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Restored Wetlands Provide Opportunity to See Rare Bird

Each year, volunteers gather at Glacial Ridge to look for unique wetland birds for the Shorebird Blitz. Photo by Jessica Dowler, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Each year, volunteers gather at Glacial Ridge to look for unique wetland birds for the Shorebird Blitz. Photo by Jessica Dowler, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There is just something special about the marbled godwit. Maybe it’s the shorebird’s super long bill, tall legs or funny name, but I’ve called this bird my favorite for years.

I first spotted one in 1998, while taking a look at some private lands enrolled in a conservation easement program. This strange bird flew right over me, landed ahead a bit and scooted across the gravel with great speed. I didn’t know what it was at first. After I identified the creature, I had a good chuckle at the name.

I didn’t see a marbled godwit, known for their elusive nature, until several years later. Over time, I learned the best place to find them.

The marbled godwit is one of three target shorebirds counted annually at the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge each May during the annual Shorebird Blitz. This year’s event is in a couple of days, scheduled for May 20.

Last year, 23 marbled godwits, seven upland sandpipers, and zero Wilson’s phalaropes. These numbers are lower than the count in 2012, but we’re hoping for a higher count this year.

It’s all about timing though, and this year I hope to be in the right place at the right time to see my favorite bird. Seeing one always makes me smile.

The Shorebird Blitz is a one-day survey focused on counting marbled godwits, upland sandpipers and Wilson’s phalaropes. Volunteers show up at sunrise, and wildlife biologists provide information on what the birds look like and the calls they make.

Each volunteer is assigned a transect, a designated line that the volunteer walks and surveys. Those that participate need to be prepared as the middle of May in Minnesota can still be cold and wet. The first time I surveyed, I ended up thigh high in a prairie pothole full of water. I was determined not to move off my transect, and I paid the price! I got a bit wet, but it was worth it.

Glacial Ridge is the nation’s largest prairie wetland restoration project, spanning more than 24,000 acres in Polk County in northwestern Minnesota. The marbled godwit and the other shorebirds depend on the landscape of Glacial Ridge. During the breeding season, marbled godwits prefer native grasslands with short grasses near wetlands.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service started working private landowners in the 1990s to restore native vegetation and wetlands through the former Wetland Reserve Program, now called the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The Nature Conservancy purchased the land in 2000 and worked with NRCS and more than 30 partners to restore the land to prairie wetland habitat. In 2004, Glacial Ridge was designated a national wildlife refuge.

NRCS works with private landowners and partners to restore wetlands and other vital landscapes. I’m proud of our work to ensure we have healthy habitat for the marbled godwit and other wildlife, and I’m looking forward to catching a glimpse of the godwit this year.

A marbled godwit searches for his lunch along the edge of prairie wetlands. NRCS photo.

A marbled godwit searches for his lunch along the edge of prairie wetlands. NRCS photo.

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