Shorebird Afternoon at
Rankin Bottoms and Dutch Bottoms, TN
Sunday, September 13, 2015
We all met at the Pilot Truck Stop off I-40 a little later in the morning so that we would arrive at Rankin with good lighting conditions, which is key for any shorebird study. At our first stop by the railroad tracks, we found most of the mudflats below us fairly dry and birdless. We did find a few songbirds around, a flock of young Indigo Buntings being the most notable. On the other side of the tracks we flushed a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron before heading to lunch and the next stop. After a delicious gourmet lunch we walked down the Ivy Trail to some of the best mudflats at Rankin. We were not disappointed as we found a small flock of juvenile Least Sandpipers foraging close by. From a close distance we studied their small size, yellow legs and overall rufous coloration. The rest of the mudflats here were shorebird free, probably due to the presence of a dark gray raptor sitting on a mudflat nearby – a Peregrine Falcon, seemingly dining on shorebird. We then drove to the coal tipple and scanned from few more spots from shore. Unfortunately, all the shorebirds that had been seen here recently had apparently continued their southward journeys. We did manage to find 2 Pectoral Sandpipers working the opposite shoreline, their streaky bibs visible even from this distance. Certainly one of the highlights of the day was a Red-headed Woodpecker, which we all got great looks at in the top of a sycamore. At the boat ramp along highway 32 we found 3 Caspian Terns with ~150 Ring-billed Gulls, as well as a large flock of Mallard. We made one more stop before calling it a day on the north side of the bridge on 32 at Dutch Bottoms. We struck out on shorebirds yet again but were treated to a nice show of diurnal raptors as we found Black and Turkey Vultures circling, 2 hunting Osprey and 4 1st/2nd year Bald Eagles acrobatically playing with each other – an excellent finish to a nice afternoon of birding.