Sunday, December 18, 2011

Semipalmated Sandpipers - Plum Island, MA

Sandy Point Beach, Plum Island, MA; 11/11/2011.
While chasing after Sanderlings on Sandy Point on Plum Island, who in turn were chasing waves (yesterday's post), I noticed a bird that didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the flock. It was slightly smaller and had darker plumage on its back.
Which one of these is not like the other? Sandy Point, Plum Island, MA; 11/11/2011.
I must have been observing these Sanderlings for quite a few minutes, when it occurred to me that one of them didn't have the same markings, but was following and doing everything the Sanderlings were doing.  I figured it looked like a Semipalmated Sandpiper or a Least Sandpiper (Both which could have been migrating through), but because I wasn't completely certain about my identification of shorebirds, I had to wait until I was able to use my bird guide and make a sure ID.
Can you spot the Semipalmated Sandpiper among the Sanderlings? Sandy Point, Plum Island, MA; 11/11/2011.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Sandy Point, Plum Island, MA; 11/11/2011.
After a few minutes the Semipalmated Sandpiper separated itself from the Sanderlings so I could isolate it in a photo (Above). Then I noticed there were two Smipalmated SP's (Below). They are often found on mudflats feeding together with their close relatives, the Least and Western sandpipers, but in this case, with Sanderlings.
A couple of Semipalmated Sandpipers hanging with a flock of Sanderlings, Sandy Point, Plum Island, MA; 11/11/2011.
The markings and size of these two birds were similar to both the Semipalmated and the Least Sandpipers, but the bill is what helped me determine it was a Semipalmated. The Least SP's bill is slightly longer, thinner and droops down more than the Semiplamated SPs. It was fortunate for us to see these Sandpipers while they were on their long migration route south.
A swarm of Semipalmated Sandpipers over the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada; 8/1/2008.
Perhaps the most numerous shorebird in North America, sometimes occurring by the thousands during migration, Semipalmated Sandpipers spend their summers on the mudflats of  Northern Canada surrounding the Hudson Bay and the many islands of the Northwest Territories. They travel a long way during their migration route, flying all the way to South America to spend their winters. A couple of summers ago, while Val and I were  exploring the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick (Canada), we had the good fortune to witness thousands of these Sandpipers, on their way North, "fishing" for insects and mollusks out in the bay. They flew in a swarm (Above) chasing the insects, changing directions all together, which made them look like a wave in the air.
A fling of Semipalmated Sandpipers, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada; 8/01/2008.
The photo (Above) is about the closest I could zoom in to get some shape of each individual Sandpiper. However, I was able to get a bit of video (Below) that captured the crazy movement the fling of Semipalmated's as they moved back and forth as a collective group, simulating a wave.

A video clip of a "timestep" of Semipalmated Sandpipers cruising the Bay of Fundy for insects on the oceans surface; New Brunswick, Canada; 8/1/2008.
The name of these Sandpipers has an interesting origin. The word "semipalmated," refers to the birds' toes, means "half-webbed." The toes are only slightly lobed at their bases and help them to walk on mud without sinking. According to, a group of sandpipers has many collective nouns, including a "bind", "contradiction", "fling", "hill", and "time-step" of sandpipers.
A Semipalmated Sandpiper, Sandy Pointy, Plum Island, MA; 11/11/2011.

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