Monday, 16 June 2014

May 2 - National Willet Appreciation Day

The Willet is a species of large shorebird found only in the Americas. The eastern subspecies breeds along the Atlantic coast of North America through the Caribbean, while the western subspecies is more of an inland bird, breeding throughout the prairies, south to Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. We occasionally see Willets in Ontario; almost always in spring, but with occasional "fall" records in July, August, and September (and rarely later into the year). While this is a rarity through most of the province, it does occur regularly along the Lake Erie shoreline from late April to late May. Point Pelee is a great location to observe one and anyone spending a few days at that location during the peak of spring migration will likely have a chance at seeing one or more Willets. 

Sometimes they are seen in flooded fields, other times at Hillman Marsh, and occasionally at the tip of Point Pelee National Park. On May 2, 2013, a quartet of Willets graced the tip of Point Pelee for much of the day. David Bell and I filled our memory cards with images of the birds later in the evening. They were quite approachable, as most shorebirds are if you take your time and move slowly.

This year I encountered a similar situation during the morning of - you guessed it - May 2nd! Sitting at the tip was a lone Willet, and so while the lighting wasn't ideal, I cracked off a few photos anyways. 

Compared with last year's photoshoot, this time the water was rather choppy, giving a different effect compared to the smooth backdrop from 2013. 

Willets are pretty plain looking at a distance, but up close they can be quite intricately detailed. Most of the ones we see in the spring are undergoing their pre-alternate molt, looking a little rattier then if you saw them a few weeks later in alternate plumage. The most striking plumage feature is only visible when they flap their wings. The bold black and white pattern is immediately obvious even at a great distance! Unfortunately I have yet to photograph one on the wing or in mid-flap yet...

Willets are without a doubt one of my favorite shorebirds! Rare enough to be a "good" bird at any time, fairly easy to approach and photograph, and plain enough looking that they don't get the same attention as, say, an American Golden-plover, or a gaudy Ruddy Turnstone, or a Marbled Godwit.

I'm already looking forward to crossing paths with one again at some point! Willet* be on May 2nd of next year? 

*see what I did there?

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