A Shorebird Site’s Fall Phases

With the first measurable rain in the last couple of months Mike and I started this last Saturday by checking the local shorebird site in hopes that the rain had brought the water level up again.  We were hoping for some of the later shorebirds – Mike was looking for Dunlin and I was hoping to see Wilson’s Snipe. But even with the rain there was no water and no shorebirds.

And I thought about the phases a Midwest Shorebird site goes through and how many different elements have to come together to make it a viable spot.

Over the last few months I have discussed and shown photos of my local shorebird site. A place where I have observed 10 different species of shorebirds by basically monitoring it only once on the weekend.

To me its a typical Midwestern shorebird site, a field that appears to have broken drainage tiles so the water can’t drain out. But what is special about the site is that it meets one of my main criteria for birding – it is close to home.  4.1 miles to be exact.

But the site has the usual drawbacks of many shorebird sites, it is on a busy road so you must position yourself farther away than you would like. And the shorebirds always seem to be on the far side of the water making a scope necessary.  So the only observing is from the east, which means you must be there early on a sunny day before the shimmer and sun angle make observing tough.

This year we had heavy rainfalls in June and July which kept the field full of water.  It wasn’t until August the water level started to slowly fall and there wasn’t any measurable rainfall until the last week of October.  So I could watch the field drain in a linear manner, unlike most years where rainfall makes a shorebird site go up and down through phases. Sometimes even on a weekly manner.  Watching the water level fall in a steady manner made me note the really narrow time window that the field offered a chance to view shorebirds. And this year that window didn’t appear until a few weeks past the main movement of shorebirds.

Following are photos of the field with the dates and some captions.

COMBS 090715A
9/8 – After being full all summer the water level has just started to fall. A few Mallards and a Great Blue Heron can be seen.
058
9/16 – The water level is a little further down and hundreds of Mallards plus a few Wood Ducks, Great Blue Herons, and a Great Egret take advantage. And Killdeer (one seen in foreground) are starting to appear in numbers.
159
9/30 – The water level has falling to a level that shorebirds are appearing. Not in large numbers though.
176
9/30 – Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs on the south side of the water.
COMBS DRY
10/21 – By mid-October the field is dry and not even Killdeer are present.
Combs Rd - Plowed
10/31 – The farmer has plowed I assume in the hope that next year will be a little more typical and he can grow crops.

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