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PEEPING AT SHOREBIRDS!

By Nic.Korte


You don’t have to go to California to see shorebirds. You can see most of them right here in Western Colorado. Yes, it is a bit more difficult. Timing and location are everything, but shorebird migration has begun. From now into October, shorebirds are passing through. Even if you have trouble identifying some of them, at least spend a few minutes thinking about their life history. Western Sandpipers, for example, breed in the tundra, mostly along the coast of Alaska. They winter along the southern coast of the US and the Northern Coast of South America. Isn’t that an amazing journey? You think so! Theirs is one of the shorter ones. Baird’s Sandpipers nest a bit further north across the Arctic and winter mostly in the Southern Cone of South America. (Western Sandpiper by Jackson Trappett)

But, how can we see shorebirds? We don’t have any coastline! True enough. We don’t have much. At least that fact limits the areas where we can look, but diversity can be exciting. According to ebird.org (try “Explore Data,” then “Mesa County,” then “bar charts), twenty-one species of sandpipers, plovers and their ilk can be seen in Western Colorado during migration. 

One of the most common is the Western Sandpiper. They are part of a group often referred to as “peeps.” Using the term “peep” is analogous to calling perching birds “LBJs” (little brown jobs) or “LGBs” (little gray birds), because several species are confusingly similar. Fortunately, as with most LBJs and LGBs, a little knowledge goes a long way. In our area, the Western Sandpiper may be the most common “peep.” Note the thick and slightly decurved bill in the photo. Note the dark legs. Finally, you can see it seems a bit stub-tailed, that is, the wings don’t exceed the length of the tail. That’s it. That’s a Western Sandpiper.

The other two common “peeps” in our area are the Least Sandpiper (greenish legs, shorter bill overall), and the Baird’s (wings longer than the tail). Yes, you have to look at them a bit to see these features, but with a little practice, you can confidently identify most of these birds. (Least Sandpiper by Jackson Trappett)

Fortunately, there are always a few shorebirds that are easy to identify—none more so than the American Avocet.
(American Avocet by Jackson Trappett)
Although a few pair may nest locally, Avocets are much easier to see during migration when small flocks stop for a rest on their journey south. Few birds are more beautiful than these.


The best places to see shorebirds are anywhere there are large mudflats. A few birds, however, may stop anywhere there is a small amount of open shoreline. Favorite places in the fall include Vega Lake State Park, Highline State Park, Cheney Reservoir, and, of course, Fruitgrowers Reservoir (http://www.gjsentinel.com/blogs/birds_and_more/entry/fruitgrowers). The Colorado Field Ornithologists website (http://coloradocountybirding.org/ByCounty.aspx?CountyID=40) can be accessed for directions to these and locations all over the state.


Sadly, as with so many common species, most of the shorebirds are experiencing population declines. Declining species include the aforementioned Western Sandpiper and others often seen in Western Colorado: Snowy Plover, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Pectoral Sandpiper. Worse yet, a pervasive lack of monitoring data (in other words lack of funding) has led a recent shorebird researcher to comment, “we still have virtually no indication of the population trend for 25 percent of the shorebird taxa breeding in North America.”


This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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