SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS ON ABACO

Semi-Palmated Plover, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

‘CHECK OUT THE WEB’: SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS ON ABACO

“Semipalmated”. You what? Come again? Ehhhh? My reactions to the word until embarrassingly recently. In fact until the steep learning curve involved in writing a bird book made some all of the terminology clearer. Plovers and sandpipers both have semipalmated versions, and I’ll take the semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) first.

Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?

A small shorebird with a grey-brown back and wings, a white underside with a single black neck band, and orange legs. They have a brown cap, a white forehead, a black eye mask and a short black bill with an orange base to it. And feet to be discussed below.Semi-palmated Plover WB P1001211 copySemipalmated Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

WHERE DO THEY LIVE?

Their summer home and breeding habitat is on the beaches and flats of northern Canada and Alaska. They nest in scrapes on the ground right out in the open. In the Autumn these little birds set off on long journeys south to warmer climes until Spring: the coasts of the southern states, Caribbean and South America. On Abaco, they are fairly common in certain areas including the beach at Delphi. Like other plovers, these  birds are gregarious and will mix in with other shorebirds – which can make them hard to pick out in the crowd.Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

GET ON WITH THE ‘SEMIPALMATED’ BIT, PLEASE

‘Semipalmated’ refers to the partial webbing between their toes. There are different degrees of palmation, as these handy graphics demonstrate:

Semipalmate: in practice, very hard so see in the field e.g. plovers & sandpipers semipalmate

Palmate: full webbing across the ‘front’ 3 toes, e.g. gulls

palmate

Totipalmate: all toes are fully webbed e.g. cormorants

totipalmate

Nonpalmate: please supply own imagination 

Gregarious flight: there are sandpipers in the mix (clue: long bills)Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

WHAT DO THESE BIRDS EAT?

Semipalmated plovers are much like any other small shorebird foraging on beaches and foreshores. They eat insects, crustaceans and worms. Here is a bird in a promising place for its preferred diet.

Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (f, nb) Bruce Hallett FV

ANYTHING ELSE TO LOOK OUT FOR?

Like other plover species – Wilson’s and Killdeer for example – a semipalmated will  use the ‘broken wing’ ploy to lure a predator away from a nest and the eggs or chicks in it. As it flops about pathetically on the sand looking vulnerable, it actually moves gradually further away from the nest. If it comes to the crunch it is able to take wing rapidly, leaving a very puzzled predator behind.Semipalmated_Plover,_broken_wing_display (D Gordon E Robertson)

Semipalmated plovers flying with 2 sandpipersSemi-palmated Plover AH IMG_0612 jpg

Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 6, 9, 10); Woody Bracey (2, 3); Tony Hepburn (4); Charles Skinner (5); Bruce Hallett (7); D Gordon E Robertson (8);  Bird foot infographics people.eku.edu AH IMG_1637 copy

Advertisements

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

“CHECK OUT THE WEB” (2) SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

Having recently headlined a post for SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS with a web-related title, I’m repeating it for Abaco’s other part-webbed shorebird, the semipalmated sandpiper. Either it’s so apposite that it doesn’t need changing; or else I lack the imagination to think up something new…

Semipalmated Sandpiper (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
semipalmateThis attractive little sandpiper Calidris pusilla has the partially webbed feet that give it its name. In spring and fall these ‘peeps’ are the most numerous shorebirds on Abaco but they are just passing through on their migration further south – so-called ‘transients’. Flocks of these birds may be arriving any moment now on a beach near you. The signifiers are black legs, a short, straight dark bill, and a body that is white underneath and brown /gray on top, tinged lighter on the head and neck. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla (MDF) 

SO THEY’RE EASY TO SPOT ON THE SHORELINE?

Not really, I’m afraid. This species is very easy to confuse with other small shorebirds (with which they happily mingle), especially the less common western sandpiper which has a slightly longer and downturned bill. It takes an experienced birder to tell them apart. The most reliable way – to see the feet to check for the partial webbing between the toes – is far from easy. A photograph of the bird as it picks its way across sand, tide margins or mud may be best, if you can zoom in on the feet. The webbing is just visible in both the images above and the one below. 

 Semipalmated sandpiper (Thomas W. Gorman : Conserve Wildlife NJ

WHERE DO SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS LIVE?

These are birds of the far north – Canada’s tundras and Alaska, close to water – where they breed and lay their eggs in scrapes. Rather sweetly, the male makes several prospective nests for the female to choose her favourite and furnish with grasses etc. Both adults share incubation duties. The chicks are independent almost as soon as they are hatched. Then in early fall they head many miles south to warmer places, of which Abaco is one of the most northerly, principally as a stopover for rest before continuing their journey to the coastal margins of South America. The migrating flocks may contain tens of thousands of birds. Of the many range maps around, this one from the excellent avibirds.com shows the marked contrast between the summer and winter habitats very clearly. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper distribution map (Avibirds.com)

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Dick Daniels Wiki)

HOW DO THEY COMPARE IN SIZE WITH OTHER SANDPIPERS?

The SPSP is one of the smallest shorebirds, the female being slightly larger than the male. This image shows 2 of them in the company of a much larger white-rumped sandpiper (also a transient on Abaco) for comparison.White-rumped Sandpiper + 2 semi-palmated(Woody Bracey)1 copy 2

Time now to get the binoculars out (now where on earth are they?) and patrol the beach to catch the first of these little birds as they begin to arrive in considerable numbers during their fall migration.Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

ADDENDUM a recent SPSP from Bruce Hallett, in which the semipalmation can be seen Semipalmated Sandpiper (Bruce Hallett)

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 2), MDF (3), Thomas Gorman / Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ (4), Avibirds (infographic), Dick Daniels (5), Woody Bracey (6) [& comments – cheers], Alex Hughes (7)