One thing I really love about shorebirds is that there is so much variety in size, shape, color, and habits. From Least Sandpipers to Long-billed Curlews, there are some truely amazing species across North America. One of my favorites is the Marbled Godwit. The first time I ever saw these big, cinnamon-colored shorebirds was on an Audubon Society field trip to Cape May. We saw three Marbled Godwits standing together on a distant sandbar on Nummy Island. Since then I have been able to run in to Marbled Godwits a few times per year. One time near the Salton Sea in California, I saw 200 Marbled Godwits foraging alongside 300 Long-billed Curlew and 700 Black-necked Stilt! Over the past two years, I have been fortunate to get some really great photo opportunities with cooperative Marbled Godwits, and I thought I would share some of them here. Look for the slight variation in these birds, particularly the very noticeable difference in bill shape and length between males and females.
Like I mentioned above, large groups of Marbled Godwits are often mixed with other large shorebirds like curlews, stilts, willets, and avocets. The following photos are of Marbled Godwits mixed with a large wintering flock of ‘Western’ Willets. Both Marbled Godwit and ‘Western’ Willets breed in the prairie pothole region of the northern Great Plains and southcentral Canada, and then migrate to the east and west coasts of the US for the winter months.
Back in 2010, while working in California and Arizona for the summer, Anna Fasoli and I visited the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Orange County, California. A Sooty Tern had been reported there and we were hoping to see it. As we drove up to the parking area, I couldn’t wait to get out of the car. My lifer Elegant Terns (hundreds of them) were flying all over the area and gathering into a crowded nesting colony alongside hundreds of Black Skimmers and Forster’s Terns, nine different species of shorebirds were foraging on the mudflats all over the reserve, and ‘Belding’s’ Savannah Sparrows were foraging in the mossy vegetation along the boardwalk. Within 40 feet of the boardwalk there were quite a few foraging and resting Marbled Godwits. At that point in my birding career I had never been anywhere near this close to a Marbled Godwit in my life and took a bunch of photos with my old Olympus SLR. The photo below is my favorite from that day. We never did see the Sooty Tern but it was still an amazing experience.