Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Shorebirds Galore! Well, Not Really.

Shorebirds galore! Well not really, but in Mecklenburg County you take what you can get. This county is shorebird habitat deprived. Usually only a severe drought that lowers pond levels significantly enough to expose a lot of mud results in large numbers of shorebirds being findable here. So when I visited a local wastewater treatment plant recently to look for shorebirds, I was pleased to find a whopping six whole species.
Killdeer are the common and conspicuous member of the shorebird clan in our area. They are with us year-round, and they were well represented at the facility. They have a diminutive cousin that is superficially similar in appearance, and it was present this day too. The semipalmated plover is a rare migrant through the county so I was glad to find one.
Not to be confused with the semipalmated plover is the semipalmated sandpiper. In appropriate habitat they are a fairly common fall migrant, and there were five at the facility. Their smaller cousin, the least sandpiper, was well represented too. They are very reliable at that site. I also was able to spot four lesser yellowlegs. I tried to make at least one into a greater yellowlegs but could not. To round out the shorebird tally, there were a couple of spotted sandpipers (without their spots since it is not the breeding season) walking around on the concrete pond edges.

I have written before of my quest to see two-hundred bird species in Mecklenburg County in 2014. In order to do that I will have to get a decent list of shorebirds. I added four species to my current tally that day so it was a productive outing but I need about three or four more shorebirds to stay on track. I have till mid-October to get them before they will all be passed through the area and gone. It’s been dry lately. Maybe some mud will get exposed and attract a few more than usual. If you know of a pond with shorebirds, let me know. 

Semipalmated plover by Jeff Lewis

Superficially this semipalmated plover looks like the much larger killdeer pictured below. When seen together, the size and voice differences are apparent. Killdeer are common in our area year round in fields, athletic complexes, and even large open lawns. 

Killdeer by Kent Fiala

Semipalmated sandpiper by Jeff Lewis

Semipalmated sandpipers differ from the similarly-sized least sandpiper by lighter plumage, darker and longer legs, and a straighter, stubbier bill. Note the least sandpiper's yellowish legs and thinner bill with a droop at the end.

Least sandpiper by Jeff Lewis

Lesser yellowlegs  by Jeff Lewis

Both the lesser and greater yellowlegs are aptly named. Both species are also very similar in appearance. Again, when seen together the size difference is apparent. The voices are different too. 

Spotted sandpipers in the fall look very different from the spring and summer birds. Notice the lack of spots in the fall bird below compared to the spring bird.

Spotted sandpiper by John Ennis

Spotted sandpiper by John Ennis