Southbound Shorebird Migration Begins
Northbound spring migration has just ended, and there are still plenty of songbirds singing. But the Willets are already done breeding and moving south. Their June breeding site departures are one of the earliest of all North American birds. They start showing up in L.A. every year just after the middle of June. And every year it seems too early for “fall” migration. Two days ago, I saw a dozen sharply plumaged Willets in a group along Ballona Creek. Today, the group had grown to 38 birds. Only three of them were plain gray winter plumaged birds. By the end of June, there will likely be hundreds of them staging on the creek. I’d be curious to learn what leads individual birds to be early migrants. Did these birds fail to breed? Are they older birds, or those who breed early?
Willets are a species that may get split into two species: Western Willet and Eastern Willet. The populations apparently have no contact on breeding grounds. The western birds breed inland in prairies and grasslands in the Great Basin and north to the Canadian Plains. The eastern birds breed along the coast. There are also visual and slight vocal differences between the two. The western birds get spotted all along the East Coast, but there aren’t any eBird records for the Eastern Willets in California.
In other shorebird sightings, I also recently saw this Sanderling on the Playa del Rey jetty. It’s showing breeding plumage. Sanderlings breed in tundra habitat in the Arctic. They usually don’t start showing up in L.A. until late July. The bum wing on this one suggests to me a northbound straggler instead of an early southbound migrant.