Desert Shorebirding!

Alex Lamoreaux|

A few of the cuckoos that we fitted with radio transmitters have gone missing, so this morning, Anna and I drove around to all of our cuckoo sites to search for them using our car-mounted radio-receiver. This ‘cuckoo-finder’, as we call it, has two yagi antennae’s, that work in unison to be able to pick up a cuckoo’s radio telemetry unit from quite a distance away. Below is a photo of the setup.

The 'Cuckoo-finder', with Anna searching for a lost bird's signal.

While we were at the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge ‘Island Unit’, we found an American Avocet foraging with Black-necked Stilts. We also flushed an adult Peregrine Falcon out of a a dead tree. This began our morning of good birding luck and many shorebirds. While driving to the Cibola NWR Cornfield Nature Trail, we spotted some Least Sandpipers and a non-breeding plumage Wilson’s Phalarope in a flooded field. After we had checked all the Cibola NWR sites, we went over to Hart Mine Marsh, which is also on the NWR property. As soon as we pulled up, Anna spotted a juvenile Brown Pelican diving for fish. This species is quite uncommon in Arizona. Also at Hart Mine Marsh, were loads of Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Green Herons, and Great Blue Herons. We also flushed two Least Bitterns. Plus a highlight was finding a molting subadult Little Blue Heron. Little Blue’s are rare in Arizona. We also found one subadult Black-crowned Night-Heron. As were we leaving, I spotted a Sora walking along the cattails, and when I stopped the car it flushed up and flew over the first row of cattails and went out of view. As far as shorebirds go, we were able to find Long-billed Curlew, Black-necked Stilts, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, and Killdeer at the marsh. There was also a flock of 41 Blue-winged Teal. In a flooded field near the Cibola NWR Cornfield Nature Trail, we found more Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and a Wilson’s Phalarope!

American Avocet - adult female at Cibola NWR - Island Unit

Brown Pelican (juvenile) and Great Egret - these birds were quite a distance away.

Little Blue Heron - molting subadult

Least Bittern - adult

Snowy Egret (juvenile) and Black-crowned Night-Heron (subadult) - at first I thought that this Snowy was a juvenile Little Blue, because of it's all-green legs, but the yellow lores back it a Snowy.

Anna and I checked one final cuckoo site to see if any of our missing birds were hiding out there, but couldn’t find any. On our way back towards Blythe, we stopped to check out two flooded agricultural fields and found some more great birds. The field was packed with Cattle Egrets and White-faced Ibis (250 and 81, respectively). Anna spotted a ‘Western’ Willet and I spotted a Marbled Godwit. The godwit was out 10th shorebird of the day! There were also some Long-billed Curlew and Greater Yellowlegs foraging in the field. Just a few miles up the road, we stopped at another flooded field. This one had many Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Ring-billed Gulls. We were also able to find some Greater Yellowlegs here as well as Least Sandpipers and Killdeer. However, the highlight was seeing seven Black Terns flying around the flooded field, occasionally sitting next to the yellowlegs. My friend Tim Shreckengost stopped by about an hour later and wasn’t able to find the terns, but did see a Peregrine Falcon, so perhaps the terns were scared off.

Black Terns and Greater Yellowlegs

Hopefully the farmers keep flooding their fields and the birds keep coming. I am lucky that I get to pass these areas everyday on my way to and from work, so I hope I can pick up some more shorebirds and other interesting species!

About the Author

Alex Lamoreaux


Alex Lamoreaux has been an avid birder and naturalist since he was a youngster, growing up exploring the farmland and Appalachian ridges near Hershey, Pennsylvania. He attended Penn State University, studying wildlife biology. Alex has traveled extensively throughout North America, Central America, and South Africa and is a freelance nature tour guide, field biologist, and wildlife photographer. Alex has worked on wildlife research projects ranging from Whimbrel migration along the coast of Virginia to Yellow-billed Cuckoo nesting in the desert southwest. He has been the migration counter at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory for the past two fall seasons, documenting the massive visible migration of raptors and songbirds along Lake Superior. Alex loves to share his knowledge of nature, and strives to bring the birding community together to share in the fun that studying birds and wildlife has to offer. He has helped to organize and coordinate birding events in his home state of Pennsylvania and beyond. Contact Info Alex Lamoreaux aslamoreaux@gmail.com (717) 943-7086