I fly over southern Washington State and think about my family and friends. Even though we are all flying north, we are spread over a wide band along the Pacific Coast. Migration routes are not distinct, direct flyways, but area wide, broad routes. These 'highways' in the air lead us to a place where we get funneled together in a " staging area." Once we arrive at a staging area, we cluster in large numbers. Because we group together in a fairly small area, we are very vulnerable. If something bad happens - like nasty weather, or an oil spill - many of us will die.
These "staging areas" are important because they are very few and very far between. There are not many places along the coast that are good places to stop and rest. There are so many of us flying north and it is only in these special wetland "staging areas" that our huge flocks can rest and feed. Scientists don't know why, but we use the same stopover sites year after year. Due to our adaptations, we are instinctually locked into our staging areas.
Favorable winds push me north. I wonder where Jorge is and if he is being helped by the same winds? As my energy begins to wind down, I spot the coastline of what I think is Gray's Harbor. I see healthy estuaries including open water areas (subtidal) and mudflats with rocky shores (intertidal). Here humans have made some changes to the landscape but there is also open marshland. The flock swoops down to join a busily feeding group. I am relieved to land, but I am SOOOO hungry. Rest can wait. I must eat.
How many weeks has it been since we left Mexico? I spot Abuelito! I am so excited! I try to take off before my wings are ready for flight. I chirp and chirp in glee as I approach him from the west. He looks weathered and drained but is focusing on eating as many mollusks as he can. Neither of us has energy to do more than push our beaks into the sand. It is so nice to be in the safe presence of someone familiar and wise. I feel like I can relax a little bit. We are lucky because it is low tide. The mud flats are not covered by water and it is easy to find worms.
After many hours of feasting, Abuelito raises his beak out of the mud and wants to know how my journey has been. I tell him that I almost died at San Francisco Bay but that I feel a bit more confident now. Abuelito says that my feathers are starting to change. My head and shoulders are speckled with rust and tan. "Another miraculous advantage that nature provides us," he laughs. We are very fortunate to have "camouflage." We blend into the environment better and predators like hawks can't see us as easily.
Abuelito points out other shorebird friends who use a similar "short-hop" strategy as they migrate to the Arctic. Across the mudflats are flocks of dowitchers, yellowlegs, dunlins, and semipalmated sandpipers.
Several days of gorging with Abuelito has me ready for the next leg of the trip. When the flock lifts, we join the group. Once again, we are airborne and on our own.