Bling on a Bird

 When I go walking on our beautiful local beaches I am on a mission- sort of an Easter egg hunt for bling- but in this case to find shorebirds that are banded. Only a small fraction of birds we will encounter are banded, but some shorebirds are given colored bands and/or letter coded "flags" on their legs that allow them to identified from a distance. With the advent of small modern cameras with a powerful zoom lens, it is possible to carry a camera at all times in case you see a banded bird. 


While leading a nature walk at northern Knight/Palm Island, just south of Stump Pass, I noticed a group of red knots, a medium-sized shorebird that is a long distance migrant from the Gulf and east coasts to the Arctic where it breeds. I scanned them and noticed two of a group of about 15 birds that were banded; this is like winning the bird lottery! One had a blue band on its left leg and one had a lettered green flag on the right leg. By entering the flag code (9JL) into www.bandedbirds.org I was able to find a three year history on this individual, which tells an interesting story. 

Red knot 9JL was first banded March 10, 2010, on Shell Key on the gulf coast of Florida. Subsequently over almost three years it has been seen 21 times. But the timing of the sightings illustrates part of the migratory path this bird takes when flying from FL to the Arctic. The GA records are between Aug. 8 and Sept. 26. The FL gulf coast records are between Dec. 17 and Mar. 22. This indicates that our red knot stops in GA on its southward path, but perhaps not on the return flight. 

Thus our red knot 9JL spends its winters along the gulf coast of FL and then heads north, passing though GA presumably towards a major stop over point in Delaware Bay to feast on horseshoe crab eggs. Then it will fly to the Arctic northern coast to breed. So this tiny bird weighing less than 3 oz has flown at least three times round trip from FL to the Arctic and is here again in FL for the winter looking fit. I find the whole process of long distance migration amazing, but particularly so when such small birds are accomplishing such a feat. 

So let's give these champion avian athletes a break and let them rest on our beaches with as little disturbance as possible. 

Bill Dunson 
Englewood, FL, and Galax, VA