Grassland

22 04 2014

I have two main study areas that I visit on a daily basis. The first area is the edge habitat along the road where I live. There are wooded areas, open lawns and fields, and wetlands. The second area is a wide expanse of grassland comprised of many different agricultural fields with various purposes. Having places that I visit daily to learn about the biodiversity and ecology of the area satisfies the scientific part of my brain and at the same time it feeds my soul. I quietly observe and make mental connections while the magic and beauty of nature reveals itself. There is something powerful about coming to know a place on that level. The world rushes by and I am still, wrapped up in the magnificence of the unseen world.

The more I observe the grassland habitat, the more I realize how fragile it is. Most of the species that I see live on grazing land or in fallow fields the status of which could change at any time as land is sold and new crops grown. Tonight I added to the list of species I have observed that are dependent on this land remaining as it is. As I drove down one of my favorite roads tonight I was using my peripheral vision to scan for northern harriers and short-eared owls. I usually drive with at least one window down so I can hear what is going on in the fields and tonight I heard the most peculiar sound. Click on this link to listen to what I heard.  After searching for several minutes I spotted this beautiful upland sandpiper on a rock. It was calling loudly and I heard another off in the distance occasionally singing their wolf-like song.

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Upland Sandpiper

The sandpiper that I observed spent quite a long time on this rock calling, running back and forth, and holding its wings up off its back. After watching for about 30 minutes it flew off into the field. I turned around and drove back by a little while later. I spotted two sandpipers foraging and running about in the field.

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Upland Sandpipers are speckled and well camouflaged.

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This sandpiper went back and forth on the rock keenly observing its surroundings.

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In addition to calling and pacing the sandpiper also stood with its wings off its back. This wasn’t a precursor to flight nor was it right after it landed. It simple called and lifted its wings.

Upland sandpipers are prevalent throughout the US but limited to only two main areas in NY. According the the DEC website upland sandpipers are limited to the St. Lawrence Valley in Jefferson County and the Mohawk Valley.  Despite my study area being north of the valley there were at least two in a field tonight where I study. The number of upland sandpipers has been declining for decades. At one time they were common and widespread in NY. Now they are considered uncommon breeders mainly due to habitat destruction. It will be interesting to see if these upland sandpipers are here to breed or if they are just passing through.

Here are two links to additional information about the upland sandpiper.

http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/59582.html

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Upland_Sandpiper/lifehistory


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