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Friday, September 19, 2014

Signature Sandpipers II: Baird's Sandpiper and other peeps

[Lake St. Clair Metropark. Sept. 2014]

In our second post covering migrating shorebirds, we look at 5 small sandpipers that all look superficially similar:
  • Baird's Sandpiper
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Sanderling
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
Named by Elliott Coues after the giant of Amerian birding, Spencer Fullerton Baird,  Baird's Sandpiper is a passage migrant through the US. It breeds in the high Arctic and winters as far south as Tierra del Fuego, at the very tip of the South American continent.

Baird's Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Barid's Sandpipers mainly use a central flyway down the middle of the country which gradually fans out as they travel South; eventually spreading from Baja California to the Gulf coast. I have not observed them in Southwest Florida, however, but understand they are sometimes reported from Merrit Island NWR and the Panhandle.

Baird's Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark -- notice the long wings

Identification characteristics to look for include remarkably long wings and a dark rump. Indeed, the primaries will extend noticeably beyond the tail when the wings are folded (see first photo). The only other sandpiper that shares this feature is the White-rumped Sandpiper -- but, it has a white rump instead of a dark one.

Baird's Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

The light brown streaking on their face and breast and the white edges to their feathers are also distinctive.

Our next shorebird is Semipalmated Sandpiper. A species this blogger was surprised to learn is under intense ecological threat.

Semipalmated Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Recently estimated to number in the millions, this small sandpiper has now been classified as "Near Threatened" as a result of a huge decline in its population -- primarily suffered in its wintering grounds in Suriname and adjoining countries in South America.

Semipalmated Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

This tiny sandpiper, like the Baird's, is found in the Eastern half of the US only as a passage migrant -- neither breeding nor overwintering in this country.

Semipalmated Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Distinguished from the Semipalmated by its yellow legs and finer bill, the Least Sandpiper is an abundant migrant and overwintering peep in the US.

Least Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Least Sandpipers are the smallest shorebird on the planet -- no bigger than a house sparrow.

Least Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Unlike the sandpipers reviewed so far, which are exclusive to the Americas, the Sanderling is a global shorebird.

Sanderling seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

This pale and plump shorebird is known for forming large coastal flocks in the winter; indeed the sight of foraging Sanderlings at the beach is a familiar, nay ubiquitous, feature at Florida's beaches in winter.

We conclude with the the Pectoral Sandpiper:

Pectoral Sandpiper seen at Lake Sterling State Park

Usually regular in Fall at Lake St. Clair Metropark (see this post from last year), lakeshore habitat alteration by Park officials has made shorebird observation decidedly patchy this year at this venue with no reported Pectoral Sandpipers. However, a trip to Sterling State Park resulted in several, but exceedingly distant, sightings (see above).

Shorebird observation offers many rewards not least of which is a fuller appreciation of the challenges that our peeps face in their formidable migrations -- with some journeys exceeding 9,000 miles!

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

Ahh, the peeps. The bird species that have me occasionally struggle to identify them to this day, not to mention the warblers. When looking at a shorebird for identification the first thing I note is its size. Then leg color, and then the length and shape of the bill. That usually gives me confidence in what I'm looking at. As you note Sanderling in flocks, Hemant, they were seen in a large number loafing together at Siesta Key Beach last week, and then in flight where likely something disturbed them. I suspect there is a greater likelihood that I will never observe a Baird's Sandpiper in the "wild" unless I make a chase for it. In the event you are not aware, Eagle Lakes Community Park in Naples is undergoing long overdue improvement.