Archive for Shorebirds

Dunlin 5/22/18

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Wilson’s Snipe 2/19/18

Even surrounded by snow this sandpiper of wet bogs and fields only needs a bit of exposed earth to completely disappear into it. They forage in wet muck, probing with their long bills which are both sensitive and flexible at the tip and enables them to grasp and slurp underground invertebrates like earthworms and insect grubs.

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Sanderling and Purple Sandpiper 1/15/18

Occasionally in winter, walking the empty beach out to Seapoint in a bitter northeast wind rewards me with a shorebird treat. In November a small flock of Purple Sandpipers comes down from the Arctic and takes up residence on the surf-beaten point. At sandier points north and south similar-sized flocks of Sanderlings, the “alba” of the Calidrid sandpipers, winter on┬álong sandy beaches such as you find at Hampton or Ogunquit. Neither of these birds are especially rare, but it is a bit unusual to find them together. The Sanderling is just passing through, it forages the wet sand at the seas edge, and isn’t really at home on the rocks, but most traveling shorebirds find safety in numbers.

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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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