The new partnership between Freeport Wild Bird Supply and Down East Adventures finally got underway on August 12th, with our Shorebird Workshop tour. The goal was a full-day immersion in the identification and enjoyment of this diverse group of mostly-migratory species, taking place during the peak of their southbound journey.
The kickoff of what we hope will be a successful relationship was delayed due to the pandemic, but thanks to our small group format, this itinerary was easy to maintain proper social distancing, and we remained in masks the whole time. We caravanned instead of carpooled – which did involve some itinerary modifications.
But everything, especially the shorebirds, worked perfectly. OK, not everything: it was hot, wicked hot. And we made some adjustments once again to find shade for our one longer walk. With temperatures rising into the 90’s and clouds few and far between, we dealt with heat shimmer over the mud, and sunscreen dripping into our eyes.
Nonetheless, as far as our birding and workshopping needs, the birds could not be more cooperative. A Killdeer at our park and ride lot offered us a place to start, with an overview of what a shorebird is, and the basics of sandpipers vs. plovers.
Scarborough Marsh was our destination, and thanks to the birds, we were able to limit the amount of time we spent caravanning and looking for parking by spending the whole day here. The salt pannes along the Eastern Road Trail were our first destination, and with 11 shorebird species present here alone, we ended up spending the duration of the morning – in the shade nonetheless! – systematically sorting through the masses as we built our shorebird identification toolkit. We studied size and structure as we learned how to identify Lesser vs. Greater Yellowlegs (they’re not so hard side-by-side), behavior (such as how to identify distant Short-billed Dowitchers), and the basic difference between sandpipers and plovers with side-by-side Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers (only their name is similar!). We looked at the long wings extending beyond the tail in White-rumped Sandpipers and the portliness of Pectoral Sandpipers. We had over 400 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 100 Least Sandpipers, and we learned how to separate them, even in poor lighting. And, as an added bonus, we teased out a single juvenile Stilt Sandpiper – very uncommon here, but downright rare anywhere else in the state!
After fried clams and/or lobster rolls for lunch, we made a quick stop to see Least Sandpipers up close and personal as the tied started to roll in. Then, at Pine Point, we used our new-found techniques to identify Semipalmated Plovers and Black-bellied Plovers over a quarter mile away (totals of 442 and 30, respectively) and then withing 30 feet! A family group of 5 American Oystercatchers flew by, heading out to roost, showing off how some shorebirds are more flamboyant than others. 3 elegant Whimbrel joined 7 bulky Willets on the last of the mudflats, before we finished up with Semipalmated Plovers and Semipalmated Sandpipers right at our feet!
In the end, we started with “what’s a shorebird” and ended up seeing 14 species of plovers, sandpipers, and oystercatcher. And we learned that most shorebirds are surprisingly easy to identify with a little practice and a suite of observation techniques far beyond the minute little field marks the arrows point to in the book.