Willet with Black Turnstones

The Willet is a friendly bird. It gets along well with a variety of other species. Here a solo Willet looks like it’s the babysitter of a couple of Black Turnstones. I took this picture late in the afternoon. The ‘stones, usually busier than bees, were moving very little. Their day was done. I saw more than twenty of them spread out over the rocks at the water’s edge on the east side of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary. I took some video but it was pointless — no meaningful motion.

Black Turnstones (Arenaria melanocephala)

They’ve come here from the northwest coast of Alaska where they do their breeding in narrow bands of vegetation close to water. Mostly they choose coasts on salt water bodies, but some pairs build nests in the hills next to alpine gravel streams. They can swim if they have to but generally stay on shore, working over the debris on the tidal edge, or hacking like woodpeckers at barnacles and shellfish on rocks. They get their name from their habit of turning over rocks, some as big as themselves, to get at edibles underneath. They’ll also turn over anything else of interest, including sticks, seaweed, mats of algae. In their breeding habitat they’re known as aggressive defenders of their territory. They’ll chase birds much bigger than themselves, pecking at them and pulling out their feathers. They’re also extremely noisy there. Here in their winter scene they’re quiet and peaceful. During breeding they form stable pairs, usually with previous year’s mates. Both sexes share nest building and incubating duties, with males generally pulling night shift on eggs, female doing days. After breeding, sexes separate and migrate on different schedules.

To see them and a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons in the same area (below), I had to cross over the fence at the southern end of the art installation and set up my camera in the Open Circle Viewpoint (the Spiral). There is no good reason why this popular feature is fenced off during the peak birding season. I have been advocating for several years that the fence be relocated a bit north so as to allow public access to the Spiral year round, but deaf ears. See “Open Letter to Audubon’s Glenn Phillips,” Sep 20 2022.

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2 thoughts on “Stones

  • thank you for your endlessly fascinating descriptions of the birds that you photograph. I always wondered about the Back Turnstones who get their name from turning stones and other tihings, of course.

  • Love the Willet at first sight.

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