Long-billed Curlew, Numenius americanus, – Freezeout Lake, Montana: Perhaps many people would be surprised to discover that shorebirds are not always found along the seashore. In fact, most of North Americans shorebird species nest inland on the vast grasslands of the western and central plains and on the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Tundra.
The long-billed curlew is a large shorebird that nest on the North American grasslands. They range from British Columbia south to Nevada and eastward to the Great Plains. While breeding and raising young on the grasslands they primarily eat grasshoppers, beetles and various insects.
The long-billed curlew winters in Mexico and along the southern and eastern coast from North Carolina to Florida. Those that winter along the seashore are often seen probing mud flats and sandy shores for crabs and other small invertebrates. The long bill of the long-billed curlew allows them to probe deeper in the sediment and reach food not available to shorebirds with shorter bills, thus various species of shorebirds can feed on the same flats with out competing with one another.
Throughout my travels in the grasslands of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming I encountered long-billed curlew, but non were photographically cooperative. As soon as I stopped, the birds would take flight. But, my luck turned when I arrived in Montana.
I found this, and other curlews in a field as I was driving the roads on Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area. When I stopped the van the birds took flight, but instead of flying away, they flew toward me. It appeared that a nest was in the area, but I could not see young birds scurrying through the grass. A scene I had observed on numerous occasions when I stopped to photograph other curlews.
With the birds flying overhead and scolding me, I knew I only had a few minutes to work. If these birds were late nesters, I did not want to keep them from their nest very long. I quickly grabbed my camera with a 300mm lens and took hand held shots of the birds as they flew overhead. Within a few minutes I had the images I sought and was on my way.