August 17, 2017
by Andy Griswold
Where to find it: Baird’s Sandpiper is a long-distance Central Flyway migrant from its high Arctic breeding grounds to South America, straying east to Connecticut in late summer and autumn. When here, they’re found on mudflats, the edges of grassy ponds and marshes, and beaches above the wrack line — the line of debris left on the beach by high tide.
If you encounter a bird picking through this drier area in the coming weeks, Baird’s should be an immediate suspect.
In the past, the Shell Beach Avenue marshes in Branford, off Route 146 and the pools off the Moraine Trail at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison have been good places to look for this species. Our Coastal Center at Milford Point is always a good place to look for all kinds of shorebirds. Last week, I found a sub-adult Baird’s Sandpiper on a private beach in Old Saybrook.
How to find it: To view the Shell Beach marshes, there is a pull-off on the north side of Route 146, 100 yards east of Shell Beach Avenue. Park at the pull-off and walk across the street. Scopes can be set up beyond the guardrail. Care should be taken crossing this busy road. A spotting scope is helpful when looking for shorebirds, as they often feed well out in the marsh, but the Baird’s have also been seen regularly in the pools and along the marsh edge near the road.
At Hammonasset, park at the Meig’s Point parking lot and walk out the moraine tail. The pools are on the left. Any Connecticut beach with dunes and a drier upper beach area is a good place to look in the next three or four weeks.
At the Coastal Center, scan the sandbars with your scope.
What it looks like: Baird’s Sandpiper is a long-winged, medium-sized sandpiper, slightly larger than the Semipalmated Sandpiper that are common on our shores now. It is the same size and shape as White-rumped Sandpiper.
Both Baird’s and White-rumped have wingtips that extend beyond the end of the tail and often cross above it. Baird’s is warm brown in color, dark-rumped, and often looks hooded due to fine brown streaks on the head and its buffy colored breast. White-rumps are gray-toned, show a white rump, have arrowhead-shaped streaks down the flanks, and a more patterned face.
Both have medium-sized slightly drooping bills. Baird’s has a completely dark bill and White-rumped shows a bit of red at the base of the lower mandible that is visible at close range.
One significant note on field marks is that nearly all Baird’s Sandpiper that occur in Connecticut in August and September are young birds-of-the-year with fresh, pale-edged, and very scalloped-looking back and wing feathers. This scalloping may be the first field mark you pick-up on when scanning.
What if the bird isn’t there? The next three to four weeks are a fine time to see shorebirds in Connecticut. Check the marshes at different times of day since changing tides cause the birds to move from place to place, either within the marsh, or to and from other sites.
At Shell Beach, if the birds are not visible from Route 146, check the marsh from Shell Beach Avenue. Park on the road near the red barn, being careful not to block either the road or the barn driveway. At Hammonasset, check the Meig’s Point Nature Center Pools and the pools, pond edges, and the fields near the Swan Pond at the west end of the park. And of course, check any of the state’s less traveled beaches that feature newly deposited debris at the high tide line.
Conservation status: Baird’s Sandpiper is considered to be of least concern by the IUCN.
Find our previous Bird Finders here.
Photos: Dominic Sherony, top, and Bill Bouton, Carolinabirds.org