rotating banner

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Public Service Announcement: The Dangers of Shorebirding

It’s early September, which means it’s that time of year when any birder worth his salt will be checking the local mudflats each weekend to find those coveted birds: the Scolopacids, the Charadriids, the Sternids, and if you’re lucky maybe a Recurvirostrid or two. There’s the poring over of esoterica to differentiate one Calidris from the next, the hope that a rare coastal bird will somehow find its way inland. I’m talking, of course, about shorebirds (duh), and there’s a certain amount of personal safety you need to exhibit while you’re searching for them.

Shorebirds, as they have evolved over these millennia, enjoy probing through mud. That’s just their prerogative. So, naturally, a birder must venture into the very mud his quarry calls home. For the birds, it’s easy – the largest North American sandpiper (the Long-billed Curlew, if you’re wondering) weighs little over a pound, hollow bones and all. The average birder weighs a hundred or two times more than that, so while the mud might well support a little Least Sandpiper, it will not support a grown man.

This is the problem I ran into last week while I was birding the Granville county side of the Falls Lakes mudflats (which may or may not still be there tomorrow, thanks Lee). After having gotten distant looks at a Wilson’s Phalarope, Ali Iyoob and I headed back to our birding party. One wrong step later, and I was a foot and a half into the mud with both boots planted firmly beneath the surface and the suction of that highly viscous semi-liquid keeping me there indefinitely.

That ground seemed like it was going to be so stable!

That’s why I highly recommend the buddy system whilst shorebirding. Had I been there by myself, who knows if I would have ever gotten out. Maybe they’d be dredging the lake a week later only to find a couple of vulture-cleaned bones sticking out of the lake. I mean, yeah, I probably would have escaped, but I’d’ve gotten really muddy in the process (awful, I know), so it’s lucky Ali was there to help fish me out, and it's lucky Mark was there to photograph our hilarious attempts to wrench me from my silty prison.

Just let this be a lesson to all you birders out there: walk the ‘flats with a birding buddy, or prepare to get a little muddy! And hey, it even rhymes!


  1. I will take mud over horse flies and other biting flies that swarm you in some of the swamps up north.

    But yes, if your birding in a treacherous environment bring a friend.

  2. @Derek - Biting flies aren't as big a deal down here, but it's the mosquitoes that'll mess you up if you're birding anywhere near still water. Luckily the lake's got a nice stiff breeze across it, so it actually makes for a rather pleasant birding experience. Er, except for the mud, of course.

  3. Check these out, I think you will find them incredibly helpful.

  4. @Anonymous - Those're pretty cool! A bit pricey though... perhaps I can stand getting stuck in the mud just a little while longer.