When, where and how to see the shorebirds

Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2003

Mid-April through May is the best time to look for spring migrating shorebirds.

If you don't see many on one day, don't give up. Shorebirds move through in waves and may spend only one or a few days at a refueling site. You might see hundreds or even thousands of shorebirds on one day, then virtually none the next.

One of the best places to see shorebirds is on the mud flats near the mouth of the Mendenhall River at low tide. That's where you'll see the greatest variety and the greatest numbers. You will need good binoculars, or better yet a spotting scope, to keep from disturbing the birds.

If you are unfamiliar with this area, be careful. Tides advancing into sloughs that you crossed en route can make for a very wet return. Soft areas among the fucus beds can pull off your boots or make it difficult to pull your feet out of the mud.

One of the easiest places to see shorebirds is from the Airport Dike Trail. From the upper edges of the sloughs near the dike, from the shore of Otter Pond near the gazebo, and within the floatplane basin, you will probably see both species of yellowlegs, both species of dowitchers, and small numbers of other types as well. The birds generally are not disturbed by people walking quietly on the main trail, and you can walk in this area wearing just tennis shoes or even pushing a baby carriage.

One of the best ways to see and learn to identify shorebirds is to participate in the Juneau Audubon Society's Saturday morning bird walks. Trips are scheduled for the Mendenhall Wetlands on April 26, and on May 10, 17 and 24. Meet at the end of Radcliffe Road at 8 a.m. Another trip is scheduled for Sunday, May 4. Watch the Empire for the departure time to be announced.

If you'd rather watch the birds on your own, the Audubon Society has printed a checklist showing all birds that have been seen on the wetlands, how commonly they are seen and which ones are known or believed to breed in the area. You can pick up checklists from a small box attached to the refuge sign at the beginning of the Airport Dike Trail.

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