Walking the shore of the Gulf of Mexico - Fort De Soto County Park, Pinellas County, Florida - D200, HH, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 250, 80-400mm VR at 340mm, natural light
The first time I ever saw a Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) was in Florida and I was throughly enchanted by its beautiful warm colors, the grace with which it moved and the elegant curves of its body and bill. It is North America’s largest sandpiper with a wingspan of between 30 to 39 inches, it towers over the smaller peeps that share its breeding and wintering grounds. Females Long-billed Curlews are generally a bit larger than the male and they also have the longest bill of the two sexes.
Long-billed Curlew with Fiddler Crab in Florida - D200, HH, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 250, 80-400mm VR at 340mm, natural light
In Florida the long-billed curlews feed on small crustaceans like the fiddler crab pictured above, they also probe for insects, worms and small fish. The curvature of the bill is adapted to probing for food in wet sand, tidal mud, marshy areas of its wintering grounds and in the grasslands of the prairies of the western parts of North America.
The bird pictured above didn’t go to the breeding grounds with the other curlews, instead it spent the summer on the north beach of Fort DeSoto in Florida, which gave me ample opportunities to photograph it while I was still living there.
Strolling through the Sea Purslane - Fort De Soto County Park, Pinellas County, Florida - D200, HH, f6.3, 1/350, ISO 250, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
During the time I was able to observe and photograph the long-billed curlew in Florida I never once heard it call. I watched it preen, bathe, hunt, eat and rest and was surprised at how close it would come to me as I laid in the sand photographing it or when I would sit quietly in the shallow waters of the lagoons. It seemed fearless of me. But my approach to photographing shorebirds is to not cause them alarm and allowing them to come closer to me while being very still.
Young male Long-billed Curlew in early morning light on Antelope Island – D200, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 400, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm
The first time I saw a Long-billed Curlew in Utah was at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and I was utterly surprised to see one in such different habitat than I was used to seeing them in Florida. But as I grow as a bird photographer I have learned that quite often migratory birds live in very different habitats during breeding season than during winter.
Curlews seem to return to the Utah prairies around early April, the young male pictured above was photographed on April 24, 2010 in the early morning.
Curlew in the grasslands of Utah – D200, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 400, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
In Utah; for the first time, I heard the hauntingly beautiful call of the long-billed curlew. It is the kind of sound that once you have heard it you won’t ever forget it. For me, now that I live in Utah, I look forward to those calls early next spring. I also hope to be able to photograph the courtship displays which I understand are remarkable.
Long-billed Curlew hunting in the grasses of Utah – D200, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 320, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
There are two shorebirds that can be mistaken for a Long-billed Curlew , they are Marbled Godwits and Whimbrels. They have similar coloring, all have long bills, but the long-billed curlew has the longest bill. The marbled godwit’s bill is never as curved as the long-billed curlew and the whimbrels bill is long but thicker. There are also differences in plumage. See below.
If you have never heard the call of the long-billed curlew I hope that at some point in your life that you do, it is as beautiful as the long-billed curlews are.