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Friday, September 12, 2014

Signature Sandpipers in Migration I: Stilt Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper plus Lesser Yellowlegs

[Lake St. Clair Metropark, AugSep. 2014]

In the Fall, the Spring splendor of warblers in bright colors and crisp tones turns into a migrating melange of the dull, drab and ambiguous -- a perfect excuse to focus on migrating shorebirds instead!

We review 4 migrating sandpipers -- all with yellow or greenish legs: Lesser Yellowlegs and  Stilt, Solitary, and Spotted Sandpipers.

We start with the Stilt Sandpiper:

Stilt Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

The Stilt Sandpiper is somewhat odd looking -- it has the characteristic bill of a Curlew Sandpiper (a speices not normally observed in the US, but seen in this blog at venues in India or Australia) and the body and legs which are reminiscent of Lesser Yellowlegs (see a comparison between the two here as observed in juxtaposition in Puerto Rico).

This gives the Stilt Sandpiper the overall appearance of a long-legged Dowitcher; but it is the Curlew Sandpiper that is considered to be the Stilt Sandpiper's closest relative.

Stilt Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

If you miss the Stilt Sandpiper in migration, you may yet see it in Winter. While its wintering grounds center around tropical America, the winter range does barely extend into Southern Florida. Indeed, this blogger has observed them at the STA-5 location during trips coordinated by Tropical Audubon.

Of the 4 shorebirds profiled here, it is only our next, the Solitary Sandpiper, that is not seen in the US in Winter.

Solitary Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Sharing the greenish legs of the Stilt Sandpiper, the Solitary's closest relative is the Green Sandpiper of the Old World. The prominent eye-ring, spotted back and olive bill are all distinctive.

Solitary Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Usually found alone or in small groups, it is this behavioral characteristic that betrays the origin of its name (although, truthfully, perhaps many more sandpiper species would fall within the ambit of this logic -- eg., Spotted Sandpiper).

Lesser Yellowlegs was also observed at this venue:

Lesser Yellowlegs seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

The bright yellow legs, spotted back and less prominent eye-ring distinguish it from the Solitary Sandpiper.

Lesser Yellowlegs seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

It is generally poor practice to draw taxonomic conclusions from similarity in nomenclature. And, indeed, the Lesser Yellowlegs is not closely related to Greater Yellowlegs although the latter visually appears to be a larger version of the former. As a matter of fact, the closest relative of the Lesser Yellowlegs is the Willet. Who knew!

Finally, we conclude with a familiar shorebird, the Spotted Sandpiper:

Spotted Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Unlike the other shorebirds profiled here that breed in the high Arctic, the Spotted Sandpiper breeds widely across the continental US and can be seen commonly wherever freshwater can be found. It is closely related to the Common Sandpiper of the Old World which looks very similar (excepting the spots).

Spotted Sandpiper seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

This group of medium-sized sandpipers with yellowish legs provides a wonderful example of how superficially similar shorebirds can yet be so different in behavior, habitat and distribution.


Bob Pelkey said...

I've found the Spotted Sandpiper an exceptionally entertaining species to observe, Hemant, more so than the others. My limited observation of Solitary Sandpiper required an inquiry where I had observed it. The 6 mile venue was a surprise while the bird is unmistakable. Again, the Spotted Sandpiper is an entertainer. In the event you're not aware, a Red-necked Phalarope was observed at Siesta Key.

France Paulsen said...

I had the good fortune to observe a group of 12 Spotted Sandpiper at the Bailey Tract once - what a sight that was and quite entertaining to watch them bobbing their tail in unison - a rare event indeed.