Friday, July 22, 2016

Fri-D: Long-billed Dowitcher

[South Cape May Meadows, NJ July 19, 2016. Click to enlarge.]

I've never been a fan of identifying dowitchers based on the kind of produce they've been eating - cf., "it looks like it swallowed a grapefruit."

The pitfalls of this approach are many - shapes change as postures change, and especially, birds in different condition exhibit different shapes. A classic example of this challenge is spring dowitchers at places like Heislerville, NJ. New arrivals are skinny, indeed sometimes emaciated from a long migratory flight. Birds that have been there a few days are intermediate, and the ones that are ready to continue north are so fat they look like they are going to have to walk, not fly. They're all Short-billed Dowitchers, even if some look like they swallowed a carrot and some a watermelon.

So it was delightful earlier this week when I stood alone on the South Cape Meadows observation platform and this dowitcher dropped in, keek -ing multiple times. Long-billed Dowitcher by call, case-closed, and way, way better than this swallowed-a-kumquat or whatever stuff. Earlier that morning, Tom Johnson had been on the platform and picked what I called an "orangy" and he called a "foxy" dowitcher (LBDO is oranger below than SBDO) and wise a birder as Tom is, he said he'd like to hear it call. Me too, I thought, and when it did, it was the rapid mellow tlu-tlu-tlu of a short-billed.

All that being said, when the Long-billed Dowitcher later dropped in calling, and began feeding into the west wind, facing away from me, it really did look like it had swallowed a grapefruit. A supporting mark is that the orange below swept completely up to the vent on this bird - eastern race dow's are typically white from between the legs and back.

But the best mark is and will forever be voice on this pair.

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