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A Feathered Jewel on the Mudflats.

September 27, 2014

American Golden Plover

…and various shorebirds

Two days ago I was back out at Hoover Reservoir- back in 2012, I posted about all of the interesting places there.  Now, as it happens every autumn, the water level has receded, uncovering mudflats where the water used to be.  This happens in time for autumn migration, which is handy for the shorebirds that are heading south for the winter.

There was an unusual bird there- rare for this area.  I caught a glimpse of it off the Galena boardwalk (area M of the Hoover Nature Preserve).  Here’s what I saw!

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Galena, Ohio is a small village at the very north end of the reservoir.  There’s a boardwalk at the edge of town.

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The boardwalk goes out over the reservoir a ways- now, that area is muddy at the edge of the low water.

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Mudflats are a great habitat for shorebirds to forage on.  So when the water gets low, you can be sure that interesting birds eventually show up.

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Out along the boardwalk, some of those famous immature warblers that I mentioned last week made an appearance.  This is probably a Blackpoll Warbler who will look quite a bit different in adulthood.

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This rough-looking Great Blue Heron – probably an immature as well- hunted fish in the shallow waters.

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Great Egrets chased one another when their personal space felt violated…I think 🙂  I always feel like I’m in a bit of Florida when I see lots of these big birds.  By the way, the sounds they made were really gnarly- they sounded like a barrel full of rocks being rolled along the ground!

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Double-Breasted Cormorants hung out in the area.  This species is more and more looked at as an unwelcome invasive species by some.

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A seagull caught a good-sized fish for lunch.

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In the shallows, freshwater mussels left trails as the moved along the bottom.  Some people are surprised to find clam-like creatures in rivers and lakes.  The shells can get pretty big (the size of your hand).

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There were quite a few Killdeer around- central Ohio’s most common shorebird, who isn’t above hanging out in grassy parks as well as mudflats.

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And there were also migratory shorebirds.  Identification, especially of immatures, at a distance can be tough.  I noticed Lesser Yellowlegs, Least and Pectoral Sandpipers, and a Semipalmated Plover.

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A Greater Yellowlegs cooperated by coming in fairly close.  But now it’s time to see the bird of the day…

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This lovely golden-backed bird is an American Golden Plover.  It is, like many birds seen this season, an immature bird.  It will develop a deep black-colored belly and face when it is fully mature.

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This bird travels far:

The American Golden-Plover has a long, circular migration route. In the fall it flies offshore from the East Coast of North America nonstop to South America. On the return in the spring it passes primarily through the middle of North America to reach its Arctic breeding grounds.

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This bird will breed in the far northern tundra of Canada and Alaska.  It finds its food by pecking the mud often for invertebrates, in the ‘run-stop-peck’ movements that plovers make that is different from the way sandpipers feed in a constant search.

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This species is a conservation success story:

Market hunting in 19th and early 20th centuries caused major decline in American Golden-Plover numbers. One estimate of a single day’s kill near New Orleans was 48,000. Population rebounded after hunting ended.

This bird is very uncommon for central Ohio and can only be seen during migration season if you’re in the right place at the right time.  This was a life list bird for me, I was glad to see it!

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2014 6:07 am

    The American Golden-Plover, a great find!

    • September 28, 2014 8:56 am

      It was great to see, Robert- another birder I ran into had seen a 2nd one who was starting to get its black plumage, very cool!

  2. September 28, 2014 8:26 am

    Tracy, why were the birds killed? For feathers?

    • September 28, 2014 9:15 am

      They used to be considered gamebirds John, I’m not sure if they were taken for their feathers or for food, though the feathers certainly looked nice enough!

      Edit: I’m guessing that they were hunted for feathers, but I couldn’t find any details on that- Passenger Pigeons were hunted for food, so that’s always possible…

  3. September 28, 2014 10:36 am

    A lovely tour, Tracy, and wonderful bird images. Loved the Greater Yellowlegs!

  4. September 29, 2014 9:32 am

    I love water birds. One of my kids has a summer job doing boat tours and on the right day you can get a good look at the pelicans on the islands and rock piles. Great pictures of the dueling egrets and love the shot of the heron with the fish in its mouth!

    • September 29, 2014 10:38 am

      Thanks Inger! It is fun to watch shorebirds and contrast them to the typical land birds one sees.

  5. October 19, 2014 11:27 am

    Shorebirds are so hard to identify! Very satisfying when you do get to know one or two of them though. Not that I get to see them very often, living in central England, about as far from a shore as possible – and no handy lakes for migrants either. So I was pretty pleased when I’d thought it looked ‘golden plover-ish’. Always good to get a new ‘lifer’. Did you know it was there?

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