Short-billed Dowitcher in Sargassum – Nikon D200, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
I’ve noticed that I have posted lots of gulls, coots, geese and ducks lately from my local pond here in northern Utah and decided that this morning I would go back through my archives and post something beachy instead. So, step back in time with me to a place called Fort De Soto County Park which is located in Pinellas County, Florida on the Gulf Coast. It was August of 2008 and we were in the midst hurricane and Tropical storm season.
I don’t recall now what storm had gone through the Gulf of Mexico but one had and the waves had kicked up and brought in huge masses of Sargassum, a macroalgae or brown seaweed. Sargassum has many leafy appendages and small berry-like structures that are mostly filled with oxygen that causes the mass of Sargassum to float.
The wrack line that morning looked like a thick ribbon of the seaweed and there were several species of shorebirds foraging in the Sargassum the day I took this photo. The shorebirds weren’t eating the seaweed they were foraging for tiny crabs, other marine invertebrates and tiny fish that use the floating masses of Sargassum as a nursery when it is in the water, when it gets pushed up onto the beaches by wave action it can be easy pickings for the birds that frequent the shore.
This Short-billed Dowitcher slowly made its way through the Sargassum on the wrack line as I laid in the damp sand photographing it and the other shorebirds that were searching the seaweed for food. Because I was so still while laying on the sand there were times this dowitcher came so close to me that I had a hard time focusing on it without turning off the limiter on my lens.
Short-billed Dowitchers breed in the muskegs of taiga, bogs to rocky or sandy sea shorelines, marshes, swamps and grasslands of northern Quebec, the central interior of Canada and in southern Alaska, they prefer coastal saltwater tidal flats, salt marshes, tidal estuaries, fields and mudflats during their nonbreeding season.
Climate change may have a significant impact on Short-billed Dowitchers because of rising sea levels destroying or impacting the coastal areas that these shorebirds prefer and need during their nonbreeding season.
Life is good.