Saturday, September 03, 2005

Kenn Kaufman on juvenile shorebirds

Kenn Kaufman on juvenile shorebirds from the Ohio Birds listserv:

Recently I'd been swamped with preparing to give programs to some bird groups in Europe so I hadn't been getting out enough, but Kim and I took advantage of the auto tour route being open last Saturday on Ottawa NWR. There are a lot of shorebirds in there. They aren't always easy to see from the road -- good bird habitat isn't always good birding habitat but the refuge is doing its job, and the patient searcher can find plenty of birds to study.

I was reveling in the beauty of the juvenile shorebirds. As a group, juvenile sandpipers have to be the most gorgeous birds imaginable, with their rich colors, bold markings, and crisp feather edges. It was a treat to see spangled young Lesser Yellowlegs right next to patchy molting adults, to see lots of brightly colored juvenile Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers side by side, to admire the tiger-striped tertials on young Short-billed Dowitchers, or to see one of my personal favorites, the beautiful juvenile Stilt Sandpiper. These plumages are the best part of August birding. Looking back, it's surprising to realize that these juveniles were not even illustrated in field guides before the 1980s. Before that time, the books showed breeding and winter adults, and we puzzled over all those late-summer shorebirds that didn't "look like the picture in the book." European birders were ahead of us in coming to grips with these birds, and those of us kids in the USA who were reading "British Birds" magazine in the late 1970s really had our eyes opened to this subject. Jon Dunn was among the first to really use this information and to get North American birders to focus on juvenile shorebirds. He's never gotten as much credit for this as he deserves. Jon (and the late Claudia Wilds) made sure that juveniles were well illustrated in the first National Geographic field guide, and it started to change the perceptions of birders here.

At any rate, I encourage everyone to think about the ages of these birds, because this adds a wonderful dimension to shorebirding at this season. Reports passed along by Jean Iron and Ron Pittaway in Ontario indicate that Arctic shorebirds had good breeding success this year, so it's not surprising that lots of juveniles are passing through. Everyone attending the OOS shorebird symposium this weekend should have a great learning opportunity. We would certainly be there if we weren't going to be out of the country, but we'll make a point of looking at Curlew Sandpipers, Temminck's Stints, etc., this weekend and saluting the symposium from a distance.

Kenn Kaufman
Rocky Ridge, Ohio

Least Sandpiper image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

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