Bird #381 — Stilt Sandpiper

calidris (speckled water bird) himantopus (from himanto, strap, and pous, foot)

Friday, August 25, 2000 — 11:10 am

McHenry County, Illinois — Moraine Hills State Park

I somehow wedged my bike into the Honda, smearing grease all over the back seat in the process. I biked around the entire park twice, a total of 19 miles, in 100 minutes. When I finished, I crammed the bike into the back seat, grabbed my scope and binoculars, and walked to the platform to look at shorebirds. The water in the marsh was very low. The section in front of the platform was largely mud flat, with pools and channels throughout. There were about 50 shorebirds in the area.

I set up my scope and began on the right, identifying each bird as I came to it. At least that was my plan. The first bird I saw made me pause. It was wading mid-thigh in a channel, probing rapidly with its bill. It moved around a lot, sometimes going belly deep. I thought immediately it was a Stilt Sandpiper because it had a very prominent white eye brow and a long, thin bill that dipped down at the end.

I wanted to compare its bill and leg length with the Pectoral Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs feeding nearby. While I was doing this, something caused the entire group of birds to flush. They circled around the marsh once or twice, then landed again. I couldn’t find my bird. I wasn’t satisfied with the brief look I’d had. I checked out every bird in view, then walked up the trail about 100 yards to an opening that gives a view. The angle of the sun was wrong here, casting the birds as silhouettes, and they were further away.

I walked back to the platform and began scanning again. I finally found a likely-looking bird sleeping on a flat in the middle of a flock of Mallards. It was standing on one leg with its head tucked into its back feathers. It remained motionless for about five minutes until a duck wandered too close. It then began wandering around again. Two or three times it made short hop/flights of about three or four feet. Again the entire flock of shorebirds flushed in unison. I think it was the Pectoral Sandpipers that started these mass flushes. I saw the Stilt Sandpiper jerk its head up just before it took off.

When everything settled again, I restarted my search. For a brief moment, I thought I saw two Stilt Sandpipers standing next to each other on a mud flat, but very soon after I saw them, they flushed again. A few minutes later I found one wading in the section of water closest to me, about 40 yards away. I began taking notes between looks. There was a little haze that made it difficult to focus at high power, and the sun caused some glare, but I got pretty good looks. For a few minutes, the Stilt and a Pectoral were in my scope together, giving me a great chance for direct comparison.

Everything flushed again. Every time this happened, I looked for birds with white rumps that stood out from the black rumps of the Pectorals, but I couldn’t pick any out amidst the wheeling flock. The Pectorals disappeared for good. For a few minutes the only bird in view (except for scattered Solitary Sandpipers that didn’t always participate in the group activities) was a Lesser Yellowlegs, wading in the nearest pool. Then suddenly two more birds landed nearby — both Stilt Sandpipers. The three birds foraged together for about five minutes.  Although all three birds were feeding in three inches of water, their feeding styles were different. The Yellowlegs would make individual jabs while the Stilts would stick their bills into the water and jab them up and down rapidly without taking them out of the water.

About 50 minutes after I arrived, the two Stilt Sandpipers took off with the Lesser Yellowlegs and two other Yellowlegs that had been feeding in another area. The five birds circled the marsh a few times  then headed out toward the river. Three disappeared over the trees. Two others came back, but were soon too high to see any longer. I stayed another five minutes, but the only shorebird action was a few Killdeer and Solitary Sandpipers.

This entry was posted in Birds. Bookmark the permalink.