Archive for Sandpiper

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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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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Ruddy Turnstone female 6/4/18

Turnstones use their short pointy bills like shovels, digging and flipping through the rocks and seaweed at the edge of the sea for invertebrate snacks. Their bright orange legs and harlequin markings stand out in all seasons, but the rusty wings that come with breeding plumage make them one of the more colorful shorebirds on the spring beach. This one’s female, males have more black in the face and breast and the rusty patches in the wings are more distinct. They are pigeon-sized with a bolder wing pattern than most making them easy to pick out in a mixed flock of flying shorebirds. They’re long distance migrants with some traveling to the high Arctic from South America, while at the same time its not unusual to find some wintering on the Maine coast.

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Semipalmated Sandpipers 6/2/18

Semipalmated Sandpipers are small and probably the most abundant of all the shorebird species you’ll see running about the beach or on mudflats during spring migration. They have dark legs, straight black bills, short necks, some faint streaking across the light breast (but no streaking on their flanks), with mottled wings and back that can appear either brownish or gray. They winter on the shores of South America and southern North America, and gather by the thousands on their long trek north to the Arctic tundra breeding grounds. Like the Semipalmated Plovers posted the other day, they have a bit of webbing between their toes. They are 1 of the 5 smallish sandpiper species that are together known as peeps.

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Willets 5/30/18

Willets are large and long-legged shorebirds that nest locally in salt marshes from Virginia to Cape Breton. There’s also a western subspecies that breeds in prairie potholes and other freshwater wetlands. They belong to sandpipers of the genus “Tringa,” also known as the “shanks” and which also includes the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. But this bird has gray legs and may as well be called Grayshanks. You can’t see it in this photo but they have a bold black and white striped pattern in their open wings.

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