Friday, April 13, 2012

Long-billed Dowitchers

It sure took me a long time to identify these guys....

When I first saw these large shorebirds, I knew they would be a new species for me, but I wasn't sure what they were. They were backlit in the morning light at quite a distance. Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.

Moments before, I saw this flock of shorebirds swoop by me, but I was unable to get a good focus even with my autofocus and burst mode on. What were they?  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.

What is this bird?  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.
I finally saw one of these shorebirds in more photo-friendly light, and got a good focus, this (Above) is what I saw.

Okay, the head is starting to emerge, but I still didn't know what it was...

I can see clearly now... is it a ...?  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.

Whatever it is, it sure has a long bill, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.
After consulting my Sibley field Guide to Birds, I concluded it as a Long-billed Dowitcher. And yes, it was a new species for me to add to my Life List.

Another Long-billed Dowitcher,  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Two days later and another visit to the Riparian Preserve, I found many more Long-billed Dowitchers (Above) and had plenty of opportunities for photographing these large freshwater sandpiper type birds. 

A Long-billed Dowitcher landing in its favorite habitat - a shallow freshwater pond,  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Long-billed Dowitchers' bills are one and a half times longer than the length of their heads, hence its name. In the summer months they will live on the northern extreme coasts of Alaska and Canada in the Arctic circle scouring the muddy bottoms of shallow ponds. In the winter they will migrate south along the Pacific Coastal states, as well as the the extreme southern edges of the U.S. (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the shores of the Gulf States, and up the southern Atlantic Coastal states (Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas).  During migration seasons, they could be found almost anywhere in the country except for the rare appearances along the Northeast and Appalachian States.

The Long-billed Dowitcher can be distinguished from its closely related cousin, the Short-billed Dowitcher by some slight differences in size, colorings, and habitat. Long-bills are only slightly larger (11 1/2" long to the SBD's 11' long), but their bills in proportion to their overall size are longer. And even though the photos I have of these sandpipers are showing their non-breeding plumage (in their breeding plumage, they turn a beautiful rufous coloring from head to tail) and difficult to distinguish from the Short-bills, according to most field guide books, the Long-bills are more likely to be found on freshwater ponds in the West; whereas,  Short-bills are more likely to be found in the East during migration and wintering seasons.

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