These notes are from the Oct, 5, 2010 Advanced Birding Class by Ken Brown, notes taken by Ed Pullen.
Tonight look at silhouettes. Next week discuss molt, and start on plumage marks of shorebirds. We will spend 3-4 weeks on shorebirds. This class we will concentrate on shorebirds, gulls, and hawks, and briefly cover the rest. Will look at more details like molt, flight characteristics.
Sibley Page 158-9 shows shorebirds in basic plumage. Most are to scale. Looking at scale and silhouettes. Get the A Guide to Shorebirds book by Crosley et al. You can ID 80+ % of shorebirds by GISS. Learn structure and behavior, it’s more intuitive.
Topography: There are 5 rows of feathers in the scapulars. Primaries are usually black, and you can count the tips. Tertials and scapulars cover the primaries.
Primary projection is very important.
Scapular lines and mantle lines can be important. Look to see if the mantle feathers line up to make a whitish line on the edge of the mantle.
In the flying bird primary feathers numbered from the inside out, most have 9-10 primaries, i.e outermost is #`10. Secondaries numbered from outside in, i.e. #1 is outermost. Variable numbers, most have about 16. Tertials lie just inside the secondaries, Look at Big Sibley page 18 to see how the wings close under the tertials. In the tail the two R1’s are together in the middle of the tail. The primary coverts cover the primaries, and like the primaries the feather tracts originate from the wrist and form the hand, the greater coverts cover the secondaries, if the greater covert tips are white it gives a wing stripe. The Alula is the tip of the “bastard wing” at the very tip of the front of the wrist.
GISS: General Impression Structure and Shape. Relative size is very important, and often see mixed flocks, so you can often get several species in a group. One shorebird by itself can be difficult. If there are no other birds around relate size to a bird you know. Look at structure, i.e. bill length to the length of the head. If the bill is the length of the head it is average bill length. Leg length, bill length, bill thickness, pointy or blunt bill, thick or thin at the base?, chunky or slim bird, attenuated or stocky, short neck like semipalmated SP or longer like western SP?
After these, go to the fine points, leg color, wing projection, bill color, i.e field marks.
Behavior: how does it feed, visually or tactile feeder; deep prober or shallow probing, pick or probe, aggressive or methodical feeder (YLs) Large tightly packed, or loose scattered flock. Least SPs scatter, Western and dunlin tightly packed. Voice can be diagnostic.
Probability is very important. Know what to expect. In July a large flock of dowichers is likely SB, Long-billed often smaller flocks, later in the year. Large flock of small shorebirds in the winter is always made up of primarily dunlin in WA. Now (Oct.) if we see a dowicher at the coast, 90% LB. Too late to likey be SB.
To get used to the intuitive approach, watch your feeder. Look at behaviors, eg. if you see a “Song Sparrow” like bird scratching on the ground it is a Fox Sparrow. Song sparrows don’t scratch.
Silhouettes. Look at the pictures in the shorebird book.
Snowy Plover rounded belly, flat on the back, short legs. Very short tail and bill.
Semipalmated plover more attenuated, though still stocky.
Killdeer nice rounded head, bill almost as long as the head, long tail.
Mountain Plover: Killdeer size, long legs, upright, rounded head, medium sized bill,
Golden plovers: Pacific smaller head and longer legs, Pacific bigger in the chest, American longer primary and wing projection,
Black Belied Plover: Big headed, heavy looking, Big round head, short if any wing projection.
Upland Sandpiper: very unique, medium to long bill on tiny head, long neck, very short wings, tail longer.
Pectoral sandpiper: fairly long bill, blockish head, attenuated. Slightly larger than a dunlin.
Buff Breasted: rounded head, habitat is key.
Oystercatcher: big, stocky bill.
Whimbrel: shorter more acutely curved bill. Striped head.
LB Curlew: attenuated, very long bill, overall rosy brown.
American Avocet: note the Adam’s apple
Sometimes in non-breeding territory birds segregate by sex, females farther south.
Greater Yellowlegs: more aggressive, fast feeder,
Lesser Yellowlegs: smaller, ½ the wt of greater. More attenuated, slimmer, straight bill, medium length, all black bill.
Solitary sandpiper: Long bill, slightly decurved. Compact, smaller than lesser YL and dowichers. Almost always alone. Early fall migrants.
Eastern and Western Willet: long bill thick at the base, Western is larger and darker than the Eastern.
Hudsonian Godwit: slightly smaller than Marbled, smaller bill, can show up in a flock godwits. Wing stripe and banded tail.
Bar Tailed: slightly smaller, two tone bill also. Tends to be two toned earlier in the year. In molt can be more uniform. Use the eye stripe on Bar tailed. Flares behind the eye, vs. marbled ends by the eye.
Bairds Sandpiper & White-rumped are bigger that the other three.
Bills: Bairds needle like, thin throughout, white rumped bigger and two toned, western droopy, semipalmated thick at the base, short and blunt, least shallow at the base, to a point, and slightly decurved.
Baird’s and White-rumped have longer primary projection, in Baird’s so long the wings are sometimes crossed. In WA only fairly common long winged peep is Baird’s.
Western and Semi-palmated have short primary projection,
Least very small, small bill, short primary projection.
Western vs. Semi-palmated: Bill is helpful, but juvenile westerns can have shorter bill too, but is droopy and not thick at the base. Western more bull necked and front heavy. Feeding is different. Western probe and pick, Semi-palmated runs and picks.
Least tends to feed near its feet.
Spotted Sandpiper: Southern Hemisphere in winter, most gone by now. Medium to long, attenuated. Bobbing their tail. (vs whole body bobbing in Solitary SP)
Baird’s tend to shuffle their feet and tend to bob their head with every step.
Dunlin: ( you have to know this, and the really common ones.) black legs and black droopy bill, much bigger than Western. Longer than the head bill. Wing stripe.
Sanderling: size of dunlin, on the beach, chase the waves, short to medium bill. Black bill and legs.
Red Knot: more in the spring. Bigger than dowichers, more upright, chunky. Medium length pointed bill,
Rock sandpiper: Turnstone sized, small, pointed droopy bill. Solid gray above in winter.
Surfbird: large stocky
Wandering Tattler: long attenuated, uniformly colored.
Stilt Sandpiper: smaller than dowicher, upright, rounded head, walk and pick with their bill down,
Dowichers: Key is the voice.
Phalaropes: Habitat/ probability. Red necked smallest, just bigger than western. Red is biggest. Bill shape key. Red Phalarope has plover-like and two-toned bill.
Some Articles to Look at:
O R V I N B S E G B I R D B E H AV I O R
Migrants, Mono Lake, Monsoons, and Molt
Identification of North American Peeps A different Approach to an Old Problem
A tale of Two Strategies: New Advances in the Field Identification of Dowitchers