More Fall Migration

The Spur Dike along Wiley Slough in the Skagit River delta has become one of my favorite spots for exploring.  There always seems to be something new to discover there.  Maybe this is a benefit of the Washington "Discover" Pass.  On my last visit a week ago, I came upon this group of long-billed wading birds in the marshes south of the dike.  At the time, I wasn't sure what they were.  This was a busy, active bunch, about a dozen in all, moving quickly as they probed the shallow waters with those specialized bills.  The moved along in unison like a troupe of caffeinated dancers.

With bright morning sun, the lighting and shadows were terrible for both photos and for identification of the birds.  When I got home, I hunted through my bird books and internet sites to try and determine what they were.  With some reservation, I have identified them as Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca).  As usual, please correct me if I am wrong.

UPDATE  As it turns out, I was wrong, and gratefully, Hugh at Rock Paper Lizard has corrected me.  These birds are Long-billed Dowitchers (Limnodromus scolopaceus).  When I look back at the photos in my Greater Yellowlegs post, I see the difference in the bill length that Hugh pointed out.  At least I got them in the right group, so perhaps there is hope for me yet.  This time of year, the Long-billed Dowitcher is actually a more common bird in this area.  This would be another factor in confirming the ID.

For larger and sharper images, click or right-click on the photos.

Long-billed Dowitchers breed along the Arctic coasts of Alaska and western-most Canada.  Western Washington is part of their migration route.  The salt marshes of the Skagit River delta is also ideal wintering habitat, according to Birdweb.

I am actually pleased to learn the true identity of these birds.  Long-billed Dowitchers provide me with a first sighting.

My reservations about the identity of these birds stem from my past (and now present) ID failures.  Leafing through books and scanning internet photos is not a very good method.  I have made some bad mistakes using this process.

I also misidentified the second bird.  Hugh again reveals that it is a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria), and he describes it as "a much cooler bird."  I agree.  They are apparently an uncommon migratory visitor to Washington State.  Their breeding range includes wooded areas in much of Canada and Alaska.  A unique characteristic is their habit of reusing the abandoned nests of other birds, including Robins, Waxwings and Jays.  Again thanks to Hugh, this becomes another first sighting for me.

When I review photos and drawings of all the Sandpipers, what becomes apparent is how similar they are to one another.  I hope no one was led astray by my fumbled ID.  I also went back and reviewed my original Greater Yellowlegs post.  Without anyone disagreeing so far, I do believe I identified that one correctly.

A group of Sandpipers may be referred to as a "contradiction" or a "time-step."  It seems either would be appropriate.

The Spur Dike Trail into the Skagit delta wetlands is a wonderful and unique place for wildlife viewing.  It is possible to hike deep into the wetlands atop the dike and keep dry feet the whole way.  To find it from Interstate 5, take the Lake McMurray exit in Skagit County and head west.  Quickly turn right into Conway and stay on Fir Island Road for about 2 miles.  Turn left onto Wylie Road and continue south all the way to the end.  The entrance to the site is marked by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sign.  You can park either at the boat launch or the headquarters.  Be sure to display your Discover Pass during your stay.


  1. Dave, I'm no shorebird expert and am in awe of those who can find a rarity among the thousands of similarly shaped and coloured birds, but my guesses for the above birds are Long-billed Dowitchers (the bills are too long for either yellowlegs) and Solitary Sandpiper (which I consider a much cooler bird than Lesser Yellowlegs).

  2. Oh I love that part of the Skagit. Kayaked from near that parking lot just this past summer. However, I was sworn to secrecy to not blog about it! We saw some cool birds but was not migration time. You're so fortunate to live so close, I love it up your way!

  3. Many thanks to Hugh at Rock Paper Lizard for correcting my bungled identifications. I have updated the post to add the corrections. His blog can be found at

    Jill, I am guessing you put into Freshwater Slough at the boat launch there. That channel runs quite swiftly at times and not for the inexperienced kayaker I think. Thanks for stopping by. Jill's blog is at


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