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The Pungent Mudflat

It may not smell good, but it's full of life, even as it decays!

On the shore of a saltwater bay, the tide goes out, revealing a broad expanse of dark, glistening mudflat. Mudflats are rich in nutrients, such as decomposing organic matter and minerals. Far from wastelands, mudflats also support a bounty of life including vast quantities of tiny snails and clams, worms, crustaceans, larvae, and much more. Millions of shorebirds - including these Lesser (right) and Greater (left) Yellowlegs - follow shorelines and their mudflats each spring and fall, where they feast upon those tiny creatures hidden beneath the mud's surface, a banquet that powers the birds' continent-spanning migrations.

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Transcript: 

BirdNote®

The Pungent Mudflat

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.
[Glaucous-winged gulls crying, evoking the shoreline]
Today we’re walking the shoreline of a saltwater bay. The tide’s going out, revealing a broad, expanse of dark, glistening mudflat.
This muddy plain might appear a waste of natural space, a mere transient landscape awaiting the rising tide. And that low tide smell! On a hot day, it goes right by pungent, heading for malodorous!
But that mudflat fragrance offers an important clue. Mudflats are rich in nutrients, such as decomposing organic matter and minerals. Mudflats, far from wastelands, support a bounty of life, such as foraging sandpipers called Dunlin.  [Large flock of Dunlin]
Much of this life lies below the surface. Scoop up a pail of mud and you might find – in addition to a clam or two big enough to eat – vast quantities of tiny snails and clams, worms, crustaceans, larvae, and much more.
Mudflats also support a bounty of bird life. Millions of shorebirds follow shorelines and their mudflats each spring and fall, where they feast upon those tiny creatures hidden beneath the mud’s surface, a banquet that powers the birds’ continent-spanning migrations.
So the next time you wrinkle your nose at low tide, imagine the countless creatures that draw their lifeblood from that fragrant mudflat.
[Glaucous-winged gulls crying, evoking the shoreline]
Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation. For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
                                                                               ###
Sounds of birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Calls of Glaucous-winged Gull 137881 recorded by G. Vyn; calls of flock of Dunlin 59435-2 by W.W. H. Gunn
Mudflat ambient with gulls recorded by C. Peterson.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org     September 2017   Narrator: Michael Stein
ID#             mudflat-01-2012-09-17    mudflat-01

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