Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Shorebirds Part 2

Dark back, white undersides, all black head, and thick red bill. These are American Oystercatchers. Don't expect to see these running around Ohio, they tend to stay along the coastlines. Another way to identify them is that all Oystercatchers have only one leg.

Just kidding, all shorebirds commonly tuck one of their legs up when resting.

Back to those more difficult ones...  The Solitary Sandpiper is a common migrant in Ohio. It tends to be found by itself rather than in large flocks. The only species I tend to confuse this with is the Pectoral Sandpiper, as both have this heavily patterned neck and breast. What I see as different is the mottled, almost salt and pepper like back. The distinct rows of white spots in the tail region may also help. It has a prominent white eye ring that may serve as an additional field mark.

The unusual behavior of Solitary sandpipers is they will seek out trees and utilize old songbird nests.

An uncommon species in Ohio is the White-rumped Sandpiper. Looking something like a semipalmated sandpiper, the key feature is the white patch on top of the rump.  In profile look for the black wing tips to extend BEYOND the tail. The back stays straight as it feeds in this horizontal position.


Even more uncommon in Ohio is the Bairds Sandpiper. They look much the same as the White-rumped. They have the same throat patterns, keep that horizontal back, and is the only other shorebird that shows those dark wingtips extending past the tail. Of course they lack the white rump. Look for feathers that give a "fish-scale" appearance on the back. This is especially vivid in the upper photo.


The bird of silver and gold. This is the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. It is a medium to large sized bird that occasionally passes through Ohio.
The long neck, prominent eye, various tannish colors, and what appears to be a rather short bill for it's size are characters that work for identifying it. Shorebirds have a habit of bobbing their heads a lot, but this guy moves half it's body when walking. Reminds me more of a waddling chicken. This behavior always stood out to me when it was mixed with other species.
Here's a couple shots I took from the old Huron Pier mudflats I mentioned earlier. Notice how well they blend into the landscape. I reported these frequently back then, and it caught the attention of birders from Cleveland to Toledo.

Ahh, a common and easy one to recognize. Appropriately named the Spotted Sandpiper, look for the speckled breast and orange bill. Unlike most of the species that head up to the arctic, this one will nest in Ohio. This species acts like it has the hiccups, as it exaggerates the head bobbing more than others. Check out the shoulder region for what looks like a streak of white paint breaking up the brown pattern. Remember that. Usually ignored in breeding plumage, come migration time.....
...you guessed it, another dull gray bird. Still, the white mark above the wing is obvious, making this unmistakable, even without the spots.

Come on in the water's fine! One of the more interesting groups of shorebirds are the Phalaropes. Unlike most bird families, the males remain dull during the breeding season, and the females show all the bright colors. She picks her mate, the nesting area, and after laying the eggs, takes off and leaves the male to care for them.
We rarely get to see the breeding forms as they pass through Ohio. This is the Northern Phalarope, also known as the Red-necked Phalarope. The dark cap and eye stripe are typical of winter plumage. The female will change to an all black head, white chin, and bright red patch on the throat and neck.
From the rear, the orange stripes down the back is another clue to this species. This phalarope is not afraid to wander out into deeper water. Here they will dance in circles, doing "the twist". This churns up the bottom and the bird looks for swimming invertebrates to then feed on.

The Wilson's Phalarope on the other hand may spend more time wading in the kiddie pool. In migration, the dark eye stripe of the above species is a faded gray.
As breeding plumage sets in, the prominent eye stripe returns in both sexes. The female will have a long white stripe from the bill to the top of the head, and down the back. She will have a deep rich orange stripe on the side of the neck.  The male will have only a little orange around the neck. The head will stay dark on top, but he will show a white circle on the back of the head. Both these species have rather long, thin bills.

Another deep wader, the Red Phalarope female is the most colorful of the three. Her entire front and undersides will turn a brick red. Since we are stuck with the three dull winter forms in migration, the best way to separate the Red Phalarope from the other two is to look for a much shorter bill on this one. The back is also a more slate gray than the other species.

Water? Who needs water. No shorebird post would be complete without including the Woodcock. The early spring antics of the mating ritual and distinct "peent" calls are unmistakable in open fields and early successional woods. Notice how the stripes go ACROSS the back of the head.

Get your baseball bat, a burlap bag, and your flashlight, and let's go Snipe hunting. The Common Snipe has a mating flight and call even more spectacular than that of the Woodcock. It spends a lot more time in grassy marshes, but I still get startled every time I flush one out of a field. Because of the long bill, you may think Dowitcher, but the white stripes on the back are distinct. The white stripes on the face go down the head. Remember on the Woodcock they go across the head.

What in the world... The outline of a shorebird sitting on a fence post in the middle of a meadow? It can only be one thing, the Upland Sandpiper, formerly known as an upland plover.
This bird has steadily declined over the years. Prairie and grassland restoration projects may provide  hope for this species.


We can argue, but the black and white body contrasting with the rusty head and neck, and black curved bill, make the American Avocet one of the most beautiful of shorebirds that pass through Ohio.


Should you see a big stocky shorebird standing 15 inches tall, and with a bill that seems to go on forever, it's probably a Godwit.  In this case a Hudsonian Godwit. Godwits have extremely long bills, dark in the outer half, lighter colored near the base. They may be straight or slightly upturned. The wings are a solid charcoal black underneath, but what separates it from the other Godwits is the black tail surrounded by a patch of white feathers. These are uncommon in the state.

Big bird, long two-toned, upturned bill. A Godwit? Yes, Hudsonian, no. This is the Marbled Godwit. It's larger than Hudsonian, nests in western Canada, and winters along the Atlantic and Pacific coast. It does not have the large black and white tail patches. It also lacks the black along the wing margins. I have seen this bird in Florida but never Ohio.

Also unlikely in Ohio is another sleek bird known as the Black-necked Stilt. It occurs along the gulf coast and in the western states. The long red legs, skinny neck, and needle like bill are diagnostic.
Hey, it's a turkey with a stick in its mouth. Last but not least I couldn't resist putting up the bird with the best bill of all, the Long-billed Curlew. This is a bird of western grasslands. The only thing that even resembles this that passes through Ohio is the Whimbrel.  Whimbrels have very black and white stripes on the head, not brown markings like this. Their bills are only half the length, and their bellies are white, not this cinnamon brown.

Now that it's over, how about A QUIZ?
1
2
3

Did you get them to a group at least?
1) Yellowlegs
2) A Sanderling on the left and Rudy Turnstone on the right.
3) The big one is a Willet and the two smaller ones are Dowitchers.

Now I know what you're thinking. After this I hope he goes back to posting flowers and bugs instead. Once again, all thanks go to Fritz Griffith for documenting the birds of Hebron Fish Hatchery.


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