Beach Bums

By Howard Platt from the February 2010 Edition

Imagine spending all day wandering along the beach, picking up snacks whenever you feel like it, and just generally having a good time. I think that is what Willets and Whimbrels do all day.

They love the wide open beaches of Playa Azul in Manzanillo, and they love the Pacific Sand Crabs. This is a Willet with a crab.

This is the little crab they like to eat. They live on the tide line and rapidly burrow into the sand as the water retreats – moving backwards, just like the ocean! They are about one and a half inches long and you can find them just under the surface where the ripples are on the beach. Around Manzanillo they are called Chocolopas but every area seems to have its own name for them.

I get confused identifying birds on the beach, so here is a shot of three different species all at one spot. The down-turned bill belongs to the Whimbrel, the short straight bill is a Willet and the upturned bill is a Marbled Godwit. Easy, right? Now, will I remember that next time – probably not!

Whimbrels appear to me to be more solitary, and like to make sure they have their crabs to themselves! I often see them running off so they can be alone with their meal.

THE WILLET ARE SOMETIMES a little sociable, and will travel in small groups. That has advantages – here is a Willet having a nap while buddies keep watch.

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