Sunday, September 12, 2010

Shorebirds in Los Cóbanos

Least Sandpipers - Calidris minutilla

Saturday, Roselvy and I went birding in Los Cóbanos, a spot in southwestern El Salvador where El Salvador's east/west coastline curves south a bit. Birds that migrate along the coast are going to come closest to land right there, I reasoned. While we did see some migration, notably of medium-sized groups of Whimbrels and Willets, I was surprised how few birds were actually visible over the ocean. With the exception of modest numbers of Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds, the horizon was largely devoid of birds. Not a single tern or gull, for example. Amazing!

As we walked along the beach - some parts rocky, some parts sandy - we found Spotted Sandpipers everywhere, but not much else. Eventually, we did stumble upon a mixed group of shorebirds which included several Wandering Tattlers, two Black-bellied Plovers, a Collared Plover, four or five Semipalmated Plovers, ten Wilson's Plovers, a Ruddy Turnstone, about twenty Least Sandpipers and four or five Western Sandpipers. The latter two species were industriously working the beach toward a point where a little stream flowed into the sea, and once there, would repeat their routine.

I immediately saw the photographic opportunity provided by this behavior, and laid down in the sand flat on my belly at the very end of their trajectory. Here is a series of Least Sandpiper shots from that spot.

Two Least Sandpipers in winter plumage

Most birds were adults in winter (basic) plumage, like these two. The bird in front appears to be molting its greater coverts, for it lacks the bigger, darker feathers clearly visible on the bird behind it.

juvenile Least Sandpiper

Here's a more colorful juvenile, with all feathers looking equally (lightly) worn.

Juvenile Least Sandpiper

The same bird head-on.

Juvenile Least Sandpiper

Juvenile Least Sandpipers are very pretty.

This adult bird in basic plumage appears to be molting at least one primary: note the pale area between the longest primary and the three shorter, fresher-looking white-tipped inner primaries.

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