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Sunday, January 13, 2013

In flight

Here's a fun little quiz.  How many species of sandpipers can you find in this photo?  And how many individuals of each species?  (Which birds look similar to each other, and which birds look different?)

Answer: There are 3 species of sandpipers.  
Below I'll reveal their identities, but I hope you found 5 individuals of one species, 1 individual of a second species, and 1 individual of a third species.

In flight, you can use a few different characteristics to separate these sandpipers:

* size: small, medium, or large
* tail pattern
* wing/back pattern

- The Surfbirds are the largest with a broad white tail band and single white wing bar.  

- The Rock Sandpiper is the smallest and is the only one lacking a complete white tail band.  Instead it has a dark line running down the center of the tail.  It has a single white wing bar.  

- The Black Turnstone shows the most white, with a complete white tail band, single white wing bar, additional white bar near the base of the wing, and a white stripe running up the back.

Here's the photo again.  Can you tell which is which?

5 Surfbirds, 1 Black Turnstone, and 1 Rock Sandpiper
[The two lowest birds include the Rock Sandpiper (left) and Black Turnstone (right)]


Below is a slightly different view of the same birds (they're now in different positions).  For practice, can you identify the three species again?  (The light isn't quite as good, but I think you'll still be able to do it.  Remember you can click on the photo to enlarge it.)

This time the Rock Sandpiper is second from the left and the Black Turnstone is fourth from the right. 

On 2 December 2012, I posted images of a Rock Sandpiper.  I've caught up with it a few more times since then (as recently as 12 January 2013), so this seems like a good opportunity to share some additional photos.

Three "rockpipers" (because they prefer rocks rather than sand):

From left to right: Rock Sandpiper, Surfbird, Black Turnstone

Patterned like granite:

Profile view:

Partaking in a nap (note the worn and tattered feather edges):

Probing the Porphyra (Rock Sandpiper at upper left):

Recently, all of these sandpipers have been foraging among the dark maroon patches of Porphyra (a red seaweed) growing on the rocks.  I'm not sure what they're finding there — amphipods?

Rock Sandpipers generally leave this area by the end of March.  There's only one record for April (in 1969).  It'll be interesting to see when this one departs for its northern breeding grounds.

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