Northland Nature: The early migration of shorebirds noteworthyWarm temperatures, a garden that is producing and lots of flowers in bloom — this hardly seems like a time that we might observe migration among the local birds. But it is happening now, as it does every August.
Warm temperatures, a garden that is producing and lots of flowers in bloom — this hardly seems like a time that we might observe migration among the local birds. But it is happening now, as it does every August.
Despite the temperatures, the lessening daylight is a trigger to send some of our feathery residents on their way south.
I notice this annual event among several different groups of birds at this time. Perhaps the closest to the house and yard are the warblers.
These small songbirds were with us all summer.
Not large or colorful, and mostly without loud songs, they get overlooked by many. About half of the 26 species appearing in the Northland each year will nest here. Their songs blended with the rich avian choruses of June, proclaiming territorial rights.
With the raising of a family, these home sites are no longer needed and the warbler songs fell silent, and they go on to what’s next. Families feed and travel together among the branches.
Soon, other families and other species join them and, by August, we see them move in warbler waves in the trees. Slowly they work their way south.
Quick flying swallows show similar patterns, but more out in the open.
Back in July, tree swallow families began to merge and start their flight. In ever-increasing numbers, they assembled on utilities wires with other kinds of swallows.
Getting restless, they move on. Not yet in flocks, hawks will soon be migrating too and, usually by the middle of the month, counters at Hawk Ridge will tally a few early southbound raptors.
Later, flocks of nighthawks dazzle us with their maneuvering flights as they feed on their movements.
But maybe the best examples of August migrants are the shorebirds.
Collectively they are called shorebirds since they walk along and feed at the edges of ponds, lakes and rivers. This group of water birds is composed of sandpipers, plovers, yellowlegs and snipe.
Being small and brown, many are hard to discern without a good look or strong optics. Sandpipers are the most diverse and range in size from 6 to 10 inches long.
Nearly all breed well north of us and just pass through every May and again in August.
Most spend winter far south of the United States and so need to be off to an early start.
The spotted sandpiper is one of the few that nests in the wetlands of our region.
While making the long southbound trek, many stop to rest and feed on beaches along the way, and this is when we see these wandering birds.
Tiny Baird’s, least and semipalmated sandpipers flock often with dunlins and sanderlings.
Others, like the pectoral and solitary sandpipers are just as likely to be seen alone. I find that long expanses of sand or mud flats are worth a look at this time.
Frequently in mornings, new flocks will appear; ones not here yesterday.
Following the incoming waves, they run along the shore (why they are called sandpipers) feeding on any small invertebrates carried by the water.
Nearly always, they look like they are restless and quickly move on in short flights. Their cousins, the plovers, can be seen within these flocks of shorebirds as well. Flocks are dynamic and they are constantly changing in size and species makeup. Each day these shorebirds show us more of the August migration now moving through the Northland.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now: “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Fascinating Fungi of the North Woods.” Contact him c/o email@example.com.