STILTS, PLOVERS, SANDPIPERS, GULLS, AND TERNS

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The species included below are an abbreviated set of the shorebirds that are possible in central Florida.  They represent, in my experience, the species that are most likely to occur regularly on the refuge.  Lake Woodruff NWR doesn't normally attract especially high diversity or abundance of these birds.  A good day would include perhaps a half-dozen species and maybe a couple of hundred birds.  Opportunities for shorebird photography at Woodruff are generally poor - most species are usually far from the dikes, or seen in flight.

Stilts

                   Black-necked Stilts occur regularly every spring on the refuge, and in some years a couple of pairs may stay to breed if the water levels are suitable.  Pool 1 can have as many as 20-25 birds on it at once in April.  The first Stilts usually arrive in late March, and unless some remain to breed, they are usually gone by early May.

Plovers - a Semipalmated Plover or two is a possibility when conditions are just right, but I've never found them at Woodruff.

     The only plover that occurs with regularity on the refuge is the Killdeer.  They can be found any time of year, but are most common in fall through spring.  Look for them on the dikes or in any of the impoundments with exposed mudflats. 

Sandpipers - a handful of species can be seen on the refuge; the most reliable sites generally are the center of Pool 1 when water levels are low and there are exposed mudflats, and the shallow marshes of Pool 2 south of Jones Island.

Usually the most conspicuous of the shorebirds, both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs can be present on the refuge from fall to spring. They can be distinguished by call, or by size if you happen to see both species near one another.  The bill of the Lesser Yellowlegs (left) is somewhat shorter and lacks the slight upturn of the Greater Yellowleg's (right) beak. 
                An occasional Dowitcher may appear during migration when low water levels produce extensive mudflats.  Both Short-billed Dowitchers and Long-billed Dowitchers are possible, though I rarely attempt to distinguish them.  Long-billeds are purported to be more common inland at freshwater pools, but distinguishing the two species when they aren't in breeding plumage is something I leave to the experts.
           Of the small "peep" sandpipers, Western, Semipalmated, Leasts, and even White-rumpeds are possible during migration or the winter, but in my experience, most of the peeps seen at Woodruff are Least Sandpipers.  The yellow legs readily distinguish them from the other small peeps, which have darker legs.
                Though never abundant, Pectoral Sandpipers are occasionally present in small numbers during migration.  Mudflats in Pool 1 are where I have seen them, but they could occur in the grassier flats and marshes of Pool 2 south of Jones Island.
              In contrast to most of the other sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers are more likely to be seen along the edges of canals or even along the trails in the hammocks when rains have left standing water in the woods.   As the name suggests, they don't normally occur in medium-large flocks like many of the other sandpipers.  They are usually seen alone or in small numbers.  They don't seem to like to be out in the open as much as some of the other sandpipers.
              Spotted Sandpipers appear occasionally in migration, usually as single birds.  They are most commonly seen working the edge of canals, moving rather methodically along the water's edge, constantly bobbing the body backwards and forwards.  Although they can be found in Florida during winter, they are not normally seen at Woodruff then.  This is a winter-plumaged bird that shows no trace of the spots on the breast that  become prominent in breeding plumage.
          Wilson's Snipe can be fairly common during migration and during the winter on the refuge, but are usually quite cryptic and must be sought carefully.  The marshes of Pool 2 south of Jones Island are a good place to look for them, as are the more thickly vegetated shallow northern end of Pool 1.  They are sometimes  flushed from the edges of the dikes in these areas; their rasping brzzzzt call as they fly off is a giveaway.
                Never common, or even regular, American Woodcock are sometimes found during fall and spring migration in the wooded habitats.   You usually have to get off the trails and into the more dense cover to flush them, though, and then usually get only a fleeting glimpse as they fly away.

Gulls and Terns - Laughing Gulls and Bonaparte's Gulls are possible, but unusual.  Black Terns may pass through in late summer, but I've not seen them there.

A few Ring-billed Gulls are sometimes seen on the refuge in winter.  They are usually seen near or over the larger impoundments or over Spring Garden Lake.
      Smaller terns seen over the impoundments or over Spring Garden Lake in migration or winter are nearly always Forster's Terns.
     The larger Caspian tern, with its deep red bill, is often present in winter, though typically only one or two individuals are seen at any one time.

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