Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitchers

When it comes to camouflage, the Dunlin’s breeding plumage is nearly as good as the Black-Bellied Plover.  Though it’s not nearly as distinctive, its black belly and spangled back, made it hard enough to see that my auto-focus ended up focusing on the barnacled rocks rather than on the Dunlin. 

Dunlin in breeding plumage

Luckily, its habit of wading out into the water to feed makes it easier to get a good photo.


Although the Short-Billed Dowitcher has the same spangled back as the Black-Bellied Plover and the Dunlin, its rusty breast and long beak clearly set it apart from those two.

Short-billed Dowitcher

Although they’re called Short-billed Dowitcher, their bill is much longer than most shorebirds,  and watching them feed made me wonder what the heck they were eating.  

According to the Cornell Lab All About Birds:  “Short-billed Dowitchers restlessly probe muddy substrates with the bill held vertically, in search of buried invertebrate, especially marine worms, mollusks (small clams), crustaceans (fiddler crab, shrimp), and isopods and amphipods of various kinds. … When they detect prey beneath the mud, dowitchers consume it immediately with the exception of larger worms, which they pull from the burrow and consume above the water.”

Black-bellied Plovers at Ft. Flagler

I knew we would be in Colorado during the height of the Spring Shorebird Migration, so I hoped to see the early birds when Leslie and I went to Fort Flagler on April 25th.  I wasn’t disappointed, either.  Though there weren’t nearly as many birds as I’m used to seeing at Bottle Beach on the Washington coast, there were still large numbers of birds, more than enough to get good photos of several different species.

Black-bellied Plovers are definitely one of my favorite shorebirds to photograph.  Their breeding plumage is spectacular, especially since their winter plumage is a subtle grayish brown. The striking black face, breast, and belly distinguish it from other shorebirds.

Black-bellied Plover

Since the breeding plumage is so distinctive, I’ve always thought it was just a means of attracting a mate,  so I was surprised at how well the breeding plumage blended into their coastal habitat. In fact, they blended in so well that it was often difficult to see them unless they took off as you got close or you saw where they landed after flying away.

Black-bellied Plover next to barnacle-covered rocks

The camouflage on the back, obvious in this shot, would also lessen the risk of falling prey to raptors as they hunted for food on the shoreline.

Though I was surprised when I first saw how the spangled upper feathers blended in with the barnacle-covered rocks, I was almost equally surprised that the plover also blended in well when seen at eye level.

Wilson Snipes may be better camouflaged than Black-bellied Plovers and male Wood Ducks may be more beautiful, but I don’t know any bird that combines beauty and camouflage better.   

We’re Having a Snipe Hunt

I went to Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge hoping to see the Sand Hill Cranes that had been seen as recently as the day before.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single one in sight during our visit, and Sand Hill Cranes are so large that it’s impossible not to see them if they’re nearby.  Wilson’s Snipes, on the other hand, are so small and well-camouflaged that it’s very easy to miss them. 

Luckily, Leslie spotted several Wilson’s Snipe along the shoreline through her binoculars while I was scanning the lake looking for cranes.  I’ll have to admit that I couldn’t see them for quite a while despite her best efforts to point out where they were. They were barely visible even with my 840 mm telephoto lens, and it didn’t help that my camera couldn’t find anything to focus on even when I finally located one.  

Wilson’s Snipe hiding in plain sight

Judging from how people were driving around us while we were stopped, most people didn’t see them either.  Either that, or they didn’t find them very interesting.  

Wilson’s Snipe

Personally, I was fascinated by how they blended in with their habitat as they fed.  Can you see the second snipe in this shot?

Two Wilson’s Snipe

The only way I was able to get a sharp shot was to catch one with water in the background (and then adjust the exposure in Photoshop).

In the end, I was happier to get these shots than I would have been to have gotten shots of the Sand Hill Cranes because I’ve seen more Sand Hill Cranes than I have snipes.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

After my dental appointment, we headed out for the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge before heading home.  Surprisingly, we were greeted by several Ringed-neck Ducks at the beginning of the auto tour.          

male Ring-necked Duck

Considering how many Ring-necked Ducks we had seen in the last two weeks, I was convinced I was experiencing a true Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.  

As it turned out, we didn’t see another Ring-necked Duck on the tour.  Instead, we were soon greeted by several Green-winged Teal feeding along the shoreline.

pair of Green-winged Teal

They weren’t the only birds feeding along the shoreline; this Yellowlegs dashed back and forth, trying to avoid being photographed.


On the far end of the autoroute, Leslie spotted a Great Egret,

Great Egret

a common bird in California but one that has only recently started moving North to Washington, about the same time that Vultures and Scrub Jays started showing up in here.

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