Stilt Sandpipers are uncommon, mid-sized shorebirds who nest in the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska. In New England, they're most often observed in July, August, and September, as they stop over to forage in shallow, standing water at both coastal and inland sites.
Stilt Sandpipers often feed by probing their bills into mud in sewing-machine-like fashion, much like dowitchers, or picking food off the surface like Lesser Yellowlegs. But whereas dowitchers have long, straight bills, and Lesser Yellowlegs have short, straight bills, Stilt Sandpipers have medium-length bills with an obvious droop, much like Dunlin.
To learn more about these waders with yellow-green legs, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.
Hudsonian Godwits are large shorebirds with long, slightly upturned bills that are pink or orange near the base. In flight or when preening, they show a black tail, a white rump, and dark underwing coverts, features not shared by the slightly larger and longer-billed Marbled Godwit.
In late spring and early summer, Hudsonian Godwits breed in parts of Canada and Alaska, timing their efforts with the abundance of invertebrate species available during the green season. By late summer, adults head south (followed later by juvenile birds), with some touching down at select sites in New England, like flooded fields, coastal beaches, marshes, and mud flats, before continuing on to southern South America (many more are thought to fly non-stop for several days from Canada over the Atlantic Ocean to South America). Having experienced part of summer in the far north, those that successfully complete their incredible journey get to experience summer in the southern hemisphere as well.
To learn more about Hudsonian Godwits, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.
A bright, red-orange bill and bubblegum colored legs make American Oystercatchers one of the easiest New England shorebirds to identify. Being easy to identify, however, doesn't mean they're easy to find. American Oystercatchers are listed as a species of special concern in Maine, which is the northern edge of their Atlantic coast range, with only 4 to 8 nesting pairs in the entire state.* If you live in coastal New England, or plan to visit this summer, and want a chance at finding an American Oystercatcher, help narrow your search by checking out recent sightings on eBird. Governed by rising and falling tides, American Oystercatchers forage at lower tides on mudflats, beaches, and shellfish beds. During high tide, they roost on islands or in coastal dunes.
To learn more about these large, bivalve-eating, pink-legged shorebirds, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.
Black-bellied Plover (left) and adult American Oystercatcher
By late July, shorebird migration in New England is in full swing. While some species like Semipalmated Sandpipers drop in to many beaches and mudflats by the hundreds, other species, like Whimbrel, are uncommon outside of their favored coastal stop-over sites (one such spot in Maine where 100+ Whimbrels have been seen during low tide in late July and early August is Flat Bay in Harrington). Here in southern Maine, single-digit counts are typical, and this scarcity contributes to their popularity among birders.
Their large size, compared to most common shorebirds, and their long, decurved bill make them reasonably easy to spot with a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. Looking for them on exposed mud flats at low tide tends to be more productive than trying to spot them among marsh grasses at high tide. Rarely, one has landed near me on a sandy beach, and on several occasions the loud flight calls of a Whimbrel have alerted me in time to look up and see the bird's distinctive silhouette speeding past.
To learn more about Whimbrels and to hear a sample of their loud calls, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.
If you've been following my nature notes for the past few months, you're no doubt aware that I've been steadily tracking the presence of a single Marbled Godwit -- a bird Jenny and I have nicknamed "Marble" -- since late August. On Thursday, December 15th, I observed Marble on a mudflat in Biddeford Pool in the company of some Herring Gulls. The following day there was no sign of Marble, and my subsequent near-daily attempts to locate my cinnamon-colored companion have come up empty. I wish I could share the next chapter in Marble's journey, but what happened Thursday night, when wind chill values dipped to nearly -20°F, is a mystery.
After such a long stay in the Biddeford area (112+ days by my count), did Marble decide to follow the lead of so many other shorebirds (like Red Knots and Black-bellied Plovers) and finally head south? Did a local raptor (Feisty?) turn Marble into a white-season feast? What do you think happened? Regardless, I'm confident that his/her spirit, if not physical form, lives on.
This year, I spent more time watching Marble than any other individual bird. May these photos provide a window into the life of one impressive and inspiring shorebird.
To view the following images in full-size, click here.