Archive for Plover

Semipalmated Plover male and female 5/31/18

I try to avoid bird photos with busy backgrounds like this one, but there’s two interesting things in this image worth pointing out. Most field guides as a rule don’t mention the sexual dimorphism in shorebirds, perpetuating the idea that the sexes look exactly alike. I’m guessing the reason is that shorebirds are already so tricky to ID, they don’t want to push it with even subtler distinctions. But here’s an example of a male and female Semipalmated Plover. Plover and not sandpiper because the bill is short and the body is stockier, and semipalmated because there’s a bit of webbing between the toes (but nothing like say a duck or seagull). Now look at the male bird in the foreground and notice all the black around the face, while in the female behind the black single ringed collar is really dark brown, as is the face mask except for the forehead. The other thing I wanted to point out is a new discovery for me, and that’s the thin but bright yellow eye-ring, which is part of the bird’s breeding plumage that you won’t see when these birds migrate back through in the fall.

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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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Black-bellied Plover juvenile 11/4/16

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Black-bellied Plovers breed on the Arctic islands and coasts of North America and Asia, wintering as far south as Argentina, South Africa, southern Asia, Australia, and even New Zealand. Here they are migrants just passing through, though you can find some wintering as far north as Cape Cod. Outside of North America  they are called Grey Plovers, even though they are the exact same species. Adult breeding plumage sports the bold black bellies, while winter adults are similar to juveniles like this one, only grayer and not as strongly speckled. These shorebirds belong to the genus Pluvialis—the rain plovers—of which there are 4 species around the world.

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Piping Plover male 6/15/15

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I found this endangered shorebird on Seapoint Beach the other evening which was a little peculiar since the nearest beaches they breed on are Ogunquit to the north and Hampton to the south. I wasn’t aware they roamed much while they had chicks to attend to, so I imagine this one has lost its mate and is heading south early. It’s an adult male which can be told by the strength of its dark collar.

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Black-bellied Plover juvenile 9/18/14

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Pluvialis plovers include the several Golden Plovers (European, Pacific, and American) as well as the Black-bellied, and occasionally the juveniles BBs show their golden plover relatedness on their backs. But they are stockier bodied, with heavier bills, and in all plumages have back axillary (armpit) feathers you see in flight where the axillaries of the golden plovers are white. They breed all around the Arctic and winter on coastlines all over the world. Outside of North America they are usually called Grey Plovers.

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