By Guest Blogger Ishira Fernando
The workshop began by introducing us to the life histories of several shorebirds and the incredible migrations they undertake. We learnt that birds that we take for granted like the Western Sandpiper breed almost exclusively in a concentrated region in Alaska and Russia before spreading across it's winter range. Then we broke the shorebirds down into the larger families and subfamilies that we can expect to see here in the Bay and explored them in detail.
Despite having been a birder for many years, I learnt so many new things from Alvaro: I never knew you could sex Oystercatchers just by looking at their eyes! Furthermore, he highlighted how some shorebirds can be separated strictly based on the habitats/niches they occupy. For example, Wandering Tattlers are unique from most other Tringa Sandpipers in their choice of inhabiting rocky, bouldered shorelines, unlike the choice of mud and tidal flats for other shanks.
One of my favorite takeaways from this workshop is that you can learn to ID birds by looking beyond sets of fieldmarks. In Alvaro’s words “you can look at a bird and just know it’s a Western (Sandpiper), without looking at any feathers in particular.” He highlighted that acclimating yourself with the habitat and behaviors of a bird as well as noticing its shape and structure will often bring you to a point where you are able to positively identify many species at a glance, almost subconsciously. While I’m not there yet with my shorebirds, this workshop and the copious notes I took during it will definitely help me get closer!
I’d like to thank SFBBO and Alvaro for hosting this incredible workshop. It wouldn't have been possible for me to attend this workshop without the help of the donors who contributed to SFBBO's racial justice scholarships, to whom I am very thankful. I’m looking forward to attending Alvaro’s next workshop on Advanced Shorebird ID where we hope to tackle rarer and more difficult shorebirds to positively identify.
Ishira is a rising senior at Stanford University. Currently studying Physics and Math, he looks forward to applying his skills in a graduate role as an experimental ecologist. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, he has been a lifelong birder and a passionate wildlife photographer. You can find some of his work on his instagram page @ishirafernando
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