Fall Shorebird Workshop – Ensley Bottoms

Fall Shorebird Workshop – Ensley Bottoms

The forecast for thunderstorms and heavy rain looked ominous, but the bad weather held off long enough to provide some good birding for our first workshop at the locally renowned Ensley Bottoms site in southwest Memphis. The greater-Memphis birding community made a tremendous showing, as the attendance for the workshop swelled to more than forty participants (from as far away as Knoxville, TN), including four young birders! We would especially like to thank the Memphis Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society both for helping to organize the event and for providing expert assistance with the field component of the workshop.

The workshop consisted of both classroom and field components. With such a large attendance, participants were divided into two groups–one started indoors with a presentation from Jason Hoeksema on identification of shorebirds, and the other group started in the field, led by Gene Knight, JR Rigby, and Wayne Patterson (with an assist from Mike Todd and Jay Walko).  Shorebirding in the rain was made easier by a series of tailgating tents set up at key points along the levees bordering the ponds:


The birding was quite entertaining, with plenty of shorebirds to study, including comparisons of Least vs. Semipalmated & Western Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, and 10 other shorebird species. In addition, Black Terns and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks provided steady entertainment. Altogether, it was a delightful time at “The Pits” for all. Ensley Bottoms truly is a special place for the wind birds in our region.


For additional photos from the event, please see this album on our Flickr site.

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Shorebird ID Workshop participants at the Coldwater River NWR

On Saturday, May 3, we held our first Shorebird Identification Workshop. For the indoor portion of the workshop, Dr. Jason Hoeksema gave an enlightening overview of the ins and outs of shorebird identification with special reference to species likely to be encountered in Mississippi. The group then caravanned to the Coldwater River National Wildlife Refuge for some hands-on shorebirding practice. Delta Wind Birds offers a special thank you to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for making the Refuge accessible for this educational outing.

Long-billed Dowitcher

While the indoor presentation was taking place, Delta Wind Birds board members Gene Knight and Wayne Patterson went ahead of the group to scout the best areas of the Refuge for shorebirds. Gene called to tell us that water levels were up a little too high for most of the “peep” species. “But there are phalaropes,” he added flatly – and somewhat cryptically. Phalaropes are an uncommon but regular treat for those who chase shorebirds in the Delta, usually found only in very small numbers at isolated locations, so we were pleased to hear that the group might get to see one.

While recent rains had raised water levels in most of the ponds and flooded most of the mud habitat, workshop participants had the opportunity to view fourteen shorebird species including American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher, Pectoral Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, and Least Sandpiper. The highlight, however, was a group of no less than 30+ Wilson’s Phalaropes in a single pond foraging among the Yellowlegs and Dowitchers. The vast majority of the Phalaropes were females, evidenced by the bold breeding plumage. Among Phalaropes, unlike the majority of bird species, the females take on the bright breeding plumages while the males remain overall a drab gray with a much more muted patterning. Walking along the pond levees, the group was able to get within thirty meters or so of the birds, providing great views even without a scope!

Stilt Sandpiper and Wilson's Phalarope (male) (5/3/14)
After a session of scoping sandpipers to get a feel for relative sizes and picking out diagnostic patterns in the different feather groups, we wrapped up the afternoon with a few migrating Bobolinks and a pair of Spotted Sandpipers along a pond edge on the way out of the Refuge. Thanks to all those from Mississippi, Tennessee, and even North Carolina (!) who participated, making our first Shorebird Workshop a great success.

Did you know that fall migration will start as soon as July for some shorebird species? Stay tuned for shorebirding field trips this summer with Delta Wind Birds.

Photos from the workshop can be found here. An eBird checklist of the visit to the Coldwater River NWR is posted here.


RIP, Peter Matthiessen

The great naturalist and writer, Peter Matthiessen, passed away on Saturday, April 5, 2014. This was sad news, as his writings helped inspire our love for shorebirds and natural history more broadly. Indeed, his elegant quote (from his 1967 book, now called “The Wind Birds: Shorebirds of North America”) helped to inspire our name:

“The restlessness of shorebirds, their kinship with the distance and swift seasons, the wistful signal of their voices down the long coastlines of the world make them, for me, the most affecting of wild creatures. I think of them as birds of wind, as ‘wind birds.'”

One can find several well-written tributes to Matthiessen from recent weeks. Here is one from a birder’s perspective, and here is one from the New York Times. This piece, published in New York Times Magazine before Matthiessen died, offers an in-depth historical perspective.

Rest in peace, Mr. Matthiessen, and may you continue to enjoy the voices of the wind birds.