Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dunlins hunting in the mudflats...

...from the Captiva Island, Florida posts.
Birding Sanibel Island and the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
While two little Dunlins were busy scouring the muddy shores of one of the salt-water marshes and mudflats in the Ding Darling NWR, Matty and I were watching a Reddish Egret hunting and dancing in the blue waters much farther out. We didn't even know the two "best buds" were so close until we happened to look down. A total surprise, they were about 15-20 feet away, systematically probing the soft, creamy mud for invertebrates...

...could these little sandpipers be any sweeter? I love Dunlins with their gently down-curving bills and their beautiful little faces.

Although still mostly garbed in his dull, "dun," non-breeding winter colors, the beautiful russets and reds of his spring breeding plumage are starting to show.

Dunlins are predominantly visual hunters (pecking) during the day and tactile hunters (probing) at night. Matty and I sat on the grassy embankment and watched the Dunlins for a long time. We saw both feeding methods. Maybe because the mud was so soft and creamy they did a lot of tactile feeding, their long bills resembling straws that let them probe deep into the muck and slurp up their prey!

Click here to read a very interesting article about the Dunlin's hunting methods in the Journal of Avian Biology 25: 55-62 by K. N. Mouritsen titled, "Day and night feeding in Dunlins Calidris alpina: choice of habitat, foraging technique and prey."

I don't think this is the Stink Eye. I think it's a curious What's-making-that-clicking-sound-above-me Eye!

Matty and I watched these birds on March 21, 2011. It was so warm in the Florida sun, and we were able to sit down, relax and just study the little birds. Such a welcome relief from the cold, nasty weather still waiting for us back home...

Usually when we saw the Dunlins at Ding Darling, they were in huge mixed flocks out on the mudflats, but these two birds were hanging by themselves. Sometimes they would split up for a few minutes, but they always came back together. At one point, we were further down the road watching a Tri-colored Heron, when a large flock of Dunlins ripped over our heads trailing energy, sound and even a breeze in their wake. It was so sudden and unexpected--and the experience was made even more thrilling because they flew from back to front and only a few feet over our heads. It was like all the energy of their flock washed over us. In a split second they were in front of us zipping and turning together at breakneck speed, flashing and zig-zagging until they lighted on the mudflat further out in the marsh. It was the first time I ever felt that kind of energy...I'll never forget it.

P.S. After dinner this evening Rick and I headed over to the Little Miami River to see what neotropical migrants we could find, and...oh my gosh...first up was a Canada Warbler!! He was so gorgeous...and SO CLOSE...and stayed around for so long. Even Rick the Reluctant Birder was sold. We then saw a Black-throated Green Warbler, a Blackburnian Warbler, two Wood Thrushes, two Hermit Thrushes, a Swainson's Thrush! (directly overhead), an Ovenbird (really, really close too)...our Northern Parula was still there, a Baltimore Oriole, Red-eyed Vireos...tons of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, two Phoebes...an Eastern Wood Pewee...a Barred Owl...the list goes on and on. Rick attributes the incredible views of the Canada Warbler to the fact I didn't have my camera with me. It was misty...and foggy...and evening was falling hard, so I thought I'd be "free" and just bird with binocs. I knew not having the camera would guarantee something cool...

17 comments:

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Wow---I learn so much from blogging. I've never heard of the Dunlins before. They are amazing... Love the LONG bills... Wow!
Hugs,
Betsy

grammie g said...

Hi kelly...I really like these long billed shore birds of which the Dunlin is a new on for me! I have some wood carvings of these type of birds..I love them!!
An Oven bird...a few years back this bird flew up right in front of me in the woods, and as I looked down there was this strange looking nest like thing with a opening on the side...my one and only encounter with this interesting fellow!!
Nice photos of he Dunlins!!

Montanagirl said...

Beautiful images of the Dunlins. You had a very special encounter.

Kay said...

I like that you gave us a series of photos of the dunlins--it was like we were sitting there watching them with you!
Kay

holdingmoments said...

It's great when the birds allow us to share their space with them. Fantastic shots Kelly.

dreamfalcon said...

Love the series! Those orange "spots" on the wing are very nice.

Roy said...

Quite a colourful bird Kelly, shown up by the clarity and quality of your photos.

rebeccainthewoods said...

Beautiful photos. Our dunlins have started getting their black bellies for breeding season - so cute.

Janice K said...

Wow! What a neat time you must have had last night, even thought you didn't have your camera with you. That must have been so much fun..

Out on the prairie said...

I like the next to last shot with the ripples coming from its bill probing . Lovely pics!

Mary Ann Gieszelmann said...

Kelly, I was intrigued by the name, "Ding Darling," so I looked it up. Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling (1876-1962) was an editorial cartoonist who advocated for wise use of the world's natural resources. You probably know this, but I didn't, and I couldn't keep on saying "Ding Darling" without checking on it.

ShySongbird said...

Hee hee, I see someone else is captivated by the name 'Ding Darling' too ;)

Kelly, these are lovely photos. I think they are sweet looking birds and much smaller than one would expect from photos. I have never managed to get as close as you!

Elaine said...

Lovely series of the Dunlins! What a treat to be able to sit and watch them for so long. You saw a wonderful variety of birds yesterday. I think you are right--not having your camera is what attracted them all! Maybe you'll be able to recreate the evening with sketches.

Debbie Miller @HooootOwl said...

What an incredible series of Dunlins! Always a joy to view your blog.

BirdingMaine said...

Love these close-ups of the Dunlin! Great post

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone!

When Blogger went down on Wed it took a bunch of my comments with it, so if you don't see yours, you know why it's not there. It's now Friday afternoon, and the blog is back up. Mary Ann had mentioned in the comments she didn't know who Ding Darling was, and posted a tiny bio. I will put a little bio up on him over the next few days with another of the Ding Darling posts. I'm working hard to get all my photos covered. I've fallen too far behind!!!

oldcrow61 said...

You take such fabulous pictures. I really enjoy them.