In this post, I'll be talking a little bit about identification of shorebirds. Keep in mind that I'm just a beginner when it comes to shorebird identification. There's still a lot of species that I haven't even seen and I still frequently misidentify the ones that I have seen. I'm sharing my own personal learning process with you but I'm not attempting to teach anyone else because I'm not qualified to do that.
Least Sandpipers Are Not the Least Of My Problems-
If you look at the photo above, you will notice that the bird is a small sandpiper with a thin, slightly down-curved bill, so I'm going with Least Sandpiper but I'm not 100% certain. This might be an easy identification for a birder who is experienced with shorebirds but it's not an easy call for me. I have to look at them carefully before I make up my mind. I still confuse them with the Semipalmated Sandpiper which is supposed to have a more blunted bill tip and black legs. The problem is that you can't always get a good look at the legs and it can be tough to judge the bill shape at a distance. There are lots of other ways of separating that goes well beyond the shape of the bill and the color of the legs. Least Sandpipers make a high, musical, trilled prreep call according to Sibley. Semipalmated Sandpipers have a low, husky, chruf flight call. I've also been trying to pay attention to the behavior of sandpipers because this can be helpful with peep identification. I find it helps when I seek clarification from more experienced birders when trying to make an identification. I plan on making several more trips to the meadows between now and the end of September. Hopefully, I'll learn something before all is said and done.
When And Where To Look For Birds At The Meadows-
- August And September seem to be the best months for shorebirds here.
- Search where the sod has been torn up, especially along the edges.
- Search for large puddles of water and muddy areas.
- Look along the edge of the fields.
- Search areas where there are large concentrations of killdeer to see if other birds are mixed in with them.
People will drive along the main road searching areas like the one listed above, then they will turn around and search the same areas all over again. Keep in mind that if you are birding here you have to stay on the main road. There are side roads that are privately owned and the owners don't like it if birders enter onto these areas. You also have to be prepared to move your vehicle out of the way in a hurry. Operators of large farm equipment and trucks have the right of way. Try to find areas to park where the road is wider and pull way off to the side. There are some really wide areas to park where the road bends.There are very large flocks of Killdeer in the area this time of year. The killdeer has a double set of dark rings around the neck and breast, but keep your eyes open for Semipalmated Plovers, which are smaller and have a single, wide , dark breastband.
The Lesser Of Two Yellowlegs-
One of the more common shorebirds you can find inland are the yellowlegs. Just like their name says, they have long yellow legs that are almost always noticeable unless they are covered with water. The problem is that there are two different kinds of yellowlegs that look alike. The one below is a Lesser Yellowlegs. I suspected that it was but still asked someone else for confirmation. The Greater Yellowlegs would be noticeably larger and has a bill that is often slightly upturned and has a bill that is noticeably longer than the head. When the two species are seen together, it's much easier to tell them apart. If you see a single bird it can be trickier. I can usually identify a Greater Yellowlegs when it is on its own, but I sometimes have doubts when I'm looking at a Lesser Yellowlegs. It reminds me of the confusion I used to have with a Downy Woodpecker versus a Hairy Woodpecker. I would sometimes see a Downy Woodpecker that was a little larger than average and wonder if it could be a Hairy Woodpecker, but when I actually saw a Hairy Woodpecker there was no doubt in my mind that I was seeing a Hairy Woodpecker. It looked so big compared to a downy. Now, when I am in doubt between the two, I assume it is a downy. There were a few Solitary Sandpipers at the meadows over the last couple of weeks. I saw three of them today. The photo directly above and below this paragraph are the same bird which flew from one side of the road to the other. Notice how the difference in lighting seems to have changed the color of this bird. It looks almost brownish above but it is grey in the picture below. That is why using color as a field mark does not always work. Color can vary greatly due to lighting conditions. The eye ring, along with the overall size and shape, is a good field mark for this species.
If you live in Connecticut and you've never been to Rocky Hill Meadows before, you might want to stop by here for a visit. You could do some limited birding here with binoculars but you would be much better off to bring a scope if you have one.