Posts Tagged ‘shorebirds’


Baird’s Sandpiper

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

August 17, 2017
Baird’s Sandpiper
Calidris bairdii

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,

Semipalmated Plover

Monday, July 24th, 2017
Semipalmated Plover
Charadrius semipalmatus

by Helena Ives
Where and when to find them: Semipalmated Plovers have recently reappeared on Connecticut beaches, right on time at the beginning of their fall migration.

Named for their semi-webbed toes, which allow them to walk on different substrates, Semipalmated Plovers can be found for the next several months foraging for insects and other invertebrates on mudflats and beaches while they migrate from their nesting territory on Arctic beaches. They winter on the southern perimeter of North America and travel an average of 3,000 miles during both fall and spring migration.

The best places to look in Connecticut include the Coastal Center at Milford Point, Hammonasset Beach State Park, Sandy Point in West Haven, and Greenwich Point Park, although they are common enough so that it’s worth keeping your eyes open for them any time you go to the beach.

These relatives of the Killdeer and Piping Plover (Charadriidae family) are typically seen from late March through late May, and then during the longer fall migration, from mid July through early October, with an occasional non-breeding adult spending the summer in New England.

Both migrations typically begin with breeding and molting adults and conclude with juveniles and first/second year birds.

How to find them: Semipalmated Plovers can usually be found mingling in large groups with other migratory shorebirds, including Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Piping Plovers.

Similar in size and markings to Piping Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers can be distinguished by their dark brown body plumage, the black band around their eye and forehead, and their complete black breast band (usually broken in Piping Plovers).

Although Semipalmated Plovers are generally quiet while foraging on shore, they can be identified by their flight call — a short and husky chu-WEE or too-ee, with other variations possible.

Conservation status: After their populations were crucially depleted in the late 1800’s due to unrestricted hunting and shooting, Semipalmated Plover populations recovered quickly and are now listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red list and are widespread across their territories in North America.

This week’s Bird Finder is written by Helena Ives, who is working for us this summer monitoring birds for the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds. Helena is a senior at the University of Connecticut, majoring in natural resources with a concentration in wildlife conservation.

Photos by Patrick Comins

Bird Finder for July 28: Sanderling

Thursday, July 28th, 2016
sanderling 09-16 bSanderling
Calidris alba

by Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation
It’s late July and that means fall shorebird migration is getting under way, and one of our most ubiquitous shorebirds is the Sanderling. Only the Ruddy Turnstone and the Whimbrel may have a wider distribution. Nesting in the high arctic, Sanderlings can be found after the nesting season and during migration on temperate and tropical beaches all around the world. Look for them now at Hammonnasset, Sandy Point, and Milford Point, among many other possibilities.

In North America, some Sanderlings may winter along the New England coast, including Connecticut, while others will fly more than 6,000 miles to South American temperate beaches.

Beaches are the Sanderlings domain. They characteristically run back and forth following the waves, feeding on small marine invertebrates disturbed by the wave action.
What it looks like: Sanderlings are an easy identification mark. They are very pale, somewhat plump, medium-sized sandpipers with short, black, stout bills and black legs. In breeding plumage, they are rufous on the head, neck and back. Early fall migrants often show some of this left-over rufous plumage. Winter-plumaged birds display a very pale head and whitish cheeks, much different from any other shorebird on the beach.
Where to find it: Sanderlings love hard-packed beaches where they chase the waves back and forth. Nearly any beach along our shoreline is likely to attract Sanderlings, but Hammonasset in Madison, Sandy Point in West Haven, and Milford Point at the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center are particularly attractive to Sanderlings during migration and often all winter long.
How to find it: Look for any shorebirds running back and forth following the waves and you will likely be looking at Sanderlings. Although Semi-palmated Sandpipers and other shorebirds will sometimes chase waves, none do so quite as obsessively as the Sanderling. Sanderlings often roost together in large, compact flocks on the beach.
Interesting trivia:
Question: What is a group of Sanderlings called?
Answer: A “grain”
Photos by Dick Daniels,
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