Contrary to what it’s called, the “fall” migration of shorebirds has been underway since early July, and is in full swing, peaking in August. Vermont is home to only a few breeding shorebirds (Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, American Woodcock). Most of the shorebirds we see this time of year are those migrating south after nesting in the Arctic.
Shorebirds move south relatively early compared to many migratory birds, in part, because the breeding season in the Arctic is quite short. In addition, those birds whose first nesting attempt failed tend to migrate soon afterwards rather than attempt a second nesting, due, once again, to the brief Arctic summer. Also, in several species one member of a pair often leaves before the young are full grown, sometimes even before the eggs hatch, leaving the remaining adult to raise the young.
The young of most shorebirds migrate later than the adults. There can be as much as a month between the peak passage of adults and that of juvenile birds. (Photo: Greater Yellowlegs)
American Bur-reed, Sparganium americanum, is an aquatic, perennial plant that grows two to four feet high and looks a lot like a grass due to its narrow leaves (but isn’t). This member of the Cattail family grows in shallow water (up to a foot deep) in marshes and along muddy shorelines. The flower stem forms a zig-zag pattern with flower clusters at each stem juncture. The large, spherical female flowers are located on the lower part of the stem, with the smaller male flowers at the top.
Considered an important plant for conservation purposes, American Bur-reed has the ability to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wetlands. It can help prevent eutrophication by lessening the buildup of nitrogen (often from agricultural land) and phosphorus (households, industry) from runoff.
American Bur-reed spreads rapidly through its underground root systems of rhizomes, and is relied upon by many birds as an important source of food. Waterfowl, including Mallards, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Greater Scaup, Buffleheads, Canvasbacks, American Wigeons and Blue-winged Teal, consume the seeds, as do Soras, Virginia Rails and Wilson’s Snipe. Muskrats eat the entire plant. (Thanks to Kay Shumway for photo op.)