Better Late?

Long-billed Curlew, Greater Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper on 8/25/22

I saw these birds on the Schoolhouse Creek delta more than a month ago, and I have no good excuse for my late posting. I did think that these seasonal birds were going to settle in and I’d see a lot of them going forward. And I did see the yellowlegs and the curlew again a couple of days later. But then they vanished. Instead of settling in, they were just passing through. Or maybe they have been there and I just missed them.

They’re such satisfying birds to watch. The curlew, with its exaggerated beak — and the females’ is even longer — seems so obviously better equipped for mudflat foraging than any of the others. But how does it find the goodies buried deep? It must see clues on the surface, or in the shallow water, that betray a worm or a tiny crab or some other mini protein hiding below. It couldn’t very well adopt the rapid-fire random access foraging method of the sandpipers with their short little beaks. With a long beak that would be exhausting.

The yellowlegs is a high energy bird. It’s fun to watch it streak across the mud with those almost neon legs. It covers a lot of ground and rarely rests. It must have super sharp eyes to spot edibles on the surface at the speed it maintains. Sort of like a human spotting an M&M on the ground while doing the 100-yard dash. Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs look very much alike, except for size. I’m calling this one Greater because the online bird ID app Merlin called it that, and it’s not tiny, but without having both birds side by side it’s just a warm guess.

Seeing just one Western Sandpiper is unusual. They’re social birds, usually appearing in flocks of dozens, hundreds, or more. As with all birds, they’re individuals. The fact that the species is highly social doesn’t prevent individual birds from opting out and setting off on wildcard adventures. In that respect they’re just like us.

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