One of the subtle delights of August can be found along the bays and inside harbors on the East Coast, as the first migrating shorebirds arrive from the north. This procession lasts into deep November. The birds, in sequence by sort, move on from their summer breeding places. They pause on the Mid-Atlantic shore, on beaches and flats, to comb for the tiny creatures that fuel their farther flights.
The late Peter Matthiessen wrote of them: “The restlessness of shorebirds, their kinship with the distance and swift seasons, the wistful signal of their voices down the long coastlines of the world make them, for me, the most affecting of wild creatures. I think of them as birds of wind, as ‘wind birds.’ ”
There were more of them when Matthiessen wrote this in the 1960s. World bird populations have fallen in the years since. Shorebirds, Matthiessen’s wind birds, have been doubly hurt by relentless waterfront development that has reduced their age-old stopovers. Now, one of their last great breeding redoubts, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, first preserved by President Eisenhower, may soon be reopened to oil and gas drilling.
Still the shorebirds come. For us on the East End, we can watch for them, plovers and sanderlings, willets and oystercatchers, almost any evening at any beach. These far-flying birds choose our shores to feed and rest on on their migrations. It is worth taking time to see them, to say hello, and ask ourselves how it can be that we share a world with such remarkable creatures.