The Blacks are Back! Black Turnstones, that is. After summering in the western Alaskan arctic where they nest near coastal rivers and estuaries, Black and Ruddy Turnstones (two separate species) migrate south. These are 8” shorebirds that weight about the same as 4 AA batteries, and some birds amazingly short-cut across the Gulf of Alaska on their route to wintering here in the Salish Sea and along the outer coast. While most Ruddy Turnstones head farther south, we can see the Blacks here all winter, gathered in small flocks of up to 100 birds on docks or rocky shorelines. With strong bills they forage or ‘turn stones’ as they pry off limpets or acorn barnacles.
Dull colors contrast their more colorful counter species (the Ruddy has reddish-orange colors, while the Black is dark above with a white breast). From October to April, if you see flocks of dark birds the size of robins flying in formation around a shoreline or dock, they’re likely Blacks. After circling in unison flight, listen for their loud chattering after landing as they seemingly gossip about what just happened. Then in spring they head north again, finding the exact same nest and exact same partner to produce another family of turnstones.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work can be seen in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.