Beak of the Week: Hudsonian Godwit

Spring has come and gone and I’ve done a terrible job of capturing any of it here on the blog. But i’m back now and determined to catch up on a few of my spring adventures before hitting the road for the summer.

But, first, in real time – an exciting rare bird alert! During the past week I have done my best to ignore my eBird alerts and messages from my local birding listservs as I make my way through the mountain of grading that stands between me and summer. News of a Hudsonian Godwit in Mission Beach, San Diego managed to find its way through, and rightfully so. This small godwit has a fascinating migration story! Hudsonian Godwits winter along the southernmost coastlines of South America. Each spring, they fly upwards of 9,000 miles to reach their breeding grounds in the boreal forests and tundra of Canada and Alaska. They follow the Central Flyway through the U.S., typically making only ONE STOP along their route. In the fall, they will leave their breeding grounds and complete this impressive journey once again – this time, following the Atlantic Flyway south. So, as you can imagine, sightings of this bird in California are few and far between. This impressive migration is rivaled by their cousin, the Bar-tailed Godwit. Weighing less than a pound, individual Bar-tailed Godwits have been tracked by satellite on a non-stop 7,000 mile journey, spanning nine days, from Alaska to New Zealand. Sadly, Hudsonian Godwit populations have declined by more than 70% since the early 1970s, likely due to a myriad of factors associated with climate change. Their success on their breeding grounds is linked to the timing of hatchlings with peak insect season, ensuring a food supply for the growing young. In recent warmer years, nests are hatching later in the season, past the prime insect period. This “ecological mismatch” between reproductive events and seasonal resource peaks is one of the ways that global climate change is contributing to population declines.

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In fact, this particular bird was the FIRST EVER recorded in San Diego County. This bird was spotted by the legendary Guy McCaskie on Monday May 27, becoming the 500th addition to his San Diego County list. Yes, I said county. Not state, not country, not ABA region… COUNTY list. This amazing feat was discussed on the ABA blog and it really captured my imagination and awe.

So, I left the pile of papers behind for a morning and headed down south to see if I could partake in the excitement. It seems to prefer a few specific areas so I headed to the Mission Beach location where it had most recently been reported, referenced by lifeguard tower numbers. Parking was the only challenge to seeing this bird and after securing a spot, I  headed down the beach. From a distance, I scanned for birders (the easiest way to find the bird) and started to worry that it had flown when I failed to detect a crowd of birders and photographers. But no need to worry, it was exactly where reports had described it, foraging along the water line in front of lifeguard tower 19.

This beautiful bird is smaller than our more familiar Marbled Godwit and, in breeding plumage, has a striking rufous and chestnut belly and underparts. In flight, it flashes a black tail and contrasting white uppertail coverts. It shares a long, bicolored, slightly upturned bill with our local godwit. This bird was using that long bill to probe the soft sand at the shoreline, frequently coming up with small sand crabs. It spent most of its time working the edges of some piles of kelp that had washed ashore and was absurdly cooperative for photos. In fact, it seemed largely immune to surfers and beach-goers walking the shoreline and on several occasions those people chased the bird toward me!

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On a side note, I can’t believe I used to just sit at the beach….and do what??!! How many birds did I miss in the hours and hours of beach time I logged in my earlier years? Well, it was a pleasure to enjoy some beach time with this memorable bird (to my surprise, there was only one other birder there!).  I, also, added this bird to a few lists; the Hudsonian Godwit is #998 on my life list, #466 on my United States list, and #374 on my California list. But, I will always remember this bird as Guy McCaskie’s 500th San Diego bird!

A few more photos just because this bird was so accommodating:

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3 thoughts on “Beak of the Week: Hudsonian Godwit

Add yours

  1. Congrats on the Hudwit!

    I’ve only ever seen one – they are rarities for us here too. We usually have only Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits but the odd Hudsonian does seem to turn up.

    Also that 500 is am impressive list, I wonder how many more he can find!?

    Like

  2. Such a great find! And really, what did we do while we sat at the beach for all of those hours!?! I still enjoy it though. 😉

    Like

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