Archive for Shorebirds

Black-bellied Plover juveniles 11/3/18

There are three possible plumages of Black-bellied Plover one might see during fall migration in Maine—adults still in breeding plumage are common early in the season, sporting their eponymous black bellies. Later you can see adults molting or that have already molted into the soft grays of non-breeding plumage (in Europe this same bird is called the Gray Plover), but more often than not the Black-bellied Plovers you see in October and November are these spotted and very spangled juveniles. All plumages of Black-bellieds have large black armpits which are unmistakeable in flight or when stretching or lifting their wings. I waited quite awhile for one of these to oblige me but was not rewarded, And I’m not inclined to frighten birds for a photo. You might see the odd Black-bellied Plover during the winter months, their winter range on the Atlantic coast starts not far south of us on Cape Cod.

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White-rumped Sandpiper juvenile 10/30/18

Adult White-rumped Sandpipers began their migration from the Arctic back in August, but the juveniles don’t come through the Maritimes and New England until October, later than most shorebirds.  You can see their white rumps in flight but when resting up you’ll notice the rufous brace on their wings, a hint of orange at the base of the lower bill, the spotted flanks, the conspicuous eyestripe, and if the angle is right, long wings with the tips extending beyond the tail. They are one of North America’s 5 species of “peep,”  the group of the smallest sandpipers.

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3 Sanderling juves 10/8/18

Juvenile Sanderlings are the most black and white of the little sandpipers you see along the coast during late migration. They are coming from the Arctic, and it’s impossible to know if this bunch will continue on to South America or spend the winter right here on the beaches of Maine. Sanderlings are the next size up from the “peeps” or the 5 smallest shorebird species, and are similarly sized with Dunlin and Purple Sandpipers—our 2 other winter shorebirds. In another month or so these birds will molt from juvenile into their first winter plumage. Gone will be the spangled wings and streaky heads, replaced with a soft pale gray.

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Semipalmated Sandpiper adult 9/21/18

Semipalmated Sandpiper adult 9/21/18

Semipalmated Sandpipers are the most abundant of migrating shorebirds along the New England coast. In the US, the Semipalmated, Least, Bairds, White-rumped, and Western Sandpipers are all collectively known as “peeps,” representing the smaller members of the Calidris sandpiper genus. Adult Semipals are few now, most having moved through earlier than the softer and more golden-toned juveniles.  There will be stragglers, both adult and juvenile, right into December. Sexes are similar.

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Spotted Sandpiper adult 9/12/18

These constantly bobbing and teetering sandpipers are one of the few breeding shorebird species in New England. There are 3 plumages, breeding adult, winter adult, and juvenile. Only the breeding adult sports the spots, and in just a few weeks  this bird will have none. Unlike most shorebirds, female Spotteds are polyandrous, laying several clutches with different males, and it’s the male that incubates and raises the young. When seen flying short distances they have a distinctive stiff-winged flight pattern, low over the water. They may wander through flocks of other shorebirds, but don’t really join them, and fly separately if the flock is spooked.

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Black-bellied Plover molting male 9/3/18

Black-bellieds are North America’s largest Plover being roughly the size of a small gull. There was a second plover with this one that spooked and flew off and which had much less black in the face, throat and belly—a female. This one you can still see the outline of the black breeding plumage starting at the bill and extending down the throat and belly, all the way behind the legs. It’s getting mottled now, beginning the molt into winter plumage. In another few weeks this bird will have a soft mottled gray upperside with a white belly, earning it the name it’s known by outside of North America—the Grey Plover. All plumages of Black-bellied Plovers can be told by black axillaries under the wing, that is they all have black armpits which you can see when they take off or land, or are in flight.

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Three migrating Greater Yellowlegs 6/8/18

Not the most stunning photo of Greater Yellowlegs, but so typical of how I often find them. They are a little nervous because I am poking up into the sky many times their size and getting closer. But all I need to do is stop, squat, become another rock sticking up out of the mud, and they go back to dancing around the shallows for little things to snatch. These are Yellowlegs which should be self-evident, and Greater not Lesser Yellowlegs for 2 reasons, the first being that the bills of all three are longer than their head is wide, and the second being that you can see the spotting under their folded wings (along the flanks), continues all the way back to the undertail. There are other clues, but those are the ones evident at this distance. They are Tringa sandpipers or “shanks” like the Willet I started this week of shorebirds with, but unlike the Willets they are migrants heading farther north, not to the Arctic tundra like all the little sandpipers, but to the bogs and marshes of boreal Canada that sweep across the continent.

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