Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lesser and Greater

There hasn't been much news to report as of late. I'm running a little behind on preparations for my exhibit and plan to install the photographs at the Madison Public Library this Saturday. The only birding I've been doing is checking out a drainage pond for migrating shorebirds near Ashton on my way to and from work. The pond generally has the greatest number of shorebirds during the evening - around 200 individuals, mostly Pectoral Sandpipers, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs. But there have also been Semipalmated Sandpipers, Baird's Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpipers and a few Semipalmated Plovers.

The lone Lesser Yellowlegs can fool you. Though about half the mass of a Greater Yellowlegs, the two species have very similar plumage characteristics. Without a side-by-side comparison, I've been inclined to call a few lessers as greaters over the years. I've also noticed this seldom seems to work the other way - a Greater Yellowlegs is generally more obvious with its gawky appearance. You can see what I mean in this photograph when I was fortunate enough to have both species in the same frame. Notice that the bill length of the Greater Yellowlegs is almost twice the length of the bird's head, while the Lesser's is only just slightly longer than its head.

It's interesting checking this pond twice each day and noticing how the numbers fluctuate. Though I've been seeing the same 10 species each outing, the numbers shift. For example, one morning I found only two Solitary Sandpipers but when I returned that evening there were over a dozen. Yesterday there was a substantial increase in the number of juvenile Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. I also get a kick out of watching a flock of sandpipers vacate the pond and take to the air. There's the somewhat ruckus call to flight that precedes an exodus. It almost seems like they're saying, "Come on, let's go!" in order to get the group motivated for another several hundred mile leg of their journey.

All images © 2006 Mike McDowell

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