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Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Pipit Among Shorebirds

American Pipit @ Lake St. Clair Metropark. Sept 2012.

Scanning the mudflats at Lake St. Clair Metropark -- looking at the color of legs, the extension of the wings and bill size and shape on various shorebirds -- I was distracted by an unusual sparrow-like bird that alighted briefly on the dried 'lakeweed' before taking off; flying in 'sine wave' fashion with a companion. 

The American Pipit is a plain bird with buff coloring and a breast with some light streaks. This pipit is widespread across the US; it is also found in Asia and is ecologically classified as "Least Concern" with stable population numbers.

An assortment of shorebirds is present in Fall migration at Lake St. Clair -- and this year in addition to some specialty species such as buff-breasted sandpiper, Baird's sandpiper and Golden Plover; the more common migrants were also seen such as semipalmated sandpiper [left], lesser yellowlegs [middle], sanderling [upper right] and least sandpiper [lower right].

Commonly seen as well were Pectoral Sandpiper [middle and right] which were perhaps the most numerous. This shorebird is very similar to sharp-tailed sandpiper but confusion between the two is hardly warranted as the sharp-tailed is an extremely rare bird in the US.

The Pectoral is a passage migrant through the US over-wintering exclusively in South America. Its migration route is very long and on stopovers it prefers freshwater habitat. In terms of identification, it can be identified by its finely streaked breast as well as the sharp transition from streaked to plain white which is characteristic. The legs are yellowish and the bill has a slight droop.

In this assortment of sandpipers, the one that perhaps the easiest to identify is the spotted [lower right]. Not very gregarious, it prefers foraging alone and its continuously bobbing tail is a dead giveaway. In addition to the semipalmated sandpiper [lower left], its plover namesake [semipalmated plover, upper right] was also seen near the water.

Birding is rewarding because of the many surprises it can bring and in this instance the Pipit was an unexpected gift.

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