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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hudsonian Whimbrel, Red Knot and Marbled Godwit at Little Estero Lagoon

[Little Estero Lagoon, Ft. Myers, FL. August 2014]

It's early August in Southwest Florida and shorebird migration is underway. A deluge of 7 inches of rain in one day in the area helps augment the naturally occurring tidal pond at the beach. This freshwater also contributes to the growth of vegetation in the sand and also attracts a variety of shorebirds at Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area (aka Little Estero Lagoon). Including such species as:
  • Hudsonian Whimbrel
  • Red Knot
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • American Oystercatcher
  • White Ibis
  • Black Skimmer
  • Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Sandpiper
We start with the curlew:

Whimbrel seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA
Whimbrel seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

One of four subspecies of Whimbrel worldwide, the Hudsonian is found exclusively in the Americas. As its name suggests, it breeds around Hudson Bay and other areas in the Arctic and winters in South America.

Whimbrel seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

So long as it's not snoozing with its bill hidden, the Whimbrel is straightforward to identify. Look for a large sandpiper with a downcurved bill. The crown is distinctive with a white stripe down the middle.

Whimbrel seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

The barring pattern on this large shorebird is striking -- and even more so on the underwing (as above).

Unlike the Hudsonian Whimbrel, the  Red Knot is not strictly just a passage migrant -- while some will journey all the way to the tip of South America, others will winter right here in Florida.

Red Knot seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

Red Knot seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

Many Red Knots were showing vestiges of their alternate plumage as was this Marbled Godwit still showing some barring on its breast.

Marbled Godwit seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

Marbled Godwit seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

Outmatching even the Godwit's impressive bill, the Roseate Spoonbill's is not only long but beautifully broad and rounded at the tip.

Roseate Spoonbill seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

Roseate Spoonbill seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

This has been a banner year for breeders at Little Estero. Annual breeders here are the Least Terns which were joined by Black Skimmers for the first time in 10 years. Unfortunately, the success of these species as well as the resident Wilson's and Snowy Plovers was not matched by the Oystercatchers. The pair that has nested here over the last 3 years, abandoned their nest after their eggs failed to hatch. Hopefully, they will try to nest again.

American Oystercatcher seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA

Other birds included a rather stunned-looking White Ibis:

Matching the color scheme of the Oystercatcher were breeding Black Skimmers:

Black Skimmer seen at Little Estero

And the usual assortment of Peeps:

Least Sandpiper seen at Little Estero
This tiny sandpiper is straightforward to identify given its yellow legs and browner upperparts. However, the next two species can be confusing: Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers.

Semipalmated Sandpiper seen at Little Estero

Western Sandpiper seen at Little Estero

Unlike the Western peep, the Semipalmated is only a passage migrant. The two species are best told apart by the length and "degree of droop" of the bill with the Western's being longer and droopier.


France Paulsen said...

I noticed that you mentioned the Curlew, I wish that I saw its photo.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge and beautiful photos to compliment it.

Digital Plume Hunter said...

Hi France, the Whimbrel is a curlew (1 of 8 curlew species belonging to the Genus Numenius globally). With the extinction of the Eskimo Curlew in the '60's, we are restricted to 3 species that can now be found in the US (Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, and Bristle-thighed Curlew).

Bob Pelkey said...

I can't recall if I've seen both a Whimbrel and Long-billed Curlew in one day, but it is possible in Florida for sure. It looks like you enjoyed your observation time at Estero Lagoon with entertaining documentation, Hemant. I am certain I would mistake a Bristle-thighed Curlew for a Whimbrel if I were so lucky to see one.

Tom Obrock said...

Yes you did at Ft DeSoto