Identifying shorebirds in the field is one of the more challenging activities for birders. Interest in meeting that challenge must be keen, however, because a recent ASNV class in shorebird identification, held at Fairfax High School August 16, sold out all seats. Participants honed their skills as Marc Ribaudo, an avid birder with more than 40 years of field experience, used projected photographs and a laser pointer to highlight the anatomical features used to identify the most difficult species, including differences in breeding and non-breeding plumage. He also featured distinguishing behaviors of adults and juveniles. The class ended with a discussion and quiz. Two days later, participants exercised their new skills during a trip to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, on the edge of Delaware Bay.
Field trip sightings started at the visitor center, where the class tallied Bobolinks, Purple Martins, Indigo Buntings, and the calls of Northern Bobwhite. On the Wildlife Drive, participants focused binoculars and spotting scopes on shorebirds feeding at a leisurely pace in shallow waters and on mudflats, including Long-billed Dowitchers and Short-billed Dowitchers as well as three sandpipers—Semipalmated, Western, and Least. The class also observed Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs (many), Stilt Sandpipers, Killdeer (heard only), American Avocets, Semi-palmated Plovers, and Black-bellied Plovers.
Various pools provided ample views of several non-shorebird species, including Green-winged Teal; Clapper Rail; Forster’s and Caspian Terns; Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets; Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-herons; Northern Harrier; and Blue Grosbeak. The class counted 68 species total, with a lone, seasonally rare Snow Goose capping the success of a highly educational and enjoyable experience.
For class members interested in further sharpening their skills, Marc recommended continued study with The Shorebird Guide by Michael O’Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson.