Saturday, September 25, 2010

Black-bellied Plovers at Sandy Point

Although Black-bellied Plovers are probably the most widely distributed species of shorebirds in the world, this was the first time that I got a good look at them.  I had taken my nephew, visiting from Germany, on a whale watching cruise out of Newburyport. After our return mid-afternoon  there was still time to look for shorebirds at Sandy Point on Plum Island.

Returning to Newburyport harbor

On Sandy Point we came upon a row of birders with telescopes who were searching for the BlackSkimmers that had been reported in the area but had not been seen for the past couple of hours. We were in  luck in that the tide was going out exposing the mudflats and tidal pools where a flock of birds was feeding. Watching me photograph these birds would be boring for my nephew but I held out the promise of a meal at the fabulous Plum Island Grille. He stayed on the beach while I slowly made my way across dried mud toward the birds.

Black-bellied Plovers and a Semipalmated Sandpiper

Black-bellied Plovers and a Short-billed Dowitcher .

The majority turned out to be Black-bellied Plovers. Their plumage varies greatly by age from speckled gray and white in the juveniles to solid black from throat to upper belly in the adult male with silvery speckles on a dark back. In winter they molt into a nondescript ashy gray, only easily recognizable by their black axillaries.

Black-bellied Plover showing black axillaries
Short-billed Dowitcher and female adult Black-bellied Plover
Juvenile Black-bellied Plover

Adult female in front showing white intermixed with black on upper belly, chest and neck
Adult male Black-bellied Plover
 Black-bellied Plovers are vigilant,  always on guard, giving alarm and flying off as soon the perceive some disturbance in their environment. They are not easily approached.  Although much sought after as a game bird,  this wariness, along with their habit of not traveling in dense flocks, probably saved them from decimation by hunters. They breed in the high arctic but for the rest of the year they are present on all coasts world-wide. It is known for it's haunting call:

 Clip recorded by Bernabe Lopez-Lantus on 2/19/05 in Uruguay and downloaded from the bird song sharing site under the Creative Commons License.

At last we made our way back to Plum Island proper, just in time to grab a couple of seats at the inside bar of the Plume Island Grille for a hamburger for him and a salad with warm goat cheese on bread for me. Delicious!

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  1. There could hardly be a more wonderful thing for the planet and the rest of us on it for a person to take a youngster birding, or gardening, or butterfly watching or anything of the sort. You've done a great thing there and it looks like you had a grand time, too. Nice shorebird shots. You do well to attempt IDs. I for one have nearly given up!

  2. Looks like you had a fabulous time! I just spent time with my nieces from Germany (München) two weeks ago. I had a blast with them.

    ...beautiful Black-bellied Plovers. I love them!

  3. The distinctive call of the Grey Plover ... just great. Their numbers are slowly building up along the south coast over here.

  4. Thank you, Robin, Kelly and Frank, for your comments. My nephew stayed with us for 3 weeks; he left yesterday. He was such a nice kid! We'll miss him.

  5. That's great pictures!!! Very interesting to see the different molting patterns. I only saw them in winter and breeding plumage, never like that.


  6. Hi Hilke,
    I'm artfully inspired by your photo: "Adult female in front showing white intermixed with black on upper belly, chest and neck" It makes me crave paper-making, mixed media again. Oh- what an incentive to finish my thesis and get back into something creative! Nice job.

  7. I think they're marvelous creatures, and very fun to watch. I love the earnest expressions on their very serious faces - and those big round eyes, too. Nice post, Hilke!

  8. Excellent!! They certainly look a bit travel worn this time of year

  9. Thank you, "Anonymous, LV,Susan and Harold. Shorebirds are my favorites, because they are easily seen against a quiet bland background, are usually not too shy and are large enough not to disappear as tiny specks in a photo.


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