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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rock on

Well, "Mama Bear" rumbled through last night and took the electrical power with her.  ["Mama Bear" was the third storm of the week, following "Baby Bear" and "Papa Bear."]  So we headed to the coast and I went for a walk.  I thought the conditions might be good for viewing "rockpipers" — sandpipers associated with rocky shore habitat.  The waves were big and the tide was rising, which concentrates the shorebirds in higher/drier locations.

But I wasn't expecting to see this species!  I've been wanting to get photographs of this sandpiper for a long time, and today was finally the day.

Rock Sandpipers (Calidris ptilocnemis) are rare winter visitors to northern California.  They're mostly found north of here, from Alaska to southern B.C., as well as in Washington and Oregon.

When present they are often found with flocks of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds.  Today I got lucky and spotted this individual roosting on the bluff edge.

A few characteristics to look for: relatively small size, overall grayish coloration, dark spotting on the chest and along the sides, a slightly decurved bill with orange at the base (especially on the upper mandible).

The next photo shows the dark spots below and the yellowish leg color:

And here's a close-up of the face, with a good view of the bill:

Later I found the flock roosting high on the shore.  Although a bit distant, it was an excellent opportunity to compare the Rock Sandpiper with Surfbird and Black Turnstone.  Can you identify all three in the purple square below?

The Rock Sandpiper is on the right, the Surfbird is on the left, and the Black Turnstone is in the middle above.  The Surfbird is larger, with a straight, plover-like bill and a prominent white eye-ring.  (Note that the orange at the base of the bill is more dominant on the lower mandible rather than the upper mandible.)  The Black Turnstone is darker and has a slightly upturned bill.  For better pictures of both, review earlier posts on Surfbirds and Black Turnstones.

"Mama Bear" took the power away, but she brought a Rock Sandpiper! 

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