Shorebirds Baby, Shorebirds!

Although I’ve been birding, I haven’t done a local birding post in quite some time. Well, that’s going to change right now. With July behind us and the bulk of shorebirds on the move, Stuart and I headed out this past Saturday for what turned out to be a very productive day of birding. With clear skies and temperatures set to climb into the 90s, we got an early start and left the Malcolm Manner at 6am. The plan was to bird Horicon Marsh, but once on the road Stuart suggested we start with a detour to the Lake Michigan shoreline to search for the two Piping Plovers being seen there.

Sometime around 8am we found the two plovers on the Sheboygan beach hiding amongst some gulls. Is there a better way to start the day than both of us picking up a lifer before 9am?? Why yes, there is! Not only was this a lifer for Stuart, but a milestone lifer as he notched his 300th Wisconsin life bird!! I’ve now had the privilege of sharing in two landmark events in Stuart’s birding life this year, the first being his 2,000th life bird in Costa Rica (more info on that can be found here: From the Roads of Costa Rica).

With our target species on the lakefront found, we zipped over to Horicon Marsh as the temperatures climbed. The shorebird habitat along HWY 49 was excellent with a nice mix of exposed mudflats and shallow water. And the shorebirds didn’t disappoint either – although the first bird that caught my eye was a Virginia Rail feeding on the algae mats.

While watching and photographing the rail, a small, dark ball of fur came wondering out of the reeds – a juvenile Sora. A few moments later, an adult Sora came out near the chick. It was interesting to watch the chick, still presumably fearless, wander out along the algae while the adult hugged tight to the edge of the reeds.

IMG_0891
Sora (Juvenile)
IMG_0898
Sora

Feeding in the shallow waters along with Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, was another of our target species – Stilt Sandpiper.

Some species of shorebirds can be difficult to tell apart, especially to beginning birders. Take Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers for example; there is much overlap in size between the two species and often, flight calls are the only way to tell them apart. Thankfully we had both species of Dowitcher at the same spot and seeing the differences was readily apparent. Yellowlegs also present a similar problem, especially when they are alone with no other species to compare them with. It’s not often you get multiple species to lineup in profile view side-by-side-by-side, but on this morning it was like a police lineup with both Yellowlegs and the Stilt Sandpiper under suspicion. I really like this comparison shot because it shows the difference in size, bill size, and body shape. Focusing on the three birds in the middle:

  • The one on the left is a Greater Yellowlegs. You can easily see how much bigger it is than the Lesser Yellowlegs which is the bird on the far right. Also notice the difference in bill size.
  • Center bird (with its head tucked in) is a Stilt Sandpiper.
  • Lesser Yellowlegs is the bird on the far right.
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Bird police lineup! “Suspect #2, please tuck your bill into your back”

Quite a few Black-necked Stilts were also present……

including this one which Stuart found awkwardly sitting on a distant mudflat. Never seen one sitting like this before!

Heavily cropped distant shot of lazy Black-necked Stilt
Heavily cropped distant shot of lazy Black-necked Stilt

With the sun baking down on us and temps rising into the 80s – and still not yet noon – we decided to make a jaunt down to Mayville for the continuing Rufous Hummingbird. We gave the hummer until 12:15 to show before we would head to lunch and with three minutes to spare it showed up at the feeders. Another target bird successfully seen.

After lunch, and a celebratory beer for Stuart’s 300th Wisconsin life bird, we returned to Horicon Marsh and birded Old Marsh Road. Initially we had planned only a short walk to look for fall warblers, but within the first minute we came across a cooperative Black-billed Cuckoo. Both Stuart and I commented on the extended looks it gave – neither of us had either seen one sit for so long and I was happy to get a few photos of it.

Black-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo

After coming across a Black-and-white Warbler and a Philadelphia Vireo, we spotted a flycatcher high up in the tree and backlit making for a challenging ID. Stuart retreated to the car for a scope and we were able to make out the Olive-sided Flycatcher. Although this wasn’t officially a target species, I had mentioned to Stuart earlier in the day how I had missed this flycatcher this spring and it would be two years in a row without seeing one (meanwhile Stuart had seen 4 or 5 different individuals already, including one in his yard).

Olive-sided Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher

Before driving home we did a lap on the auto tour. The Least and Solitary Sandpiper below put on a nice show just off the road giving us excellent looks.

Solitary Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper

If my math is correct, we finished the day with 67 species, including 16 species of shorebird, and one big milestone! Shorebirds baby, shorebirds!!!

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