Having bred on the Arctic tundra or across the Northern Plains, shorebirds funnel south in summer, passing through the American Heartland from July through early November; for many species, August is the peak of their migration to southern beaches.
Stopping by to rest and feed on their journey, these sandpipers and plovers are best found on flooded fields or on the shorelines and backwater mudflats of lakes and reservoirs. Often difficult to identify at a distance, these small migrants are most easily observed with the aid of a spotting scope. Then again, some of us just enjoy their presence, one of the earlier signs that the heat of summer will soon yield to the cool, dry air of autumn.
At Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this morning, on the floodplain of the Missouri River, conditions were ideal for migrant shorebirds. The ponds and pools are beginning to shrink, exposing nutritious mudflats, while shallows still persist in some of the fields. Killdeer (permanent residents of Missouri) and spotted sandpipers (summer residents) were joined by flocks of sanderlings and semipalmated sandpipers; a few black-bellied plovers, pectoral sandpipers and short-billed dowitchers were also observed. Among the other highlights were bald eagles, wood ducks, a peregrine falcon and a large snapping turtle, lumbering across the graveled roadway.