Dunlins Redux

This gallery contains 3 photos. It’s nice to be able to see birds in both their winter and breeding plumage, and I was recently treated to a really close encounter with a solitary Dunlin at the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty on May 2 — 7 years after first encountering Dunlins at Iona Island. At that time, I had no idea what kind of sandpiper species they were, and in fact, didn’t know that they were mingling with another small (and much shorter-billed) peep called the Western Sandpiper.

Dunlins Reduxmy subject was unwittingly pacing me on the shoreline (Dunlins are quite approachable).
f/10, 1/800, 500mm, ISO 320

Come spring, Dunlins trade in their dull brown winter apparel for a much more dazzling breeding regalia of russets, browns, and black belly patches as they get ready to fly northward to breed and raise young. It was a miserably poor day for birds otherwise, and just as I had voiced this thought, I happened to glance at my feet and see that I was proven wrong! Checking the shoreline for tasty comestibles, this solo artist was in no hurry to leave, even though I was 6-8 feet away (and I almost missed seeing it, as I was so focused on photographing the 20 Greater Scaups who were much further out from shore).

Dunlins Redux
Dunlins measure 6-9 inches long, but they’re still not the smallest peeps (future post!)
f/10, 1/800, 500mm, ISO 400

It’s highly unusual to see a single solitary Dunlin; they flock to Metro Vancouver shores in hundreds and thousands during winter and spring. Much earlier this year, I witnessed massive murmurations of these tiny shorebirds from the Boundary Bay Wildlife Management Area, which can go on for 30 minutes or more (it’s not just European Starlings who engage in this behaviour). To appreciate the magnitude of this activity, click on the photo below to see a larger version. Photographed on January 22.

A Shimmer of Shorebirds: thousands of Dunlin perform a murmuration for more than 30 minutes while a trio of Bald Eagles watch from the left (click on the photo to see the larger version)
I saw this “shimmer of shorebirds” (much more poetic) several times earlier in the year
f/6.3, 1/1000, 500mm, ISO 640

The white undulations you see above the water’s surface are the Dunlins, constantly banking and turning; it’s like seeing a giant wave. That’s a massive expenditure of energy. It could be a defense mechanism — we saw a group of three Bald Eagles watching the “Cirque du Sandpiper” spectacle from on a floating log many miles out from shore (can you see them in the enlarged version of the above photo?) In any event, it’s a dazzling mix of artistry, synchronicity, and acrobatics.

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5 thoughts on “Dunlins Redux

  1. Your mention of a defense mechanism reminds me of the movie THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY where the children were told to make themselves look bigger if they are approached by hyenas. The animals will back down if they feel intimidated. Sounds like a good way to handle a bully. ☺great pictures!


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