With the northbound songbird migration winding down, I decided to spend some time focusing on shorebirds last weekend. Monday morning I spent an hour at Plum Beach, then headed to Floyd Bennett Field to see if any birds were at the rain puddles on the runways. I didn't find anything unusual, but it was a nice change of birding scenery.
Normally low-tide would be the best time to check for shorebirds at Plum Beach, but on Monday that would have been during prime human recreation time, so we thought we'd take a chance and take a look at dawn's high-tide activity. Surprisingly, there was actually quite a few birds present. It was probably the highest number of Sanderling I've ever seen there with a very conservative 1500 birds nervously feeding on horseshoe crab eggs. The next most common shorebird species mixed in with the Sanderlings was Semipalmated Sandpiper. Rounding out the long distance migrants fattening up on eggs were oystercatchers, Black-bellied Plover, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper and a few Short-billed Dowitcher. It was nice getting to see the Dunlin in their colorful breeding plumage as overwintering birds here along the coast are about as grey and generic looking as it gets. Among the boisterous American Oystercatchers present was Heydi's longtime buddy "C6", but that's a story for another time.
After about an hour we started walking back to the parking lot for the trip over to Floyd Bennett Field. Along the way we spotted a Long-tailed Duck bobbing in the water several yards from the shore. If we were still enveloped in winter's "Polar Vortex" this would not have been an unusual sighting. However, large flocks of this overwintering waterfowl departed in early spring for their breeding grounds along the west coast of Alaska across most of northern Canada and to the east coast of Labrador. Hopefully, this bird is healthy and just a procrastinator.
The puddles that remained on the runways at Floyd Bennett Field were mostly occupied by gulls, but there were a few Black-bellied Plovers and Semipalmated Plovers present.
Shorebird identification can be a daunting task, but not impossible. There are many field guides available that specialize in shorebirds, but one book that I've found to be helpful over the years is Jack Connor's "The Complete Birder". In the shorebird chapter he has some tables that are very useful for, at least, narrowing down the identification of a given species. Here is one example:
Six Convenient Questions for Sorting the Shorebirds
1. Is it one of the instantly recognizable shorebirds?
|American Oystercatcher||American Avocet||Black-necked Stilt|
2. Is it a plover?
|Mountain Plover||Piping Plover||Lesser Golden Plover|
|Wilson's Plover||Snowy Plover|
3. Is it one of the odd sandpipers?
|Long-billed Curlew||Hudsonian Godwit||Red Phalarope|
|Whimbrel||Marbled Godwit||Red-necked Phalarope|
|Eskimo Curlew||American Woodcock|
4. Is it a peep?
|Sanderling||Baird's Sandpiper||Western Sandpiper|
|White-rumped Sandpiper||Semipalmated Sandpiper||Least Sandpiper|
5. Is it a longlegs?
|Willet||Wandering Tattler||Wilson's Phalarope|
|Upland Sandpiper||Wilson's Snipe||Solitary Sandpiper|
|Greater Yellowlegs||Long-billed Dowitcher||Stilt Sandpiper|
|Lesser Yellowlegs||Short-billed Dowitcher|
6. Is it a plump?
|Red Knot||Purple Sandpiper||Pectoral Sandpiper|
|Ruddy Turnstone||Surfbird||Spotted Sandpiper|
|Black Turnstone||Buff-breasted Sandpiper|
Here is the author's "peep" identification table:
Peep Identification Sequence
|1. Yellow legs? Or thin, pointed, slightly decurved bill? -->||Least Sandpiper -->||Small? Warm brown back?|
|2. Stubby bill, esp. thick at base? -->||Semipalmated Sandpiper -->||Grayish head and back? Little or no rufous? Bill shorter than head?|
|3. Long, attenuated and drooping bill? -->||Western Sandpiper -->||
Rufous on cap and shoulder?
|4. Prominent wing flag?||White-rumped Sandpiper -->
Bairds Sandpiper -->
|Larger than semipal? white rump? bill slightly drooped? streaky flanks
Larger than semipal?
Upper mandible very straight? buffy breast and cheeks? thinner than white-rump?
I hope you find this helpful, now go out and locate some good shorebirds this weekend.
Date: May 26, 2014
Locations: Floyd Bennett Field and Plum Beach
Long-tailed Duck (1.)
Ring-necked Pheasant (1.)
Double-crested Cormorant (12.)
Great Egret (1.)
Green Heron (2.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (7.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1.)
Clapper Rail (1.)
American Oystercatcher (3.)
Black-bellied Plover (4.)
Semipalmated Plover (3.)
Spotted Sandpiper (1.)
Ruddy Turnstone (20.)
Sanderling (approx. 1,500.)
Least Sandpiper (12.)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (approx. 800.)
Short-billed Dowitcher (5.)
Great Black-backed Gull (4.)
Least Tern (2.)
Common Tern (2.)
Forster's Tern (3.)
Northern Flicker (3.)
Eastern Wood-Pewee (1.)
Willow Flycatcher (2.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (1.)
White-eyed Vireo (2.)
Red-eyed Vireo (2.)
American Crow (3.)
Tree Swallow (2.)
Barn Swallow (5.)
Carolina Wren (1.)
Swainson's Thrush (1.)
Brown Thrasher (1.)
Cedar Waxwing (15.)
American Redstart (2.)
Magnolia Warbler (2.)
Blackpoll Warbler (1.)
Eastern Towhee (4.)
Field Sparrow (1.)
Eastern Meadowlark (2.)
Boat-tailed Grackle (2.)
Other common species seen (or heard): Brant, Mute Swan (3.), Mallard (1.), Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird (4.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, House Sparrow