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Posts Tagged ‘sandpiper’

I often have trouble identifying shorebirds, because so many of them are similar in appearance. When I spotted this one last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I immediate thought it might be a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria). This bird seemed to be perfectly content to be by itself, pursuing its goals at its own pace, marching to the beat of a different drummer. Was it an introverted shorebird of a different species or was it really a Solitary Sandpiper?

As I stood there at the edge of the pond, I realized that we were a lot alike, the bird and I. It was a moment for reflection. Most of the time I too would rather enjoy nature in solitude, separated from others.

I make a conscious effort to avoid contact with other people when I am out with my camera and avoid certain locations because they are too popular and crowded. I generally prefer to spend my time communing with wildlife.

Solitary Sandpiper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Shorebirds are always tough for me to identify—so many of them are similar in appearance. When I spotted this little bird on Wednesday at Occoquan Regional Park, I noticed that it was all alone. Half-jokingly, I thought to myself that maybe it is a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria). When I later checked my bird identification guide I was shocked to discover that it actually is a Solitary Sandpiper.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, however, the name of the Solitary Sandpiper is not completely accurate—”While not truly solitary, it does not migrate in large flocks the way other shorebirds do.” On the same website I also learned the interesting fact of the world’s 85 sandpiper species, only the Solitary Sandpiper and the Green Sandpiper of Eurasia routinely lay eggs in tree nests instead of on the ground.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last weekend I spotted a shorebird in the distance while exploring Huntley Meadows Park. It was sharing a log with several turtles. Initially the little bird stayed on the opposite end of the log from the turtles. Gradually the curious and energetic bird moved closer and closer to the turtles. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like the bird came close to pecking one of the legs of a turtle. Perhaps the bird was surprised when the turtle reacted or the turtle made a threatening move, but in any case the bird flew off after the brief encounter.

I was pretty conftdent that the bird was some kind of sandpiper, but I have never seen one with these markings. I posted to a Facebook group and got a quick response. What was the sandpiper I had spotted? It turned out to be a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius).

Spotted Sandpiper

 

Spotted Sandpiper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s probably good for the ego to have “great” in your name, like Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets. Hopefully this little bird’s self-esteem is not damaged by being called a Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla). I spotted this diminutive beauty last week at Huntley Meadows Park before the start of all of the recent rain. The extremely dry weather had made the water very shallow in some portions of the marsh and had attracted tiny shore birds like this one.

Least Sandpiper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) at Huntley Meadows Park seemed overwhelmed with curiosity as a female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) swam closer and closer. What were they thinking as they checked out each other?

I love to capture multiple species in a single image, particularly when they seem to be interacting with each other. In this case, the differences in size, shape, coloration, and body position make for some fascinating contrasts.

encounter1_2May_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This tiny shorebird cooperated for me by posing on the boardwalk, allowing me to determine that it is a Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), the smallest shorebird in the world.

Shorebirds are notoriously hard to identify, because so many of them are similar in coloration and relative size is a tough measure when a bird is not in a group. For small sandpipers, the color of the  legs is one of the key distinguishing characteristics. In this case, the yellow legs help to identify it as a Least Sandpiper and not a Western or Semipalmated Sandpiper, which have black legs. I am definitely no expert on this subject (and have no clue what Semipalmated means), but the articles on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website are full of fascinating information about birds.

Eventually the sandpiper jumped into the water, but remained close to the shore, as if it knew that I wanted to get a few shots before it flew away. I can’t overemphasize how small this bird is at about 6 inches (15 cm), especially compared to something like a Greater Yellowlegs at 14 inches (36 cm), so I was glad it was not immediately spooked by my presence.

As someone who pays a lot of attention to grammar, I must confess that I find the name of this bird a little troubling. There seems to be be a missing adjective to go with the superlative “least.” However, I have given up trying to understand the reasoning behind the names of birds—the names are a hodgepodge of approaches, certainly not a scientific method.

The correctness of the name is the least of my worries when trying to photograph these small birds.

least2a_blogleast1a_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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