Especially that Black-belied Plover. Just look at his washed out and mud spattered feathered coat in drab shades of sand and dirt. He’ll never find a girlfriend attired in that old thing. He is so undistinguished, it is often difficult to discern the difference between him and his surrounds.
But wait, from where did you say he hails? I heard tell he summers in islands of Nunavet, Canada and winters in Brazil, stopping in Cuba or Honduras along the way. Known as the Grey Plover on the other side of the globe, his kin are world travelers, too, some leaving the Arctic circle breeding grounds and heading to fall stopovers in Great Britain and Norway, migrating all the way to South Africa, while other members of the family travel over Russia to winter in Japan, Australia, or perhaps even as far away as New Zealand. Black-bellies have been tracked flying 3,400 miles nonstop from Brazil to NorthCarolina in five days. Tedious, I know.
While at his summer tundra home he sports a handsome black and white tuxedo, in reverse, sort of get up, like this –
You mean that tired old coat molts to that dapper cutaway? Yes!
Despite his flashy tux, he’s genuinely shy, and will flush on a dime if danger is sensed (i.e. this filmmaker for instance). He knows all the tricks of the plover trade, feigning broken wing to distract the enemy from his territory, and scraping together a nest from nothing but mere sand and tiny bits of stone.
And just look at the Black-bellied Plover’s spotted eggs painted in shapes and shades of lichen covered stones. A clever disguise if ever there was one.
Perhaps the Black-bellied Plover isn’t so boring after all. We living within the continental flyways encounter these Plain Janes and James when at their plainest. Black-bellied Plovers are seen along Atlantic coast beaches at this time of year within mixed groups of Sanderlings, Semipalmated Plovers, yellow legs, and sandpipers. Although similarly as drably feathered as the other ‘boring’ birds during the winter months, at 11 inches, Black-bellied Plovers are easy to spot in these feeding flocks because they are almost twice as large as the smallest shorebirds. Next time you see a flock of birds feeding along the shoreline take a closer look for the world traveling Black-bellied Plover.
Each and every wonderful species of bird that I have been filming while working on documentary projects over the past several years has a fascinating life story. Living in the midst of the Atlantic Flyway, I can’t imagine a more interesting region, although when I was visiting our daughter and son-in-law in Santa Monica, the creatures flowing through the Pacific Flyway were pretty exciting too. I hope to in the future spend time in the Central and Mississippi Flyways as well. I love thinking about this constant longitudinal movement of life force flowing as it does, year in and year out, century in and century out, millennium in and millennium out. For the most part, we go about our daily lives relatively unaware of this extraordinary undercurrent. Whether migrating by land or by sea, we are surrounded by this great movement of life, forms always in search of plentiful food on which to rear the next generation.
All photos not attributed to Kim Smith are courtesy of Google image searches.