Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Winter Shorebirds

Long-billed Dowitcher, not a species I usually get to see close up. I'm surprised the bird could tolerate the giddy, astoundingly annoying photographer flailing around in the mud next to me flushing birds while he tried to get down on his belly. Typical. Radio Road, Redwood Shores, CA.

Shorebirds get more attention during warmer times of the year, but in winter here in California we get close to 30 shorebird species that are expected (untouchable compared to any other state), although some are obviously more rare than others. I think it's actually surprising how infrequently we get a rare shorebird in the winter, considering the size of the state and amount of habitat we have (Ruff is the rarest "expected" winter shorebird). A Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that wintered at Bolsa Chica in Orange County years ago is my personal best...I dipped on the damn Greater Sand-Plover.

Which is irrelevant, for the time being. Here's a sample platter of some of California's wintering shorebirds, hopefully you will find them visually delicious. A flock of winter shorebirds may not have as much potential goodness as a big flock of gulls, warblers or sparrows, but they shouldn't be overlooked unless you are a real bottom of the barrel lister.

Marbled Godwits are abundant up and down the coast, although you get lucky to run into a big roosting flock like this. Do you see the one with the white breast and belly? Not a Bar-tailed, in case you were wondering. Radio Road.

Long-billed Curlew is one of my favorite shorebirds...they breed on the prairie, winter on the coast, have crazy proportions while being huge, kill large crustaceans, and have some cool vocals too. What's not to love? Photographed at San Leandro Marina, San Leandro, CA.

Whimbrel is the understated curlew that doesn't get as much attention. We would probably look closer at them if a similar-looking relative (Bristle-thighed Curlew, I'm looking at you) were more prone to vagrancy. When I lived on Midway, I (successfully) had to scan flocks of Bristle-thighed Curlews to find vagrant Whimbrels, heh. Carpinteria, CA

I have countless better pictures of Willets, I just think this is a funny mixed flock. San Leandro Marina.

Black Turnstone is the most abundant "rockpiper" in the state, followed by Surfbird, Ruddy Turnstone, Wandering Tattler and Rock Sandpiper, the latter of which don't care to go south of Humboldt Bay very often. Wandering Tattler can be frustrating to find at times as well. Photographed at Emeryville, CA.

While on a recent gulling trip, I was surprised by this Black Oystercatcher that let me crush it over and over and over again. This was one of the worst pictures I kept, not bad eh? Oystercatchers are a species capable of spiritually enriching any birder. Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline, Richmond, CA.

Sanderling. Although I am affected by these birds for other reasons, my favorite Sanderling field mark is the lack of hallux (hind toe). Pillar Point Harbor, CA.

I think this Dunlin is a big improvement over the last photo of one I posted. I'm looking forward to seeing them in alternate plumage, a superior garb to what they wear in the winter. San Leandro Marina.

The controversial Snowy Plover. I really enjoyed working with them last year, but it's back to seabirds in a few weeks. Photographed at Half Moon Bay, CA.

Mountain Plover. Not a bird of any shore, although they often can be found in the same places as Long-billed Curlews throughout the year. They are most easily found on the Carrizo Plain (where this bird was photographed) and the Salton Sea, although I have seen them on the Oxnard Plain and in Solano County as well.

I like that you can see the webbed feet of this American Avocet, that's not something I notice very often. An early breeder, some birds around here are already getting their summer ruddy colors. Radio Road.

This Black-necked Stilt has its mind on things other than me sitting there attempting to render it two-dimensional, but those subtle glossy highlights on its back are nice. Photographed at Radio Road.

That should provide a good sample of California's winter shorebirds, this certainly isn't a "photo study" (not sure how I feel about those, no offense). Hopefully I'll get some opportunities to shoot some birds in spring color this year, or better yet, find a spring shorebird vagrant! It can be done, but it's not easy...even for Number Seven.


  1. what what, buddy! these are niiice. That Mountain Plover is strutting pretty hard in the good light. You made 'em a star!

    1. MOPLs are always stars! They guide me. I use them to navigate.

  2. Ack. The paucity of shorebirds in Arizona is perhaps its greatest birding short coming. This winter was particularly dull for them too, though maybe later March will turnstone something up.

    Surfbird, Wandering Tattler, Rock Sandpiper...all of these I need. NEED.

    Nice photo study..err..shorebird photo sampling.
    You didn't even give Least and Western a mention. You cold blooded man...cold blooded.

    1. "Photo studies" are almost always excuses to dump a bunch of photos (which are usually not particularly good) of the same bird. It would be one thing to post 10 pictures of a 3rd cycle Slaty-backed Gull and call it a photo study, its another thing to do it with a Mallard. You picking up what I'm throwing down? I don't know, its a phrase that strikes a nerve apparently...I'm all about dumping a bunch of photos of the same bird otherwise.

      Yes, Arizona is a horrible state for shorebirding least you don't live in the mountains.

    2. I hear ya Seagull I hear ya. Admitting I'm picking up what you're throwing down makes me feel like a janitor, but it is what it is. I've still gotta tough it out down here at the bottom of the World Birder Ranking hierarchy and work my way up to #10,000.

      I think you're spot in in your lampoon of photo study. A profile shot to the left, a profile shot to the right, head-on shot, from behind, etc.
      It's also often an excuse to offload those same photos without any sort of substantive commentary other than, "See here, the white primaries..."
      Yes, thanks, I do.

  3. So many cool shots but I'm really jealous over that avocet. We get a few every blue moon and I can't seem to find them. This is the first time I've seen their feet.

    1. Avocets are great birds unless you are near their nests...then they transform into annoying monsters and you want nothing to do with them.

  4. The Mountain Plover.... major facemelt. I have yet to see one of those beauties! Wonderful shorebird sampler!

    1. I want to see them on their breeding territories someday, I miss the prairie!

  5. Ahhh, a boatload of gorgeous winter shorebirds!

  6. Holy CRAP, what a bunch of great shots. That oyster catcher and the black-necked stilt shots (and of course the birds) are AMAZING!!! Woah.

    GREAT WORK. I heart shorebirds. I first started birding for a job where I had to monitor shorebirds, so they will always be near and dear to my heart. =) LOVE a whimbrel, ANY time of the day. Thanks for the delightful buffet of shorebird tastiness. =)