Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pinocchio's Nose

Long-billed Curlew
Numenius Americanus
Estero Bay, Florida
January 19, 2010
"Miracles are made in the heart, Papa."

Long-billed curlews - also once known as the "candlestick" bird - aren't exactly plentiful in my part of the world. Any day that you can find one - especially one so willing to pose - is a good day that makes the heart of any birder skip a few beats. I launched the kayak at an amazing low tide where dozens of roseate spoonbills, willets, oystercatchers, and all the usual reddish, white and blue heron and egret clans fed in frenzies in mudflats that stretched nearly everywhere but the main channels. Sucking noises echoed off the mangroves and little shorebirds flocked so thickly they looked like one large, living organism moving across the water. I came across a nice bunch of marbled godwits - not exactly plentiful here, either, and always fun to photograph with their Pepto-Bismal-pinkish upcurved beaks.

I was feeling especially fortunate with the sheer numbers and diversity of birds when this one little bird stopped me in my tracks. With its comical Pinocchio profile, the curlew's beak is an easy one third of its total length. The largest of all sandpipers - and the largest shorebird in the North America, they're also one of the fastest. Recently, using satellite tracking, one female curlew made it from the prairies of Montana to Mexico in just 27 hours.

Bird nomenclature is always peculiar. A flock of these big-beaked birds can be called a "curfew", "game", "head", "salon", or "skein". A "salon of curlews". Wonder if they give good haircuts.

One last interesting bit of trivia about these guys is that they were so plentiful in the San Francisco area in the late 1800's that Candlestick Point (and later, Candlestick Park Stadium) was named after them. By the time Candlestick Park was completed, their population was nearly extinct in the area, after being overhunted for ladies hats. One might easily deduce - correctly so - that millinery has brought more than one bird species right down to the brink of extinction, including the snowy egret right here in SW Florida.

That's the miracle of photography, really. I can bring home a catch bag to rival that of 19th century hunters, carrying birds of every description, and not a single one loses a life or ends up on my head.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400 VR, a stable kayak and my lucky star

1 comment:

Mr. Z said...

... also known as the Jewish Curlew