It’s time to get out on the beach to birdwatch! Shorebird migration has begun in earnest during the last two weeks. Fourteen different species have been identified on our beaches or on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge to date.
One species, the buff-breasted sandpiper, is very special, because it is rare not only in our area, but also in Pacific County. In fact, we have only a few more than five records of this beautiful shorebird.
It is medium in size at about 8 inches. Its head is small and rounded, giving it the same appearance as a dove’s head. Generally speaking, it is buffy all over. However, closer inspection reveals a black eye with a white-eye ring, a short, black, pointed bill, a scaly back and long bright, yellow legs. The “Sibbley Guide to Birds” (2014) describes the buff-breasted sandpiper as “walking with a high stepping gait.” Its high stepping, brilliant yellow legs are diagnostic.
The buff-breasted sandpiper is a bird that migrates up through the middle of the continent in spring to its Arctic breeding grounds and then back again to its wintering area in southern South America in the fall. It prefers to nest in the tundra’s short grassy areas and forages by picking insects as it walks.
What makes this sighting even more interesting and indeed important, is the fact that according to the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory, “This species is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action.” Hunting brought the buff-breasted sandpiper to near extinction during the 1920s, but shortly afterwards regulations were put in place and the sandpiper began to make a comeback. However, they now seem to be on the decline once again. Its official status, conservation wise, is near threatened, according to the Cornell Lab. In addition, this sandpiper is rarely seen on mudflats, because it prefers grassy areas. What is responsible for its presence on our ocean beaches is anyone’s guess, but it is likely that the weather has had something to do with it.
I am sure you agree that now it is time to start birding on the beach. You may see a rarity too! Keep your eyes open!