Shore birds are a tenacious lot, foraging for survival between the unforgiving sea and mankind’s ever-encroaching footprint. They’re adaptable, too, and clever. On Captiva Island a few years back, we watched a Great Blue Heron, standing in companionable silence next to a fisherman at the shore line. The heron, whose gaze was directed unconcernedly out to sea, appeared to be merely intrigued by his new friend’s surfcasting skills, but when a cut of the catch was eventually tossed his way it disappeared in a flash.
Despite the fact that their habitat is monotone and open (unlike the multi-colored and camouflaged homes of their country cousins), shore birds are among the most difficult groups of birds to identify properly.
There are at least 50 different species, some very similar, and — to make matters even more difficult — their plumage often changes color in the breeding season. My brother Anders and his wife Beverly, who have become ardent birders, generously shared their expertise with us in Florida this past week. These are just a few of Anders’ dazzling photographs.
And here’s a delightful poem on the subject.
By Elizabeth Bishop
The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.
The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.
Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.
The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,
looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.
Beautiful poem, it captures the movement of shorebirds that I see so often when surfcasting. I saw a snowy owl standing on a log at the edge of the dunes this last December. Heard they are a rare visitor here.
When we were in London recently the BBC had a show about shorebirds in a town along the coast there. It seems they had become expert at stealing food from tourists. What made it fascinating was that they stole the food right out of peoples hands by flying toward them from behind and then swooping down to lift up a sandwich or ice cream cone with astonished faces behind them.Turns out it is not all birds doing this, but just a few crafty individuals.
Love this story of the British avian sandwich snatchers! Thanks, Roger.
Lovely post. Thanks Liza!
Thank you, Phyllis!
Such a delightful post. It puts us right back there on the beach, chasing these characters along the shore. No better place to be.
Thanks, Anders. Sadly, it already seems like a long time ago.