I have a few “rules” for my blog, such as “All photographs must be taken by me.” Another was that pictures I post need to be fairly decent pictures in terms of focus, lighting and the like. Today I break this rule.
Leonard and I were hiking on the Eagle Pole Trail at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Lassen County CA). Suddenly there was a flock of birds flying and wheeling as one, similar to a murmuration of starlings. We knew the birds were something different but could not make them out as they rapidly maneuvered through the sky. After watching the flock for about five minutes, they settled on the far shore of one of the large ponds. I KNEW my 200 mm lens was useless at that distance, but took a few pictures to help identify the birds in case they immediately flew again. It turned out the shorebirds were in no hurry to leave and Leonard and I were able to identify the birds as black-bellied plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) using binoculars. I do not like the photograph, but Leonard insists that I share it since black-bellied plovers, although common along the coasts, are rare vagrants in continental interiors.
Black-bellied plovers, also commonly called grey plovers, breed in the North American and Eurasian Arctic tundra, further north than other species. They migrate mid to long-distances, flying along the coasts or over open sea to winter along coastal areas on six continents, Antarctica being the exception.
During breeding season the male is striking with his white crown and nape, black and white barred upper parts and tail, black face throat, breast and belly and white underparts. The breeding female has a similar pattern but is less black or more muted than the male. The winter and juvenile plumage is a dull grey brown.
The black-bellied plover inhabits mudflats, open marshes and beaches in the winter while making the tundra its summer home. Its diet consists of insects, mollusks, marine worms and small crustaceans.
Leonard and I were excited to see a flock of black-bellied plovers. The last time we saw them was over 20 years ago when they briefly settled on flooded alfalfa fields near our house.