Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Purple Sandpiper

We have a lot of shorebird diversity in Ohio, but few of their lot create the stir that Purple Sandpipers do. Partly because they are rare, partly because they are unusual in their seasonal appearances and habitat, and partly because they just look cool.

I had the good fortune of seeing not one, but two of them today at Ohio's epicenter of Purple 'Piper sightings, Mentor Headlands. The long rocky jetty that extends out into Lake Erie is probably the best bet for birders seeking this species in Ohio.

Headlands veterans Ray Hannikman and Emil Bacik spotted the birds and had them staked out when we arrived. But my day started with a propitious omen, as a Red Crossbill flew over me not long after I got out of my car in the parking lot. We went on to see a Parasitic Jaeger, Little and Franklin's Gull, and a smattering of Black and Surf Scoters. Headlands almost always produces great birding.

The Headlands crew, on sea watch from the breakwall. It was a cool day - in the low to mid 20's to start - but not very windy. As you might guess, this can be a rather brutal locale when the winds are whipping and the surf is up. The Purple Sandpipers were along the base of the wall, foraging on the rocks by the water. Literally at our feet.

Purple Sandpiper, Calidris maritima. They breed in the highest reaches of the Arctic, and most winter along the northern Atlantic coast of the U.S. and southern Canada. Maritima means "of the sea"; apropos as this species spends a good deal of its life cycle in salt spray. But small numbers wing through the Great Lakes. November and December are the months to catch their act here, which necessitates venturing out in weather starkly different than what most shorebirders encounter. Broiling along the margins of a big mudflat in August is nothing like this.

Birds of rocks constantly pummeled by waves, the purples forage for small animal life in the patina of moss that encrusts the stone. Cute and dumpy, when seen well they do indeed take on a purplish sheen, set off by those bright orange-yellow legs.

The video above, while brief, shows the two purples rather well before they flitted a few rocks down the jetty and out of camera range. Always a treat, and the highlight of a great day of birding filled with other sensational finds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What fun to see these guys, and in OHIO, no less! My husband and I were in Svalbard in Arctic Norway a couple of summers ago and watched, charmed, as a mama PS and her chicks roamed through the rocks and moss campion above shoreline. When the babies held still, they were practically invisible.

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