Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Adult Buff-breasted Sandpiper                      Derek Rogers

While we're still within the window of shorebird season, I wanted to write about one of my favorite birds of the world, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. There's something about the grasspipers that really attract me. I'm sure it has a lot to do with my fascination for the far north and the high Arctic habitat in which several of our migrant shorebirds breed. Buffys nest way up in the islands of the Arctic, as far as northern areas of Baffin Bay. They are common migrants throughout central North America (Great Plains) but uncommon along the Atlantic Coast. Nearly all of the Buff-breasted Sandpipers that reach Long Island during Fall migration are juveniles.

Brown/Rufous Fringed Scapulars                       Derek Rogers

This year, on the morning of August 20th, I observed an adult Buff-breasted Sandpiper foraging in the median at Hecksher State Park in Great River, NY. Adults are extremely uncommon along the coast and can also be difficult to identify. A molting adult (in this case, transitioning from breeding plumage to non-breeding) will show brown/buffy edges on their scapulars. Pay close attention to the minute details on these feathers, as they are an important indicator of species and age of many shorebirds. The photo on the right clearly shows at least 3 individual, brown-fringed scapulars.

It was early in the morning when I first located this bird. Unfortunately I was on my way out of the park and didn't have much time to spend studying and documenting it. I got on the phone with some birding friends that I knew would keep this Buffy in good hands. A good number of people were provided with views and the bird was still on site at around 5:00 PM when I returned. I continued to observe the Adult Buffy for an hour and a half as it probed and picked around the ball field. Earthworms provided for a large source of its food intake. I had fun with some digiscoping on my iPhone and managed this quick foraging video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8-_XGbyxHE&feature=plcp

I would love to someday visit the Buff-breasted Sandpipers at their breeding grounds. Perhaps I'd even get lucky enough to view males at their lek sites. By now, this Adult Buff-breasted is well on his way to southern South America where it will spend it's winter preparing for yet another long distant flight to the high Arctic of North America.


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