Last night’s class, held on a Monday instead of the usual Wednesday due to a conflict with a parent-teacher meeting at Marina Middle School, finished up genus Tringa and some more rare sandpipers.
We started as usual with a round-table on recent observations. Joe said a probable Eastern Yellow Wagtail was seen over the weekend at Malibu Lagoon (which I assume is in/near Malibu, California, and thus a bit of a drive, but us crazy birders have been known to drive very long distances to view rare birds!).
An Ovenbird was seen at Point Reyes in a tree referred to as “the Oven,” because when they are seen, it is usually there.
A Sabine’s Gull has been seen by several people in Lake Hennessey in Napa County.
We picked up where we left off last class on pg. 168 of the National Geographic guide (Amazon link).
Wandering Tattler (WATA):
- breeds in the Yukon and interior Alaska
- is a long-distance migrant, to Polynesia & South America
- although it breeds inland, it migrates exclusively along the coast, and is a rare bird inland outside of its breeding grounds
- prefers coastal, rocky shores
- is part of a group casually called “Rockpipers” – sandpipers that prefer rocky habitat. Other “rockpipers” include Turnstones and Surfbirds
- bobs its head and pumps its tail as it moves
- plain gray above in all plumages, gray below too on winter & juvenile birds
- straight gray bill
- is overall a plain lead’ish color in flight
- has a hollow whistling call
- is an early Pacific coast migrant, seen Jul-Sep on the California coast
- some very small numbers winter in the SF Bay Area, which is at the extreme northern end of their wintering range
- is a common-to-uncommon sight during migration, rare in winter
- is one of only two world-wide Tattler species
- in alternate plumage, has barred underparts and a mottled chest, with particularly pronounced barring on the undertail coverts
- has a white supercilium from bill to eye, fading as it extends behind the eye
- can be mistaken for a Willet, but WATA is darker, about half the size, and has yellow legs
- although some guides (including National Geographic) mention the length of the “nasal groove” as a diagnostc for distinguishing WATA from the rare Gray-tailed Tattler (GTTA), this is useless as a field mark, and is reliable only if the bird is in the hand, and a pair of calipers are nearby. The nasal groove cannot generally be seen at all, and it’s often confused with the nostril, which it isn’t (it’s a groove running from the end of the nostril toward the tip of the bill).
Gray-tailed Tattler (GTTA):
- breeds from Eastern Siberia to Arctic Siberia
- migrates along the western Pacific coast (Japan, Australia, etc)
- is a little smaller than the WATA
- in alternate plumage, has finer barring on underparts, and no barring on its belly
- beware, though, that the WATA molts during migration, so some/many individuals seen in our area also have clean bellies, although migrating WATA tend to still have pronounced barring on the undertail coverts, while the GTTA doesn’t
- is a very rare bird in California. One was once documented at Edwards AFB
- is paler above than WATA
- used to be called the “Polynesian Tattler”
- its white supercilium may extend across the bridge of the nose, but it’s not known if this is a reliable field mark
- Contains Common Sandpiper (COSA) and Spotted Sandpiper (SPSA)
- bob their tails like Tattlers
- are not Arctic birds, breeding farther south, and are not “rockpipers”
- the 2 species are very similar in basic plumage, and very different in alternate plumage
- In Eurasia, COSA fills the same ecological niche as SPSA does in North America
Spotted Sandpiper (SPSA):
- Some individuals retain winter-like plumage through its first summer. Such birds do undergo a pre-alternate molt, but lack the hormones to produce an adult’s alternate plumage
- many supposed COSA sightings are juvenile SPSA
- SPSA have unique stiff, pointed wingbeats, quite unlike any other bird, save for the COSA, which flies in the same manner
- usually has a pink-based bill, whereas COS’s bill is all dark. The combination of pink’ish bill and yellow’ish legs is often enough to ID this bird in basic plumage, but lack of those traits don’t mean it isn’t a SPSA either.
- is pretty easy to ID in alternate plumage, as it has distinct and unique spots on its chest and belly
- breeds in the SF Bay Area, known sites include the mouths of the Pescadero, Salinas, and Russian Rivers
- also likes mountainous lakes (indeed, this is the only place I have seen one myself)
- has a “wheeet wheeet” call
- has white supercilium, less visible in basic plumage than alternate
Common Sandpiper (COSA):
- unlike SPSA, COSA never has spotting on its breast in any plumage
- COSA is regularly seen in the Aleutian Islands
- has yellower legs than SPSA
- although both birds have long’ish tails, COSA has a relatively longer tail than SPSA, and so appears to have longer tail projection
- has white supercilium, like SPSA
- in flight, COSA has a much longer wing stripe
Now that we finished genus Tringa, we had a pop quiz(!!). Joe showed us 20 slides of various birds we’ve covered so far, and asked us to silently write down our ID, then we went through each together to see what it was. I scored 12 out of 20, which I actually thought was doing alright since so many of these particular sandpipers are 1) rarely seen (particuarly not by me – of the 15 species we’ve gone over in these 3 classes, I have personally seen only 5) and 2) are rather similar.
Concluding, we did “name that bird” again.