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Friday, October 9, 2015

Fall Shorebirds at Lake St. Clair Starring Buff-breasted Sandpiper

[Lake St. Clair Metorpark. Aug/Sept 2015]

If Summer belongs to our songbirds, then surely shorebirds rule the Fall. Taken together, these two avian groupings offer a study in contrasts. For example, while songbirds provide many identification clues including brilliant plumage and mellifluous song; shorebirds appear mostly monochromatic and their vocalizations seldom surpass simple toots and whistles. And, when it comes to food, songbirds are content in gleaning leaves for insects and fruit in woods and forests, while Shorebirds scurry along on mudflats or comb through grassy fields probing the soil for food. Two groups of birds that could not be more different.

Yet, it would be erroneous to conclude that shorebirds are any less interesting because they lack the charisma that songbirds possess in bucket-loads. And, a prime example of a shorebird "dazzler" is the Buff-breasted Sandpiper which was observed together with some other choice species at Lake St. Clair this Fall -- the full list being:
  1. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  2. Lesser Yellowlegs
  3. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  4. Least Sandpiper
  5. Dunlin
  6. Semipalmated Plover
  7. Killdeer
  8. Spotted Sandpiper
We start with Buff-breasted Sandpiper: this is a "Near Threatened" shorebird whose populations have crashed due to the twin evils of hunting and habitat destruction.

Once numbering in the millions, this delicate "grasspiper" was brought almost to the brink of extinction in the early 1900's.

Even though populations have somewhat recovered, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper holds the ignominious distinction of featuring on the United States "State of the Birds 2014" watchlist for being most at risk of extinction without significant conservation intervention.

Shall we fail the Buff-breasted Sandpiper like we failed the Eskimo Curlew? Described as the shorebird that looks like a plover with a dove's head, the Buff-breasted's demise would be an unthinkable tragedy for American birding.

Other sightings included:

Lesser Yellowlegs -- a beautiful marshpiper that is related to the shanks of Europe:

 One of our peeps: Semipalmated Sandpiper:

While seemingly common, Semipalmated Sandpiper is classified as "Near Threatened". This is an Arctic breeder that is strictly a passage migrant in the US -- it undertakes marathon flights to get to South America where it

The Semipalmated Sandpiper was the subject of heinous misidentification for decades -- being confused with the Western Sandpiper with which it shares the feature for which it is named -- partial webbing between the toes of its feet.
No such identification conundrum plagues the Least Sandpiper:

Also seen were Dunlin:

and, Semipalmated Plover:

Another plover, Killdeer:

Finally, Spotted Sandpiper -- this is a breeder at Lake St. Clair Metropark:

Shorebirds in migration can congregate in the thousands -- a fact that was not lost to those who would do them harm. Even today, the populations of our shorebirds, especially on the East Coast, are but a shadow of their former abundance. All the more reason to treasure our iconic yet imperiled shorebirds such as the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and the Semipalmated Sandpiper.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

This post is definitely a reminder to me that I am overdue for a trip to Bunche Beach Preserve, Hemant. Count me among those once frequently confusing Western Sandpiper for Semipalmated Sandpiper. Perhaps I'll have the great fortune of observing Buff-breasted Sandpiper at the Everglades Agricultural Area next August/ September. At the SWFEC eagle's nest, Killdeer had been heard, yet have remained unseen almost every day the past few weeks. I expect to see the Spotted Sandpiper at his preferred feeding area at Bunche as soon as I get there. It's difficult to imagine a more entertaining routine behavior in another shorebird species.