Archive for Plover

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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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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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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