Natural Born Zombie Killer

Welcome to November everyone! Granted we are a few days into it, but I’ve finally managed to make it to surface for some badly needed air. Halloween has past (long live the haunt!), sadness has been overwhelmed by cherished memories and, as of last Saturday, my race season has likely come to a close unless a race in the snow happens to catch my fancy. Although we are likely a ways from the ground sticking fluffy stuff, Bri needs some time for rest and healing – the 100K race left its mark. Now the focus turns to getting back to “normal” and the first order of business is feathers.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

I know some of you were wondering when we were going to get back to our featured feathered friends .. after all, this is a blog that is supposed to be about all things wild. In my defense, zombie encounters can get a bit wild if you don’t have a long pointy stick to pop them in the head with. Today’s featured shorebird has absolutely no fear of running into the walking dead. They just causally walk up to the animated corpse and “bill” them in the head.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

Hit the jump to learn more about our natural born “zombie killer”.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to get a shot of this unique behavior – likely due to running my ass away (or at least staying ahead of Ron) to get to safety – and people still wonder why I train ha. I did manage to get these images of a Long-Billed Curlew strolling on the beach at South Padre Island.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

It is hard to mistake a Long-Billed Curlew for any other shorebird at least in the States. They are a relatively tall bird compared to the majority of other shore-walkers, but clearly it is the bill that really sets them apart. Not only is their snout about three times the size of their head, they also have a significant downward bend in it. That feature alone narrows the ID to pretty much the Ibisis, Wood Storks and the Whimbrel.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

Ibises are definitely larger than the Curlew and their coloring is significantly different. White Ibises (link here) are ….well, all white with pink on their heads and the Glossy (link here) and White-Faced (link here) variety are significantly darker (bronzed) compared to the tannish barring of the Curlew and all are larger in stature. The Wood Stork (link here) is right out because our featured thin-billed species is extremely cute where the Stork is one of those that Brad has coined “a face only a mother could love” (link here). Yes, we here at Intrigued are known to body-shame birds, but we only do it in a respectful, loving and helpful manner. For the record, the Stork’s bill is far heavier in structure and they also dress in the white and black color palette.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

That leaves one sticky decision in the mix and that is the Whimbrel. I’d love to give you a link here that would take you to a post I had previously made on the Whimbrel, but there is one minor, itty, bitty, infinitesimal, minuscule, diminutive, dinky issue – I’ve NEVER seen one in the wild. Truth is, it has become my nemesis bird, as of late. UPDATE – my mistake, I originally referenced a sighting at Brazos Bend SP – in actuality it was a Limpkin, not a Whimbrel that was found at Brazos, which I also do not have – apologies for the confusion – I blame race fatigue ha. I was hoping to get one on our trip to Dauphin Island/Florida Panhandle back in April of 21 – missed it. Planned to remedy that miss with a trip there this year, but that had to be canceled while we tended to mother and then we had everything mapped out to go to Sanibel Island and we all know what happened there.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

Long(er) story short, no check for Bri on the Whimbrel front. I can relay the key different in case you are luckier than I am in the field. The best distinguisher is the bill. Both have a down-curve, but the Whimbrel has a much smaller bill – at least in relationship to their head. From my highly scientific measuring device (read thumb and finger), I put the head to bill ratio in the 1.5 range vs 3 for the Curlew – note, I am currently meeting daily with the English measurement standards body to get the “Doerfpinch” or “Dinch” for short, unit of measure into the latest CRC edition.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

If you have a good eye or sufficiently close images, you may also notice the Whimbrel has a striped crown vs the more solid crown of the Curlew. This is one of those markings that gets a little difficult depending on the angle and season as most shorebirds tend to have a lot of variety in their feathering. For example, most Curlews are more cinnamon washed where our specimen is rather pale through the belly.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

Then there are times you get a shot like this and you can’t tell what the hell it is – Alex, I’ll take “Long Legged Puffer Fish Impersonations for $200”.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

I should probably get to some interesting facts about the Long-Billed Curlew now that you are adequately equipped to identify them in the field. They spend their winters in Central American and along the coastline of our southern half. Cornell informs us that they head up to the Great Plains/Basin areas for breeding. Their long bills allow them to probe for invertebrates during the winter months and then nourish on Grasshoppers during their breeding season.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

As much as I bitch about some of the poor choices from the bird naming association, I have to give them credit for the selection for this species. They do indeed have a long bill – no need to sneak up on one of these specimens, launch out of the reeds, tackle one to the ground and pull back the neck feathers to see if there is a ring (link here). What I didn’t know was that their genus name includes Numenius which means “zombie killer” in Latin.

Long-Billed Curlew found at South Padre Island in December 2016

“What? A huh? Are you sure? And if I don’t? You don’t say? But it was intended as a joke? Hmmmmm, How much do I pay you to hassle me like this?, Did you slither to work today?” Okay, folks, just got off the phone with my stick-in-the-mud legal team and they have demanded I correct a slight stretch of the truth – Numenius is actually Latin for “of the new moon” in recognition of the curvature of their bill – sometimes it is just better to comply than to fight it ha.

Well, hope you enjoyed reading about the third member of the Stooges. With everything settling down, should be good month of posting and even have some new posts from Brad ready to head your way.

47 thoughts on “Natural Born Zombie Killer”

    1. Definitely feels good to get out from under all the pressure as of late. Still have a lot of things to get done this month, but nothing pressing that can’t push a day..or maybe 2 – although the leaves are piling up again and need to take another go at those.

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        1. Wish I could – unfortunately, living here in the woods, burning the annual foot deep leaf covering in the yard is the only way to keep any resemblance of grass – did it once already, but the oaks have finally released their barrage so time to do it all again (as soon as the wind dies down yesterday they were 25mph – would likely solve the problem for next year as I’d probably light the entire forest on fire ha.

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          1. Open burning is not allowed here. Too dry. We either have to bag them to be hauled off or let them lie. We don’t have a lawn, so leaf litter fits right in with our mulch.

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          2. No burning would be a problem and not going to buy hundreds of bags (had to do that for my mother who lived in the city) so I’d definitely be with your assessment of the situation if I was down there.

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          3. Back in the dark ages of my youth, we burned tumbleweeds and leaves. We had a burning barrel where we burned all the combustible trash We composted all the organic waste, and then every six months or so, we loaded up the truck with the burning barrel and all the non-combustible and non-compostable trash and made a run to the county landfill. We paid a couple of bucks and dumped the trash and ashes in the landfill. Nowadays we have to pay for trash service to pick up our trash and recyclables once a week, and haul them to the landfill where the combustibles are burned and the rest of the trash is buried. I don’t really know what the do with the recycling. I get the feeling it all eventually ends up in the landfill. BTW Skads of eagulls and crows fight over whatever they think is eatable at the landfill. It’s like two large feathered gangs having a huge rumble at the landfill.

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          4. I question all this recycle stuff as well – never see where it goes anywhere different or see any visible benefit. We do dump our cardboard and plastics off at a place in the small town near us, but I never see a report on how much money it brings in or what % benefit it brings so I’m pretty skeptical. Our local trash company got bought out by a conglomerate – now the price is doubled, the service is halved and they never hit their times – told us the new time was 5am – they have never been here before 12:15. I’ve been to the Brownsville, TX dump to bird (they have a rare bird there I needed) – you are right on – feathered gangs snapping their fingers like they are in the Beat It video (complete with tasty Eddie Van Halen guitar licks)

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          5. We got a picnic bench made out of recycled plastic for the patio at the office. It weighs a ton. I had to help the delivery guy carry all the parts in because he couldn’t carry them by himself. Bet then I had to put the thing together, and when it came time to turn the assemble bench over, a staff member and I almost didn’t get it turned over. That is one plastic bench, made from recycled plastic that is not going anywhere.

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          6. Yikes, apparently oblivious to the how erratic and destructive those swirly things can be – couple have come close us here and a tiny one put a line through our back woods – thankfully an extremely narrow band, but lifted whole trees out of the ground in its path.

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    1. Well, they are technically zombie killers, so they are really just disposing of those that are already dead – more like a Vulture ha. Thanks for coming by Rudi, appreciate you taking the time to join in the conversation.

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  1. What a schnoz! Must make flying long distances difficult. I liked the stripey camouflage coloring, makes it easier to sneak up on zombies.
    Need I mention the other nemesis bird? The one you sent me after in CO last week? The one with such good camouflage I couldn’t find it?

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    1. Are you talking about me or the bird hehehehe (here all week!) I am pretty sure their camo adaptation is a direct result of their zombie hunting skills although you think they would have transitioned to shorter legs by now so they could hide behind smaller brush. Oh yes, that damn PT bird that definitely has my number. The annoying part is I told my nonbirding friend (you probably know Billy M) about that bird and he comes back with a cellphone picture of one from the same place we have both tried to tin one – aaaaarrrrgggghhhh!

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      1. The bird of course. I’m only a Staff Writer at Intrigued. Maybe I should leave the big glass home next time I look for a PT bird. Maybe we can use the corporate jet for a birding weekend…just smartphones.

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        1. Staff Writers are allowed to make fun of me – it’s in the contract ha! There might be something to leaving the glass at home as it does seem I see a lot of cool birds when I have nothing to get a good tin with – pretty sure they do it on purpose. Corporate jet is grounded for a bit (and the corporate RV) – price of diesel is now $6.19 here which tells you how much jet fuel is at the moment – let’s thank our tax-evading Governor.

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    1. Agreed, so cute in the Cyrano De Bergerac kind of way – had to look at the shots again to remember their two-color bills – you are absolutely right there. Maybe I should have have gone with Werewolf killer in reference to their moon association (although they would really hunt on full and not new moons soooo, zombie killer it is ha! Appreciate you dropping in Sam (yes, that’s t-h-e Sam with the Whimbrel encounter).

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      1. You know, I’ve searched my site (both the words and the photos) for a Whimbrel, and cannot find it. I wonder if you might be remembering the Willet from a post I did in April 2021? If you can point me to my Whimbrel, I’ll gladly check into the old folks home!

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        1. Sorry, sorry, don’t sign up for the old folks home on my account!!! I am a victim of my own editing/pruning. I had also originally included a Limpkin in my comparison analysis and decided that is pretty hard to confuse with a Curlew so pruned that all out – then I went and got confused with your sighting of the Limpkin at Brazos which I also do not have and …well pretty much screwed it all up sigh… maybe I still need race recover on the mental side. My apologies and thanks for getting me back on the rails!

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  2. I enjoyed these fantastic photos of the long-billed curlew so very much, Brian, yours and ES’s. A bird I have not seen often and one that I never ever tire of, with that magnificent bill. Lots of great poses to enjoy here, the photos with the head all turned around and the flight. The bill in the sand doing its thing, and the opening photo with the shadow…terrific. Really a treat to see these photos, and to read your fun narrative.

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    1. Thank you Jet – beyond the last desperate attempt to get a picture of their back feathering, this specimen was incredibly accommodating from a photographer’s perspective. Due to their range I also do get a chance to see them very often, so every encounter is a treat (mostly see them on our month long January trips to the Texas Gulf Coast). Glad you enjoyed and appreciate the kind words – oh, and also thanks for showing me the inside of a buckeye – that was a first for me.

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    1. Ha, I set myself up for the dinky jokes hehehe – but the water is cold down there that time of the year hehehe. We encountered this specimen on the Texas Gulf Coastline down in South Padre Island. We’ve seen them pretty regularly down there as well as further north in the Galveston Island region. Never seen more that one at a time – apparently not that social during the winter months. Thanks for coming by Vic (and giving me a good laugh)

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        1. We also really like the Galveston area and always make a point to spend several days either on our way back or coming from SPI depending on which path we use to get there (this year we are catching it on the way back). We are excited to try out their new state park campgrounds they’ve been renovation for the past couple of years. We really like SPI and use that as our base point for our “snowbird” trips to Texas each year. A couple of incredible places to bird there and gives us the ability to quickly get to our favorite birding hotspots along the Rio Grande before we move camp closer to Mission/McAllen – not to mention SpaceX is right near there as well. There are a lot of places in the Houston area we like as well – Brazos Bend SP is not to be missed if you are around there (the largest concentration of Black Vultures I have ever witnessed).

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          1. I left Texas in May 2011 and returned home to NC. I haven’t been back, since. Was never able to. Still have friends there. Miss the Austin from 2002 to 2011. Different town, now. Lived in Round Rock. Had a HS classmate move there…lived in La Marque, then Spring, then in the Sam Houston park area. Job transferred him to the Chicago area. He still wants to retire to TX.

            Spent a lot of time up in Fort Worth, too.

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          2. Wow, you’ve definitely had a lot more Texas experience than we have. We are going to check out Austin and Waco this year having caught San Antonio in our last trip down there. If we didn’t love our house here in the country woods (built it to retire in) and all of our family/friends scattered about, we’d probably already be gone from this state.

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          3. I also never made it to the Texas Rangers Museum in Waco but, did make it to the old military plane museum in Galveston (no longer there after Ike). All the planes moved to the Lone Star Flight Museum in Houston. It was at Galveston Army Airfield. Ike damaged some planes.

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  3. Great portraits of them from different angles! What a bill. I have been dive bombed by them while doing field work in eastern Washington state. Luckily, I didn’t get skewered by that bill. 😉

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    1. You are quite welcome Cheryl – I think of it as a win-win, get a chance to reinforce/validate my own field guidance and in turn help out those who may not be as familiar with the various nuances in similar looking birds – although, in this case , that bill definitely sets it far apart (pardon the pun) from the other species options. Birding is a blessing to me as it is one of the few activities that lets me relax and simultaneously ignore life’s stressors. Except when I’m out with my brother Ron and then it reaches top tier levels of competitiveness hehehehe. As always, brings a smile whenever I see your comments.

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    1. Didn’t know you were a fan of SPI CJ – we absolutely enjoy being down in that area, the water, sand, the laid back life and, of course, the birding are all soup for the soul. Thanks for dropping in CJ (apologies, for being behind on your posts…trying to get caught up, but those damn leaves keep dropping)

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    1. I can imagine it does – a romantic dinner for two, plate of meatball topped spaghetti in the middle, slowly slurping both ends of the same strand as they close their eyes to engage in a romantic kiss and WHAM, they both get a beak in the eye, they stumble around, crash into nearby tables making a mess of things until they are tossed out on their tails by the restaurant staff only to have a rude taxi driver splash the nearby puddle soaking their wings and drowning what was assuredly a love of a lifetime forever immortalized in bad memories…..

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