Welcome back old friends!
One of the main tasks for some of the interns with Environment for the Americas is to conduct shorebird surveys in their respective sites. In my case I conducted a 10 week long series of surveys at Yaquina Bay Estuary in Newport Oregon. My last survey took place about two and a half months ago, when shorebirds had already started migrating north to their nesting habitat in the tundra.
Once found by the thousands, the shorebirds had been now absent from the estuary for several weeks. It wasn’t until recently, during one of the kayak trips I help guide with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, that I was encountered these charismatic birds again. A flock of about 24 birds containing mixed species of shorebirds among which we were able to identify Least Sandpipers and Western Sandpipers flew overhead and landed on a log next to the Siletz River.
At first I hesitated to believe these birds sitting in front of me were shorebirds. It did not seem to be right time of the year for them to be back. As I got closer to the flock roosting by the river bank, I noticed their unmistakable shape characterized by a long conical bill, long pointy wings, and long legs. These were in fact shorebirds, even though it is not time for them be coming back. I did not know what to think at this point. The birds I dedicated so much time to studying, surveying, identifying, and whom I thought would be thousands of miles away, suddenly appeared before I thought it was time for them to migrate again.
It seems that shorebirds hide more secrets than we can perceive. This small group was here for reasons I did not know yet. After investigating the possible reason for these sandpipers to be back, I learned from one of the US Fish and Wildlife Service rangers that when shorebirds are not able to successfully nest in the tundra, they begin their journey back to their stop-over habitat and eventually to their wintering habitat earlier than usual. After learning this fact, I realized that these birds are among the least successful individuals of this species.