchers are usually silent; flocks of Long-billed Dowitchers are generally noisy at any time of the year.
  • Dowitchers can be identified by plumage.  Experts Cin-Ty Lee and Andrew Birch explain it in this article.
  • How can you distinguish Greater Yellowlegs from Lesser Yellowlegs?  If it looks big enough to eat, it’s a Greater Yellowlegs.
  • Clark’s and Western Grebes can be distinguished by their call.  Clark’s call is a single “kreeek” and the Western Grebe call is “kreeek kreeek”.  Also, Clark’s have lighter sides and Western Grebes have sides the same color as the back.  (Yes, a grebe is not a shorebird.  We did look at a few other species.)

And some shorebird info from other sources:

  • Male Pectoral Sandpipers are much larger than females (96 grams vs. 65 grams) and are even heavier than Killdeer (90 grams).  This is so that they can puff themselves up to impress the females.
  • Any Western/Semipalmated type Sandpiper seen between mid-Nov and late March (except south Florida) is certain to be a Western.
  • Peeps are tough, but Cameron Cox provides a different approach that I found really helpful.  Identification of North American Peeps appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of Birding magazine.
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December 29, 2011, will be my last day of work before retirement.  I’ve begun to refer to the time starting January 1, 2012, as “The Rest of My Life”.  It feels like a new life will begin, one in which I will have wonderful adventures and do things that are really important rather than just work for a paycheck.  And, of course, most of those anticipated adventures will include seeing wonderful new birds.

As my new friend and birding buddy, Diane, and I were on our way back to her home near Minneapolis from the Shorebird Workshop last week, we talked about the places we dreamed of visiting.  Diane said “you should write about the trips you take” and I replied with “who would read it?”  When Diane said that she would read about my travels, I impulsively replied “OK, I’ll do it.”  The trip that we had just finished did indeed seem like a preview of the many trips that I hope to take in the future.

The Shorebird Workshop had been great fun, but the bird that was responsible for our birder’s high that day was not a shorebird at all, but a little brown sparrow.  I did not really expect to get any life birds on that trip, but I had a short list of remote possibilities.  On the first day, Doug held two fingers half an inch apart and said there was that much a chance of finding Henslow’s Sparrow.  He and Kim Eckert had been keeping in touch all weekend, and in the final hour of the final day, he got a report from Kim that they had seen the Henslow’s.

A few minutes later, about a mile east of The Nature Conservancy’s Plover Prairie in Lac Qui Parle County, Minnesota, about 18 birders stood and held our breath as Bob played the Henslow’s song.  Yes!  The bird answered and a few of us had brief views of the bird.  A female Harrier glided across the prairie and the sparrow disappeared for a few minutes.  And then it returned closer than the first time.  It perched in the open and sat in the same spot about 75 feet from us for at least 5 minutes.  Everything was perfect.  Yes, absolutely perfect.  The weather was just the right temperature with the slightest hint of a breeze.  The light was perfect for seeing all the color and detail of the sparrow.  The sparrow even chose a perch easily found.  “See the Monarch on the thistle?  Look a foot to the right.”  Judith was happy that she had helped me get my first look, my life look, with her scope.  Gary was beaming as he generously allowed me to indulge in long lingering looks with his wonderful new 80mm Kowa.  We were all beyond happy.  We were lost in that perfect moment of shared joy among birders.

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