Every year when I start looking at shorebirds again they all seem to blend together. Western, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers are all a shade off of each other. The differences between species, especially peeps, can seem minuscule. I headed out to Plat I Reservoir today to try my luck at finding a Semipalmated Sandpiper, a rare bird for Douglas County, and an uncommon bird for the West Coast.
|Peep identification can be a real head-scratcher|
Even if I could find one, I was worried about being able to identify it, as I believe I have only seen one before in my life, and it was at the very beginning of my journey as a beginner birder. Luckily for me, conditions, while hot (88F at the start of my paddle, 94F at the end) were excellent, and the birds were very cooperative.
The first thing that stood out to me was the large number of Western Sandpipers that were on the mudflats.
In review: WESTERN SANDPIPER
BILL: LONG, HEAVY, SLIGHTLY DROOPING
SIZE: NOTICEABLY LARGER THAN LEAST SANDPIPER, SLIGHTLY LARGER THAN SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER
|Blurry juvenile Least Sandpiper at rear, Western Sandpiper in front|
In review: LEAST SANDPIPER
BILL: SHORT, DAINTY, POINTED, SLIGHTLY DROOPING
SIZE: SMALLER THAN BOTH SEMIPALMATED AND WESTERN SANDPIPERS
|Is it my target bird?|
As you can see, the bird in the above picture has dark legs, and a stout, stubby bill that is quite straight. These features, along with it's size in comparison to a nearby Western Sandpiper and Least Sandpiper gave me a hint that I had found what I was searching for: a Semipalmated Sandpiper.
|Slightly smaller than Western? Check. Shorter bill than Western? Black Legs? Check and Check.|
|Stubbier and stouter bill than (blurry) Least Sandpiper in foreground? Check.|
We have a winner! The Semipalmated Sandpiper in these three photos fit all of the criteria. First, it's slightly smaller than the Western Sandpiper and larger than the Least Sandpiper. Second, it has black legs, unlike the Least Sandpiper. Finally, it has a short, stout, stubby bill, different than both the Western and Least Sandpipers.
In review: SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER
BILL: SHORT, STOUT, BLUNT TIP
SIZE: A LITTLE SMALLER THAN WESTERN, YET LARGER THAN LEAST.
I was quite happy to have found my year-Semipalmated Sandpiper. But my day wasn't over. Next I continued to take pictures of peeps to study at home. I got an excellent shot of a Western Sandpiper pulling a worm out of the ground, but when I got home...
|BLURRY! Darn it!|
I continued paddling and snapping, and did get a few shots that I was happy with.
|Get that worm!|
I was pretty happy at this point, but when I rounded the corner on the reservoir, in the distance I could see what appeared to be some dark shorebirds. What were they? Wilson's Snipe? Nope! A trio of Virginia Rails was running around on the mudflat with the shorebirds. Wild! I have rarely seen them out in the open and here were three feeding in plain sight.
|I didn't realize how fair-sized they are for such a sneaky bird!|
It was getting pretty hot by now and I was ready to head somewhere else. However, when I rounded the final corner a huge, golden shorebird flew in and landed on the flat. It was a Long-Billed Curlew! A very good bird for Douglas County!
|Long Billed Curlew! I originally called it a Whimbrel.|
|Notice how pale it's breast is, compared to a Whimbrel, which is more heavily streaked.|
Finally, notice how plain and pale the face is. I attributed this to lighting, but it's actuallya good marker for Long-Billed Curlew. In a post teaching about shorebirds I get corrected! It goes to show how much I have to learn, which isn't a bad thing. We all make mistakes!
I was very happy with my results today. I hit three of my birding joys: identifying difficult species, taking good pictures, and finding good birds. I also noticed some strange crabs. While the pictures are poor I thought I would post them.
|Big Red-Clawed Crab|
|Big Greenish Crab?|
What do you think? Post your responses below. Until then:
|Keep plodding along!|