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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Going for gold

On 19 October 2012, a Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva) was observed with a flock of Black-bellied Plovers in Bodega Harbor.  Pacific Golden-Plovers are considered rare migrants and rare winter residents in Sonoma County.  As the tide was rising this afternoon, I went to Gaffney Point to see if I could find it.  Eventually I spotted it in the salt marsh (see bird at center in photo below).

Soon after I located it, the flock took off and headed northwest towards Salmon Creek Beach.  In the next photo, the Pacific Golden-Plover is the third bird from the left.

Although it was very windy this afternoon, I decided to go for it — that is, to walk Salmon Creek Beach to see if I could find the bird again and try to get better photos.  It took a while, but ultimately I succeeded!  Although the birds were wary, and it was hard to keep the camera steady in the wind, here are a few shots that show some of the key characters.  In all of the images, note the bright gold feather edges and the golden wash on the head.

In the next image, look for the relatively small, thin bill (compared to the bill of a Black-bellied Plover) and the pale supercilium (eyebrow stripe).

Pacific Golden-Plovers have a long-legged appearance.

Because you may see Pacific-Golden Plovers with Black-bellied Plovers, here are two photos where you can compare them side-by-side.  Note that the golden-plover is quite a bit smaller and daintier.

Pacific Golden-Plovers are long-distance migrants.  They nest on the tundra in northern Siberia and Alaska and then migrate to temperate and tropical regions.  Their winter range is remarkable.  In the words of the Birds of North America account:

"Winters over about half the earth’s circumference. Occupies upland and coastal habitats from Hawaiian I. to e.-central Japan, Okinawa, Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia...s. China, Taiwan, se. Asia (including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines), Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iran, Bahrain, and ne. Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia)."

Pacific-Golden Plovers and American Golden-Plovers used to be considered one species — Lesser Golden-Plovers.  They were recognized as distinct species thanks to the work of Peter Connors (of Salmon Creek)!

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