Birds of Seabrook Island

COAST BIRDS
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ANECDOTES

  Dowitchers
 
 

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  Order Charadriiformes - Plovers, Sandpipers, Gulls, Terns, Auks
   Family Scolopacidae - "Sandpipers"
      Tribe Limnodromini - Dowitchers

  Charadriiforms are a diverse group of shore and aquatic or wading or terrestrial birds. They include the sandgrouse, shore birds, gulls and terns, and alcids. The majority breed in the Northern Hemisphere.
   The Tree of Life includes shorebirds with the Ciconiiformes.
Sandpipers are a diverse group of shorebirds with bills not swollen at the tip. Most live in association with water. Short-billed forms feed on the surface using vision. Long-billed forms probe in mud and their prey is located by touch or smell. Tides influence their feeding cycles.   
Dowitchers are medium-sized, stocky shorebirds with long, straight bills and pale eyebrows. They feed in mud or shallow water, probing with a rapid jabbing "sewing-machine" motion. In flight they have a barred tail leading to a white rump patch extending up their back between the wings. 
 
Identification Specifics
 
     
 
Dowitchers
 

Wiki

  Identifying Dowitchers
 
There are two species of dowitcher in our area (3 in the world). If you thought the small "peeps" were hard to distinguish, try this pair. Fortunately, in winter the Short-billed Dowitcher prefers salt-water beaches and mud flats while the Long-billed Dowitcher prefers fresh-water ponds and impoundments. (This suggests that most of our dowitchers would be short-billed but that we should look for Long-billed Dowitchers at places like Bear Island WMA and other impoundment areas. However, there is overlap in habitats and we could certainly see Long-billed Dowitchers even though they are not on the Seabrook Island list.
   Dowitchers are smaller than a Willet but markedly larger than Sanderlings/Dunlins. They have a long, straight probing bill and a white rump. In winter they are gray with a lighter belly and barred flanks. There is a darker line through the eye and a dark cap outlining a lighter supercilium. In breeding plumage they have rufous-orange bellies and neck. Their legs are greenish.
    They may best be distinguished by their flight call - the Long-billed Dowitcher has a high, sharp "keek, sometimes repeated in a quick series and the flock chatters continuously while feeding. The Short-billed Dowitcher has a lower call, a liquid, rapid "kewtutu," slightly descending and harder. Individuals are usually quiet while feeding.
    Good luck - I usually record our dowitchers as short-billed.
Here's a comparison of some of the subtle differences (based on Sibley's criteria):
Short-billed Dowitcher
Short-billed Dowitcher. Lagoon

Long-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher. Monterey Bay Aquarium
   
 
Short-billed Dowitcher Long-billed Dowitcher
Juvenile - breast buffy breast, bright overall gray breast, dull overall
Juvenile - tertials tertials with gray edge grayish with narrow rusty edges
Non-breeding - back flat rounded
Non-breeding - flanks dark, barred flanks - paler a few spots, not barred - darker
Non-breeding - face pale gray, streaked pale gray, not streaked
Non-breeding - breast speckled plain
Adult - neck orange, spotted rufous, streaked dark
Adult - belly white rufous
Adult - back scapulars brown, orangish tips dark scapulars, narrow rufous bars, white tips
Peak fall migration July and August mid-September - January
Habitat preferences salt water fresh water

     A recent article attempts to refine these features (Lee, C-T and A. Birch. 2006. Advances in the field identification of North American Dowitchers. Birding 38:34-42):
   The authors point out that the flight calls are reliable for field identification.
   They then define several structural field marks:
Loral angle - the angle between an extension of the gape toward the back of the head and a line connecting the gape with the center of the iris. The long-billed's loral angle is smaller (more acute) than that of the short-billed. [The median angle is about 16° in the long-billed and 21° in the short-billed, with considerable overlap.] The slightly higher placement of the eye on the short-billed produces a more arched supercilium. The supercilium of the short-billed also is wider in the front giving it a flared appearance.
Bill shape and length - Long-billed Dowitchers have longer bills (and the females of both species have longer bills). On the short-billed, the bill curves gently downward a third of the way from the tip while the long-billed has a very straight bill with a straight supercilium.
Body shape - The lower back on the long-billed has a slight concavity due to the tertials being pushed up by the tail? They have a longer tail, a more tapered rear, and a slightly "cocked" tail.
Head shape -  The long-billed has a shallower forehead.
Tarsus length - Long-billeds have slightly longer legs and, in mixed flocks, they may wade in slightly deeper water.
The authors refine their suggestions for birds of different age...check this article if you are interested. Note that their first picture is really a Short-billed Dowitcher (the bill is decurved).

Apply these traits to the dowitchers in the following image. What species are they? (There are three Black-belliled Plovers and a Ruddy Turnstone toward the right - the others appear to be dowitchers.)
   
Dowitchers
Dowitchers with several Black-bellied Plovers and a Ruddy Turnstone. Lagoon, North Beach
         
    NOTES:
   CBC
(counts for dowitcher sp.)
      Sun City/Okatie 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 160;
      McClellanville 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 109, 930, 1475; Winyah Bay x, x, 6, 0, 81, 330, 39, 733.
       
    Banner - Short-billed Dowitchers, lagoon North Beach.
       
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