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...