Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I spent my weekend shorebirding in southwestern El Salvador, to help collect data for a monitoring project organized by SalvaNatura, a Central American conservation NGO. Jeffrey McCrary and I drove all the way from Nicaragua to El Salvador, where we met up with organizer and co-counter Roselvy Juárez. The three of us then visited a bunch of coastal spots on Saturday and Sunday to identify and count shorebirds. Robin Bjork, also of SalvaNatura, augmented our team on Saturday.

I’m not a seasoned shorebirder by any means, although I suppose I’ve gotten a little better over the years. However, this was the first time for me shorebirding in Central America. I was pretty excited about this opportunity, and didn’t really mind spending so much time in the car. We had a badly scratched copy of Led Zeppelin’s Latter Days with us, and just played it over and over and over.

On both days we encountered several larger shorebird flocks and many smaller pockets with birds scattered everywhere along the edges of rivers or small inlets. We found some Black-necked Stilts and Greater Yellowlegs (pictured above), as well as many Least Sandpipers, some Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, lots of Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers, a few Killdeers, many Black-bellied Plovers, many Whimbrels, one Long-billed Curlew, a few Marbled Godwits, lots of Willets, several Short-billed Dowitchers, and a few Lesser Yellowlegs.

Least Sandpipers were by far the most abundant shorebird species we found.

When sorting through large numbers of shorebirds, you're looking mostly for subtle - sometimes dramatic - differences or irregularities. Here's a bird that, unlike all others we saw, is still in (heavily worn) juvenile plumage. Instead of wearing an understated gray office suit like everybody else, this bird is still wearing the equivalent of a ragged jeans and t-shirt. Having studied this bird for some time, I think it's probably a Least Sandpiper, based on structure more than on plumage. The bill, for example, is finely tipped and slightly droopy. Leg color is difficult to judge in this picture, although the submerged right foot appears to be light green or yellowish, which if correct would be diagnostic, of course. The legs appear darker, but they may be mud-stained. Click on the picture for a bigger view.

The bird probably has some kind of hormonal aberration going on that prevented it from molting into basic plumage last fall.

Accommodation was provided to us by SalvaNatura at one of their national parks, El Imposible. Never having birded there either, I sort of got that thrown in as a bonus. Monday morning – on my birthday – Roselvy and I went birding in El Imposible, before we headed back to San Salvador. Got two lifers that morning: a beautiful male Great Curassow, and an equally beautiful Fan-tailed Warbler!

Note to my readers: internet is really spotty at my current location, so I will likely post less often than usual.

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