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Calico Bird

Harlequin-patterned and ornate, Ruddy Turnstones rank high among my favorite shorebirds. They are also nice in that turnstones offer up no identification problems, something that cannot be said of some of their brethren. In fact, I saw the subjects of this blog while chasing a sandpiper that was reported as a Little Stint, at Conneaut Harbor, Ohio. As more details, and especially some exceptional photos, have emerged it has become apparent that the stint was actually a bright juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper. Oh well, these things happen and stints/peeps are among the more challenging groups of birds to sort out.

Gorgeous adult Ruddy Turnstone roots about the mud of Conneaut Harbor. Tame and confiding, turnstones often allow close approach. Breeding as they do in the highest reaches of the Arctic, they're probably not very familiar with people and may view us as large, strange, lumbering oddities rather than threats.

Ah, the harbor at Conneaut is not exactly pristine wilderness. Populated by beer-swilling yahoos, trash-tossing cretins, and off-roading ATV'ers, the sand flats are lively on warm summer days. But the birds eke out a place amongst the detritus and rabble-rousers. These two parti-colored turnstones forage against the backdrop of a discarded Squirt carton, joined by three other species of sandpipers: Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Sanderling. All are globe-trotters, and all will have traversed thousands of miles before the year is out.

The above video shows a couple of foraging turnstones, and some of their beachmates. Pardon the wind noise - it is often breezy out there and my camera's mike is sensitive. The supporting cast includes Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sanderling, and Semipalmated Plover.

Turnstones are feathered piglets, at least in regards to their feeding mannerisms. Like ill-mannered little bulls, they rush around, rudely knocking other 'pipers aside as they snuffle about. Their bills are wide, flattish and spadelike, and the turnstones use them to great effect to cast debris and soil aside to uncover whatever delectables may be hiding beneath. Occasionally I notice other lesser beasts such as Least Sandpipers seemingly lurking close at hand, apparently taking advantage of missed treats uprooted by the turnstones.

You can see several instances of the turnstones using their bills like a shovel, rushing some favorable spot and sending little explosions of sandy mud flying as they excavate the turf. I have watched Ruddy Turnstones find an especially attractive spot and excavate holes nearly as large as themselves.

Even without the thrill of a stint, there were plenty of nice consolation prizes such as the calico birds.


Anonymous said…
thanks for a lovely intro to these birds.
Jack said…
Good to see this bird..I love all your pictures..u got a huge skill..keep it going..
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