Archive for Sandpiper

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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Dunlin 5/22/18

Dunlin are one of the few Arctic breeding shorebirds that can be found on the New England coastline year round. They don’t breed here but we do have small flocks of them residing along the coast all winter long, and both spring and fall we see migrants on their way to and from the Arctic. Summer is when they’re scarce, most adults are far to the north, but there are always a few birds that for one reason or another didn’t migrate or left the Arctic early on account of nest predation, loss of mate, injury, etc. This one is in summer breeding plumage on its way north with its distinctive black belly patch and rufous back and wings. Most have molted into drab winter plumage by the time we see them again in the fall. Only partly visible is its long droopy bill probing the wet mud and sand for invertebrate snacks.

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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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