Shorebirds returning

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Ruddy Turnstone rests out of the wind in a footprint.

A shorebird that looks almost like a calico cat, the Ruddy Turnstone’s orange legs and uniquely patterned black-and-white head and chest make them easy to pick out of a crowd. These long-distance migrants breed in the arctic tundra, but spend the off seasons on rocky shorelines and sandy beaches on both North American coasts (as well as South America, Eurasia, Africa, and Australia).

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Willets are coming back south too.

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The willet (Tringa semipalmata), formerly in the monotypic genus Catoptrophorus as Catoptrophorus semipalmatusis a large shorebird in the sandpiper family. It is a relatively large and robust member sandpiper, and is the largest of the species called “shanks” in the genus Tringa.

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These rocks are part of the Anastasia geological formation. They are quite striking near the House of Refuge on Hutchinson Island.

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Also taking a break from feeding, a Sanderling.

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The beach, looking north. We stopped by yesterday in the late afternoon to see if there were any more falcons coming through. There were not.

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But this little Sanderling landed right next to me and let me take a few photos. Pretty plumage. Sweet little birds.

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The Sanderling’s black legs blur as it runs back and forth on the beach, picking or probing for tiny prey in the wet sand left by receding waves. Sanderlings are medium-sized “peep” sandpipers recognizable by their pale nonbreeding plumage, black legs and bill, and obsessive wave-chasing habits. Learn this species, and you’ll have an aid in sorting out less common shorebirds. These extreme long-distance migrants breed only on High Arctic tundra, but during the winter they live on most of the sandy beaches of the world.

Welcome back to your “winter” home!

Ruddy turnstone Sunday

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Ruddy Turnstone at Bob Graham Beach last Sunday.

We were parked in our new Tommy Bahama “Relax” backpack beach chairs with built in cooling pockets and cup holders for Sunday brunch beverages and a flock of these little guys were coming quite close, hoping for crumbs from our fresh, hot Cuban sandwiches from the nearby Island Pantry.

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A shorebird that looks almost like a calico cat, the Ruddy Turnstone‘s orange legs and uniquely patterned black-and-white head and chest make them easy to pick out of a crowd. These long-distance migrants breed in the arctic tundra, but spend the off seasons on rocky shorelines and sandy beaches on both North American coasts (as well as South America, Eurasia, Africa, and Australia). They use their stout, slightly upturned bill to flip debris on the beach to uncover insects and small crustaceans.

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Chubster.

For shorebirds like the Ruddy Turnstone, getting fat is critical. Unlike humans, which use carbohydrates as fuel, birds use fat to power their migrations. Birds that don’t get fat enough before they depart often leave later and some may not even make it to the breeding or wintering grounds.

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It was a very windy day. Some fishermen battled the elements.

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There were some Sanderlings around too, as there often are with Ruddy Turnstones.

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A couple of kite surfers were fun to watch just off the beach.

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Wind and water.

Shorebirds galore

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Willet in the surf at Bathtub Beach last Thursday.

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Willets are often seen alone. They walk deliberately, pausing to probe for crabs, worms and other prey in sand and mudflats, or to pick at insects and mollusks.

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Willets and other shorebirds were once a popular food. In his famous Birds of America accounts, John James Audubon wrote that Willet eggs were tasty and the young “grow rapidly, become fat and juicy, and by the time they are able to fly, afford excellent food.” By the early 1900s, Willets had almost vanished north of Virginia. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 banned market hunting and marked the start of the Willet’s comeback.

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A couple of Willets plus a Sanderling for size.

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Ruddy turnstones. I see a lot of these but have not yet blogged them.

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The ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) is a small wading bird, one of two species of turnstone in the genus Arenaria. The scientific name is from Latin. The genus name arenaria derives from arenarius, “inhabiting sand, from arena, “sand”. The specific interpres means “messenger”; when visiting Gotland in 1741, Linnaeus thought that the Swedish word Tolk “interpreter” applied to this species, but in the local dialect the word means “legs” and is used for the redshank.