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Tag Archives: shorebirds

Sanderlings are small shorebirds widely distributed around the world. They nest in the arctic tundra and winter on temperate and tropical sandy beaches around the world. They feed by running down the beach following the waves and collecting small stranded animals or probe for prey hidden in the sand.

I got to watch this flock as it foraged on the beach where we stayed last month. Fun birds to watch and photograph.

Last week we got away for a few days of socially distanced camping. Yes, we did non-essential travel out of our county. We were not alone. There was a family from our community in an adjacent campsite! Of course, the campgrounds are full. It seems that everyone is trying to be socially distant and out of doors.

We were at the coast and got to watch shorebirds in their ‘fall’ migration! Yes, fall. They all went to Alaska for breeding season, leaving or passing through Washington in April and May and the males turned around as soon as their job was complete and are now arriving on the Washington coast. Most of the little sandpipers are in a group commonly referred to as peeps. Peeps include Western, Least and Semi-palmated Sandpipers and a few other species. There were also plovers. I saw one Semi-palmated Plover for sure and perhaps some Pacific Golden Plovers in flight. I seldom get to see all of these beautiful shorebirds so I am not very good at identifying them. There were also Willets with their dramatically striped wings. They are easy to identify.

A few birds from the beach. We also saw Marbled Godwits, Bald Eagles and a Peregrine Falcon that dived on a flock of peeps.

I’ve never been very good at identifying shorebirds. It used to be that I birded with some experienced birders and I could muddle my way through the peeps and such but not anymore. And this time of year, the birds are in winter plumage so very few clear ID marks stand out for me. Someday I’d like to go to Alaska in the late spring and see the breeding shorebirds decked out in all their fine feathered plumage. But for now I will have to settle for wintering birds on the Washington coast once in a while.

There are a few species of small sandpipers that are often lumped together as ‘peeps’. The three species look similar and can be difficult to identify. I used to look at lots of shorebirds and got so I could remember the key things to look for but it’s been so long that I’ve lost much of that info. Groups of shorebirds are fascinating to watch as they run back and forth feeding and leap into the air and do it all as one big mass. I found this large group that had hundreds of birds at the Ocean City beach access a little south of where we were staying. We saw smaller flocks on our beach. The dogs stayed in the car while I watched and photographed the birds on the incoming tide. I stayed in one place and the birds came ever closer with the waves. There were other people walking and fishing and driving on the beach and nothing seemed to bother them. I think these birds are Western Sandpipers but I may be wrong.

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