Corps de Ballet

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Last week I was driving around agricultural country in southern Arizona with my friend, Carl Jackson, and we came across numerous Black-necked Stilts foraging.  It had rained recently and there were a few large puddles out on the desert floor.  The stilts were busily working these puddles and I suspect they were going after small insects and invertebrates that had been driven to the surface by the rain.

It was remarkable the way in which they synchronized their movements and I couldn’t help but think of ballerinas.

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Stilts are water birds who generally hang out along the coast.  They favor shallow ponds and estuaries.  They have evolved outlandishly long legs, which enable them to wade and forage in water that is several inches deep.  They use their long, pointed bills like pincers to pick off invertebrates in the water.

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What were these oddly graceful birds doing in the middle of a burning desert?  A good question, especially inasmuch as there wasn’t a pond, much less an estuary or marsh, within miles of where I made these photographs.  But, look at a map and you’ll discover that southern Arizona is only a couple hundred miles, as the stilt flies, from the Gulf of California.  It’s an easy flight for these birds, and surprisingly, they show up in the Tucson area in winter in relatively sizable numbers.

Photos taken with Canon 5Diii, 400 DO + 1.4X Extender, ISO 400, “M” setting, f6.3 @ 1/1600.

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