Thursday, 19 September 2013

Pectoral Sandpiper

After three weeks in Maine, I have migrated back to Paxton Pits and the first bird to catch my attention is a Yankee "peep" called a pectoral sandpiper. I have never seen one in America, only in the UK, but these dunlin-like waders are great long-distance migrants. They have that long-skinny look that migrants have, due to their long wings that protrude beyond the tail. Their identifying feature is their well defined collar that no other wader has, hence the name "pectoral" referring to the top of the chest.

Jamie Wells took this picture of a pectoral sandpiper along the Ouse Valley Way on our neighbour's new scrapes that were created under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme this summer. What a find! Of course I marched up there for a look, but I think it has gone. I did see an osprey though, from the Visitors' Centre window!
Greater yellow-legs.

In the USA I saw ospreys every day but found myself confused by small waders or "peeps". Mostly I took photos of them and sorted them out afterwards, sometimes wrongly. Jamie would have done much better.

They don't have redshanks or greenshanks in Maine; instead they have greater yellow-legs and lesser yellow-legs. The best way to separate them is by the call. The greater goes "Tiu Tiu Tiu" always in threes and the lesser always calls in twos, so that's how I know this picture is of a greater yellow-legs. It was on the mud just below our summer home.

Semi-palmated plover.
Ringed plovers are seldom seen in Maine but they have killdeers, semi palmated plovers and piping plovers that all look like ringed plovers.

The most common is the semi-palmated plover but I was at a site where endangered piping plovers breed in summer. So which one is this? My verdict is semi-palmated because it is not bleached looking. It was very tame, like so many of the American waders.

Buff-breasted sandpiper
We explored peninsulas close to our home and found several good birding beaches. As I drove down onto the shingle ridge at the end of the Harpswell Neck I disturbed a slim, long necked, upright wader that ran through the long shore-grasses calling. At first I took it to be an upland sandpiper, but when I looked it up later, it was not streaky enough and only half the size it should have been. It was my first buff-breasted sandpiper. The even tan on the breast (steady on!) gives it away.

Semi-palmated sandpiper;
note the yellow legs.
In the UK, when you get down to the tiniest waders, you have the stints and really just two kinds to think about. The most common migrant small wader in the Eastern USA has to be the semi-palmated sandpiper. These are really small and very tame and usually hang out together in flocks of the same species. I have observed them at very close quarters as they ran over my feet, but did I misidentify those too?

I recently posted a picture of a semi-palmated sandpiper only to realise that it had black legs. I had been watching one bird and photographed another which was a least sandpiper.

Least sandpiper, with black legs.
Now my first week back at home is over, I am pleased to say that it has been a real pleasure to to return to work. The staff and volunteers are so welcoming and the bird feeders are swarming with birds. I have not seen so many green finches for a couple of years now and there are huge flocks of swallows over the lakes. This is migration time and it's good to be back.

("Semi-palmated" means "partly webbed"; quite a few waders can swim but most do not have any webbing on their feet.)