Mention fall migration and most of us think of duck covered wetlands in October or noisy, wavering Vs of geese in November. In fact, the autumn migration begins by July as the early shorebirds leave their breeding grounds across the Northern Plains and Arctic tundra and head for southern beaches for an extended winter vacation.
Today, I saw a few short-billed dowitchers and black-bellied plovers on the Gulf beaches of Longboat Key, Florida, the first fall migrants of the year (at least from my observations). The number and variety of shorebird migrants will build toward a peak in early September and will continue into early November as late travellers, such as dunlins, cross the Continent. Some will make multiple stops along the way, dropping by to rest and feed along inland lakes and reservoirs, while others head directly for coastal wintering grounds.
Not a fan of summer heat, these first autumn migrants were a welcome sight, a sign that the season of mild days, cool nights and colorful foliage will follow in their wake. If they shared my sentiments, they wouldn't be in such a rush to leave their Canadian homeland and might consider spending a month or so amidst the glorious scenery of a Midwest autumn. But, then, shorebirds are driven by instinct and do not consult travel agents.