Date: 5/11/17 11:52 am
From: Joseph Neal <joeneal...>
A large drained fish pond at Craig State Fish Hatchery in Centerton yesterday was full of shorebirds. Today it is mostly refilled. Many of the peep species present yesterday remain, though in lower numbers. We had another rain storm last night, and this morning, even with limited shorebird habitat, more species were present. These were American Golden-Plover (1), American Avocet (1), and Long-billed Dowitcher (1). Also, more Wilson’s Phalaropes – 1 yesterday, 22 this morning. A flock of Black Terns (12) passed through the hatchery this morning, too.

The golden-plover looked pretty ragged, mainly because it is in heavy molt -- perhaps also from a thorough drenching in last night’s storms. Gold flecks of its name are showing through on its back. Black feathers are starting to show on its flanks. It’s out with the dull plumage of winter, in with elegant dress of summer.

By comparison, molting is done and the avocet has arrived, a study in elegance remarkably reflected in the calm of this morning’s fish pond. At one point, the avocet was foraging among the Wilson’s Phalaropes. Like the golden-plover, some phalaropes are transitioning, but others have acquired remarkable blacks, grays, and reds of summer. To see those species together – well that is spring migration in a nutshell – about as good a description of our natural heritage as is possible.

Saying all of this is not meant to take anything from the dowitcher. There is little to compare to the brilliant orangish-red of its breeding plumage. I was fortunate to get close. Individual feathers on its back are black, with two orangish-red sides and a white tip. There’s no problem in identifying it as a dowitcher, but which species?

The bold white tip on the back feathers may be diagnostic, in a fashion. But, Centerton is in the old prairie, and we have obtained many reliable records for the prairie form (hendersoni) of Short-billed Dowitchers. They look a LOT like breeding season Long-bills.

KEEK! KEEK! It called as it flew to the other side of the pond. Long-billed.

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