Friday, March 23, 2018

Pectoral Sandpipers at Eagle Bluffs

On this cool, cloudy and breezy morning, a friend and I returned to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on the Missouri River floodplain.  Various species of waterfowl remained common though not especially abundant: mallards, northern shovelers, blue-winged and green-winged teal and American coot were most numerous but a quartet of ring-billed ducks and a lone red-breasted merganser were also observed.  A half-dozen American white pelicans lounged on one of the pools, pied-billed grebes dove in the shallows and the usual mix of raptors patrolled the floodplain.  As their breeding season gets underway, northern flickers were very conspicuous this morning, moving about in small flocks.

Fortunately, the spring shorebird migration seems to be gaining momentum.  A few greater yellowlegs and five Wilson's snipes joined killdeer on the mudflats and, thanks to my birding companion, we discovered nine pectoral sandpipers in a flooded field.  These latter shorebirds breed on the Arctic tundra of North America and Siberia, wintering in South America, Australia and New Zealand.  Unlike most sandpipers, pectorals shun beaches and mudflats, favoring moist grasslands where they forage for insects and other invertebrates.

Despite their long trek from South America, pectoral sandpipers are among the first shorebirds to appear in the Heartland each spring.  And, despite the raw weather, they were kind enough to stop by the Missouri River floodplain this morning.