Archive for Shorebirds

Dunlin, male 11/20/17

In New England we have a handful of shorebirds that spend the winter and Dunlin are one of them. This one is in gray above and white below winter plumage, while Dunlin in breeding plumage are quite striking with black bellies and quite rusty reddish backs. In all plumages they have black legs and a long decurved black bill. Once you’re familiar with them you’ll know that this one’s bill is actually short for a Dunlin, indicating it’s male. They breed all around the Arctic and winter along temperate and tropical coasts and come in ten subspecies. I found this one by itself but in winter they become quite social forming large flocks, the nearest one I know of can be found in Hampton Beach.

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Purples are back! 11/11/17

The arrival of Purple Sandpipers at Seapoint represents a season change in my bird calendar. It’s Bird Winter now. Purples are the very last of the shorebird migrants, only instead of passing through these birds are arriving from the high Arctic to take up residence along more temperate coasts for the winter. Only 2 have arrived at Seapoint so far, but eventually the flock will settle out somewhere between 40 and 80 individuals, staying until April. You’ll find them foraging for invertebrates among the rocks and surf. Note the orange in both the legs and bill, the dark streaky breast, and the somewhat long and slightly drooping bill.

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Sanderling juves molting 10/20/17

Here are a couple of migrating Sanderlings basking in the October sun of Crescent Beach while brine flies swarm up from the decaying seaweed. Many shorebird species I never see in winter plumage, while others I never see in breeding plumage. But one of the things I like best about Sanderlings is that I can see them in every plumage possible if I’m just patient enough. That’s possible because a small number winter in Maine, while others continue on to the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego. The nearest winter flock to the north can be found just a few miles up the coast on Ogunquit Beach, or Hampton Beach to the south. In these 2 birds, the typical spangled black and white of Sanderling juvenile plumage is about halfway molted to the soft gray upper-parts and pure white underparts of winter plumage. Over the next month or so they’ll become indistinguishable from adults already in their winter duds.

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White-rumped Sandpiper juve 10/12/17

White-rumped Sandpiper juveniles are just now arriving and signal the last phase of shorebird migration in New England. I see a few at Fort Foster or Seapoint well into November, and of course there are still stragglers from many other shorebird species, but White-rump juves migrate late though are nowhere near as numerous as Semipals and Leasts. Their parents came through in August and early September, having already molted into their gray non-breeding plumage. They are only a bit larger than Semipals, being one of the 5 “peep” species of the smallest sandpipers. Note the reddish braces on the back, the streaky breast, prominent eyebrow stripe. The extra long wingtips extending beyond the tail are only seen in the similarly sized but more golden-colored Bairds Sandpiper. The eponymous white rump is only seen if they lift their wings in a stretch or you spot them in flight.

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Black-bellied Plover juve 10/11/17

The other Pluvialis plover we see much more frequently in New England than the American Golden Plover is the Black-bellied Plover, the largest North American plover and known overseas as the Gray Plover. Juveniles like this one have little to no yellow edging on their feathers and a very densely spotted gray brown appearance. Several other field marks separate them from American Golden Plovers. The bill is much heavier, and the body size is larger but you might not notice those things unless you can compare them side by side. More reliably, Black-bellied juves have an all white rump, big black patches under the wings, and white wing stripes, all lacking in the American Golden Plover, but all more obvious in flight than when standing on the beach. Black-bellieds breed in the Arctic and migrate along the shore, in the east they winter on the from Cape Cod in the north all the way south to Argentina.

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American Golden Plover and Semipalmated Sandpiper 10/7/17

American Golden Plovers are a medium sized shorebird not often seen on the East coast during either the spring or fall shorebird migrations. On their way north to the Arctic tundra in spring they travel up the middle of the continent, and in the fall they perform an amazing migratory feat of flying non-stop from Labrador to South America out over the Atlantic. But it’s not uncommon for juveniles like this one to show up along the coastline in the fall, but rarely in any numbers. This is one of 2 juves I found foraging the beaches of Fort Foster the other day. They are more golden than the slightly larger and stouter Black-bellied Plover juves also making their way to winter in South America, but by traveling along the coastlines.

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A Tale of Two Semipals 9/24/17

Here we’ve got two small and abundant shorebirds both with the word semipalmated in their name, but one’s a sandpiper and the other is a plover. In each case, semipalmated refers to a bit of webbing between their toes. Sandpipers are a huge group of birds including snipe and curlews, while plovers are a much smaller collection that also contains Killdeer and lapwings. Together plovers and sandpipers make up a larger group called shorebirds. In general, plovers are chunkier with short bills and they forage by sight while the sandpipers find invertebrates by probing the mud or sand with their sensitive bills of varying lengths. While foraging, plovers run and pause, whereas sandpipers noodle around almost nonstop. Plovers are also masters of distraction, famous for their broken wing or “look at my fake nest” deceptions that lure predators away from their young or eggs. Both of these are juves, adult Semipalmated Plovers have a darker solid band across the breast and you’ll see quite a bit of orange at the base of the bill.

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