Tag Archives: Old Stella Jones Pier

Shorebird Identification

Will the real American Golden Plover please stand up?!

Some of us are old enough to remember the TV show, To Tell The Truth! In this show, a panel of celebrities asked three guests questions in an attempt to determine who was the real guest, and who were impostors. Sometimes identifying shorebirds feels a bit like an episode of this game show. Shorebirds have many different plumage patterns, which vary by the season of the year, and whether a bird is a male, female, breeding male, breeding female or an immature bird.

Over the past few days I have seen many American Golden Plovers, and sandpipers on the Duluth waterfront as these birds migrate down from the shores of the Arctic Ocean to “southern” South America in the plover’s case. Mudflats near Lake Superior are favorite resting / feeding spots as these birds recharge for many thousands of miles that have yet to migrate.

Given, assuming some luck on my birding expeditions, I only see these shorebirds a few weeks out of the year during the northern and southern migrations. Given such a short viewing window for birds I only see a few days per year, and given the fact birds like the American Golden Plover have many plumage options, obtaining a proper ID is difficult. Here are some of resources I use to help with my identification process.

First … some photos that I took of the plovers, and then I will work through the identifications resources. However, the first resources that is very useful pdf booklet from the Migratory Shorebird Project.

Here are the photos I used for my initial ID’s

And a few other American Golden Plovers in varying stages of plumage …

My two other resources in addition to the pdf booklet, are the Peterson Bird App, and Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID. I like the Peterson app because its initial bird image screens show you many different birds at once in varying stages of plumage. After some initial work, I then can drill further into the app and review photographs. Some apps only show you a photograph of a breeding male on the initial screen for any bird specie. In this instance, that would be almost useless. Here are two screenshots from Peterson’s:

Assuming one is still having difficulties with obtaining a proper identification, I then move on the Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID. Using one of my own photographs, I am able to submit that image into Merlin which then returns a bird identification. Merlin then returns photos in all the different plumage options of what the app thinks is my bird. Merlin Bird ID scored perfectly. Here are some screenshots from my process of working with Merlin. Remember, I had to dramatically different plumage options of the same specie, the American Golden Plover.

Example 1:

  • Adjusting my photo to the input box
  • Confirming my birding date and location
  • Merlin’s educated guess. It’s correct!


Example 2:

  • Adjusting my photo to the input box
  • Confirming my birding date and location
  • Merlin’s educated guess. It’s correct!

I hope introducing these resources will help you with the difficult process of shorebird identification. Although I actually know the plumage options for American Golden Plovers quite well, I used the same process to confirm a Baird’s Sandpiper two days ago.

Birds and Boats! (and a Lighthouse)

I was up before sunrise and drove down to Canal Park. I noticed in my semi-wakeful state around 4 am that the heavy rains had stopped. For me that meant clear skies and good birding. As the sun poked its head over the horizon Lake Superior and Canal Park shone out in her glory.

After Canal Park, I visited the Old Stella Jones Pier (reviewed with map yesterday). During the “golden hour” I found an American Golden Plover. After some significant time with my friendly plover it was off to Park Point where I hung out on the beach with the Semipalmated Sandpipers.

Oh yes … the boat pics!

20 Minutes on the Old Stella Jones Pier

After spending hours in the field, some days one gets stumped when birding, but then there are days like this morning. Given I only had 20 minutes to spend at active birding I drove over to the Old Stella Jones Pier in West Duluth. Jackpot! This location can be real good during the spring and fall migrations, particularly for Arctic shorebirds.

My visit started with an immature Bald Eagle which did not seem to mind my presence. It allowed me to be within 50 yards my entire time out on the pier (I was in my car). Next, I had fun watching a Merlin buzz the shorebirds … but the shorebirds kept coming back.

Here are some of the fruits of my labor. To find Old Stella Jones Pier, exit off of I-35 at Central Ave and drive to Waseca Industrial Blvd. Use the map at the bottom of this post. One warning, drive very slowly as you go out onto the pier. There are some HUGE potholes.

Immature Bald Eagle (short hops and checking for crows)

Baird’s Sandpipers

Lesser Yellowlegs

Old Stella Jones Pier