Spotting the Elusive Spotted Sandpiper -August 2018

by: Virginia Andrews

It could be a tongue-twister, stepping out for a spot of Spotted Sandpiper spotting. And it can sometimes be a challenge, as Spotted Sandpipers often shed some or all of their spotted plumage on migration.

So, spotting a Spotted Sandpiper without the spots takes a bit of – spotting. Nonetheless, it can be a rewarding entry to the world of shorebirds.

Some birders give up on shorebirds because they think they are just too hard to identify. The light on a summer day can be harsh and flat. Shorebirds have surprisingly good camouflage, being a mix of browns and whites, just like the sandy flats and reflections off the water where they spend their days.

The patterns of streaks and spots can be ambiguous, particularly in young birds. It is true that a telescope really makes the whole enterprise much more enjoyable. But even without much magnification, there are things to look for. The size and shape of the bill and head, and leg color, are good initial guides to identification.

But there is an easy trick to separating Spotties from all the other shorebirds that have brownish-grayish backs and grayish-whitish bellies: their behavior. Even to the naked eye, the Spotted Sandpiper in all plumages has a very distinctive walk.

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