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1000 Steps to Nowhere

August 16, 2010

I’m not a fan of crowds. I prefer quiet solitude. I prescribe to the principle of leave no trace and would go so far as to say take only pictures and try not to leave footprints. Apparently even the tree hugging crowd has a prejudice against those under foot. My concern is in part for the fossorial creatures, organisms that dig and live underground, as well as the animals above the surface that feed on them.

A walk at low tide reveals the need to take care of each step I take along the tidal flat. In front of me a myriad of shorebirds dig, poke, pry, sift, sort, scrape and probe the sand in search of dinner. As the tide recedes, the birds follow, searching for shells or telltale holes in the sand that will reveal tube worms, fiddler crabs, oysters and other delectable appetizers.

Despite their winged nature, the birds leave behind a textured tidal tapestry of footprints – a thousand steps to nowhere – from their weaving and wandering search for food. My footprints would not only stamp out their unintended artwork, but compact the sand and crush the critters that live in the sandy catacombs below.

I choose to stand in one place and watch. There is little competition among the many species feeding here this evening. Each shorebird has its own unique leg, bill and body shape adapted for a specific type of foraging. Resource partitioning allows several species to occupy a general area while feeding in disparate ways on similar prey items.

Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) use their squat body and short bill to turn shells and other surface debris over in search of a morsel.

Black-bellied Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) rely on sight as they zip along the sand, feeding on invertebrates on the surface.

Willet (Tringa semipalmata) use a medium length bill to probe the holes where short worms and larvae hide.

The Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa) uses a long bill to feel beneath the surface for worms and other large prey items that are out of reach for most other shorebirds.

The crowd of birds methodically paces the shoreline with the falling tide. I simply stand in one place. Picture taken. One set of footprints left.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Rosemary Allen permalink
    August 16, 2010 9:22 am

    I love these examples for resource partitioning! Beautifully written.

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