BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN NEW YORK - HOFFMANN

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SNIPES, SANDPIPERS, ETC.: FAMILY SCOLOPACIDÆ

The Sandpipers constitute a numerous family, many of which are so rare on our northeastern coast that only an inveterate gunner can hope to find them. There are about seventeen species which occur in New York and New England regularly. These may all be distinguished after a certain amount of practice without the use of a gun. One species, the Woodcock, is rarely found away from the cover of trees or bushes, and several other species occur inland more commonly than along the coast. The Snipe frequents freshwater marshes. The Upland Plover (really a Sandpiper) breeds on upland pastures, chiefly in New Hampshire and Vermont, but occurs as a migrant on grassy hills along the coast. The Solitary Sandpiper is a regular migrant inland, and the Spotted Sandpiper, though a very common summer resident along the coast, is equally common on inland ponds and streams. The other Sandpipers are preëminently seashore birds, though like the sea ducks they not infrequently visit large bodies of fresh water. Several of them, including the two Yellow-legs and the Pectoral Sandpiper, are birds of the marshes, feeding in the pools that abound throughout the tall salt-marsh grass. The Least Sandpiper, though frequent on the beaches, is more common on the pools or sloughs in the marshes. The Semipalmated Sandpiper, the White-rumped Sandpiper, the Sanderling, the Knot, and the Dunlin feed either on the beach at the very edge of the ocean, or on extensive mud-flats. The Curlew is rare; it may be met with either on the beach, particularly on a muddy shore, or on a grassy upland. The Purple Sandpiper is a winter visitant, and keeps to rocky ledges generally well off shore. Many of the shore-birds return very early from the north ; after the first week in July there is a constant succession of them. The Dunlin comes in September, and the Winter Yellow-legs stays till late in the fall. The young birds appear considerably later than the old ones, and are much less suspicious.

Sandpipers fly in flocks, often made up of several species, and frequently accompanied by their relatives, the Plover. They are easily decoyed, especially where they are not made wild by constant shooting. There are two methods of studying them; one is to lie concealed in a blind before which stand decoys, among which the birds alight, if attracted by an imitation of their whistle; the other method is to walk along the beach or over the marsh, taking advantage of natural shelter and stalking the birds that may be feeding here and there. Many of the smaller birds may in this latter way be successfully observed.

It must be borne in mind that many of the following species, though termed common, are not common, except in just the places best suited to them. These places, moreover, are in the possession of sportmen's clubs or hotels, and the birds that light here are pretty thoroughly shot off; one may therefore see more Knots, for instance, in the icechest of such a hotel than in many days' tramping over less favorable ground. A Sunday spent at Monomoy or at some famous Long Island resort would be very profitable, especially if one hired a gunner (without his gun) and occupied a blind.



HUDSONIAN CURLEW [WHIMBREL]; JACK CURLEW. Numenius hud sonicus
17.00 in. Bill 3.75 in.

Ad.— Top of head blackish, with a central whitish stripe; line over eye white; line through eye brown; rest of upper parts and tail brown, speckled with white; throat and belly white; neck and breast thickly streaked with dusky. Bill long and curved.

The Hudsonian Curlew is a rather uncommon migrant along the coast in May, and again in August and September. It occurs on mud-flats and on sandy beaches, either at the edge of the water or walking in the shallow pools, picking up food from the water with the head apparently held sidewise. It often stands when undisturbed, with one leg uplifted and crooked, or squats with its breast on the sand. It also frequents grassy hills near the sea. In spring the .curlew utters a sweet mournful cry, like the syllables kur-lew ; its ordinary call-note and cry when startled sounds like pip-pip-pip-pip. The general brown tone of the plumage and the long curved bill make it impossible to mistake the Jack Curlew for anything except a smaller species, the Eskimo Curlew, which was formerly common, but is now extremely rare.


SPOTTED SANDPIPER. Actitis macularia
7.50 in. Bill .95 in.

Ad.— Upper parts light brown; under parts white; everywhere marked with roundish spots of blackish; a row of white spots on the wings show in flight as a white stripe; the outer tail-feathers barred with white. Im.— The under parts white, unspotted, washed on the breast with grayish.

Nest, on the ground, of dried grasses and straw, in a field or pasture, often at some distance from water. Eggs, buffy, thickly speckled with dark brown and black.

The Spotted Sandpiper is a common summer resident of New England and New York, along the coast and also along the margins of inland ponds and streams, arriving late in April and staying till late in October. It is the only bird with the long bill and legs of a sandpiper regularly found on inland waters in June and early July, and, except the Solitary Sandpiper, is at any season the only sandpiper commonly seen on the margins of small inland ponds and rivers. On the ground, its tail and the hinder part of its body are repeatedly tipped upward ; when it flies, its long narrow wings after a few strokes are held so as to form a crescent, which swings first to one side and then to the other close over the water.

As it flies it utters a loud peep, peep, peep, or peet-weet, a sound often heard in the gathering dusk from lake or sea. At close range the spots on the under parts of the adult can be readily made out, but at a distance they hardly show, and in the young bird they are absent. The white along the wing, however, is conspicuous in flight, and helps to distinguish the Spotted from the Solitary Sandpiper. The difference in the tail-feathers is described under the Solitary Sandpiper


BARTRAMIAN SANDPIPER; UPLAND PLOVER [UPLAND SANDPIPER]. Bartramia longicauda
11.50 in. Bill 1.15 in.

Ad.— Upper parts a mixture of black and buffy-brown; outer tail-feathers barred with white, black, and reddish-brown; tail reaching considerably beyond the tips of the wings; breast and sides buffy, streaked with black; belly white.

Nest, a depression in the ground. Eggs, buff, or buffy-white, speckled with dark brown or purplish, chiefly around the larger end.

The Upland Plover occurs as a migrant on the grassy hills along the sea-shore in May, and again in August and early September. It breeds on grassy hillsides or fields, chiefly in the uplands of New England, though not now so commonly as formerly. A few breed on Long Island, on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and in Worcester, Berkshire, and Barnstable counties, Mass.; in southern Vermont and New Hampshire it is generally distributed, though nowhere common.

As one goes through a mowing-field, a large bird springs up with a rolling whistle, and flies anxiously about on long curved wings, finally alighting on some heap of stones or some other point of observation; just after alighting it stretches both wings to their utmost up over its back. At night its long mournful song is heard overhead or from the moonlit fields. The long neck and rather long bill, the general sandpiper appearance, will serve to identify it easily in its grassy summer home, where no other similar bird will be met. On the shore it can be told by its size, its rolling whistle, its lack of marked white, and its preference for grassy hillsides.

WILLET. Symphemia semipalmata
15.00 in. Bill 2.15 in.

Ad. in summer.— Upper parts brownish-gray; lower parts white; fore neck and upper breast streaked with dusky, the sides barred with buff; wing blackish, showing when spread a conspicuous patch of white; basal half of the tail white. Ad. in winter.— Upper parts ash-gray; under parts white; wing as in summer. Im.— Upper parts brownish-gray, tinged with buff; sides tinged with buff, finely mottled with gray; wings as in adult.

The Willet is a rare migrant along the sea-coast in August and early September. Along the Sound stragglers are sometimes seen in May, and very rarely in summer.

The great contrast of black and white in the outstretched wing readily distinguishes the Willet. The much commoner Black-bellied Plover also shows white in the wings and at the base of the tail, but should be distinguished by its shorter legs and much shorter bill.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER. Helodromas solitarius
8.40 in. Bill 1.15 in.

Ad. in spring.— Upper parts olive-brown, sparsely speckled with white; front of neck streaked with dusky; outer tail-feathers white, barred with black; wing not showing a row of white spots in flight. Ad. in fall.— Upper parts dark ashy, even less speckled with white; front of neck less streaked with dusky. Im.— Upper parts brownish-gray, everywhere speckled with white; sides of head and neck dusky; rest of under parts white; tail as in adult; legs greenish.

The Solitary Sandpiper is a not uncommon migrant throughout New York and New England, passing north in May, and returning in late July, August, and September. It is the only sandpiper except the Spotted, which occurs regularly away from the sea-coast or from extensive bodies of water. In fact, it may found as a migrant near any ditch or pool of stagnant water, and Sandpiper seems to prefer a muddy shore to the pebbly beaches which the Spotted Sandpiper haunts.

[graphic]

Tail of Solitary Sandpiper

Its notes are almost identical with those of the Spotted Sandpiper. It sometimes occurs in sloughs on the marshes, and might there be confused with the Summer Yellowlegs. Its tail, however, distinguishes it both from the Yellowlegs and from the Spotted Sandpiper. The central pair of feathers are dark, but the outer ones are white, barred with black; it therefore shows much more white in the outspread tail as it flies up than the Spotted Sandpiper, but less than the Yellow-legs. Moreover, it lacks the line of white in the wing which is so characteristic of the Spotted Sandpiper, and its flight is generally higher and wilder. Like the Yellowlegs, it constantly nods its head and neck.

[LESSER] YELLOW-LEGS; SUMMER YELLOW-LEGS. Totanus flavipes. Tringa flavipes
10.75 in. Bill 1.40 in.

Closely resembles the following species.

The Summer Yellow-legs is a rather common fall migrant off the coast of New York and New England; it is very rare in spring. It resembles its larger relative, the Winter Yellow-legs, very closely, both in appearance and habits, but differs slightly in its notes. (See the following species.)

GREATER YELLOW-LEGS; WINTER YELLOW-LEGS. Totanus melanoleucus
14.00 in. Bill 2.20 in.

Ad. in spring.— Upper parts blackish and pale gray, speckled with white; basal half of the tail white. Under parts white, streaked in the throat with dusky, and on the breast and sides spotted and barred with gray. Ad. in winter and Im.— Similar, but without the blackish on the upper parts; under parts streaked only on the neck and upper breast; legs yellow.

The Winter Yellow-legs is a common migrant along the coast, making the longest stay of any of our non-resident shore-birds; it is found from the middle of April through May, and from the middle of July through October. It frequents grassy marshes, but may be seen or heard on almost any muddy flat.

Its loud whistled note, , , , , is a familiar sound and calls our attention to its long, slender form high over head. When it lights, it bobs its head frequently, like the Solitary Sandpiper and the Ring-neck. Its long slender legs and long bill are conspicuous. When it rises, its white upper tail-coverts are an excellent field-mark; the Black-bellied Plover has the same mark, but the bird is of a very different figure, with a bill only half as long. The Summer Yellow-legs, which is here during July and September, resembles its relative very closely, and if the two are not present at the same time, might be mistaken for the larger bird. The call of the Summer Yellow-legs, however, is almost always shorter; it utters often but a single , often two (the second lower than the first), more rarely three. The Winter Yellow-legs is always a wary bird, much less tame than the Summer Yellow-legs.

SANDERLING. Calidris arenaria
8.00 in. Bill 1.00 in.

Ad. in spring.— Upper parts grayish-white, each feather spotted with black, and edged with chestnut; rump dark brown; tail grayish-brown; sides of head, throat, neck, breast washed with rusty brown, and spotted with black; rest of under parts white; wings when spread show a line of white. Ad. in late summer and fall.— Upper parts pale gray, the centre of each feather black; under parts pure white. Im.— Upper parts gray, spotted with black and white; hind neck dusky white; throat and breast washed with rest of under parts white; wings as in ad.

The Sanderling is a very common migrant along the coast in spring and fall; it winters very sparingly on Cape Cod and on Muskeget Island. It passes north in the latter part of May, and returns from July to the end of October. It is strictly a bird of the outer sandy beaches. A flock of Sanderlings will often form a long line at the edge of the water and follow the receding surf, probing the ground with feverish haste, and all running back at the last moment; one or two are sometimes caught by the wave and forced to fly.

The Sanderling's note is a sharp chit. The gunners' name, "Whitey," well describes the Sanderling, especially in late summer and fall, when no trace of the rusty brown remains. The whitish look about the head and the black bill, the size, larger than the little Semipalmated Sandpiper, so often associated with it, serve to identify it when at rest. When flying, the line of conspicuous white spots in the wing, like the Spotted Sandpiper's, is an excellent fieldmark.



SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER. Ereunetes pusillus
6.30 in. Bill .65 - .80 in.

Ad. in spring.— Under parts brownish-gray, mixed with black; breast spotted with black; rest of lower parts white; legs black. Ad. in fall.— Upper parts plain grayish; breast unspotted. Im.— Upper parts gray, mixed with black and a little reddish-brown; under parts white, a dusky wash across the breast.

The Semipalmated Sandpiper is a common migrant along the sea-coast in May, July, August, and September. It not infrequently occurs on the shores of inland lakes, and is an abundant fall migrant in the Hudson Valley. Gunners call this species and the Least Sandpiper, with which it often associates, “Peep.”

The Least prefer the sloughs or muddy pools in the marshes; the Semipalmated frequent the beaches, but both species may occur in either place. Both species associate with Sanderling on the beach, and with White-rumped Sandpipers and Ring-necks both on the beach and in the marsh. When with Ring-necks, the difference in behavior is amusing: the Ring-necks scatter about and stand in thoughtful attitudes; the Peep feed with nervous haste, head down, and bill in the sand.

When startled, the Semipalmated Sandpipers utter a little rough peep, and fly in compact bands further up the beach; they have also a very pretty whinnying note, and in May occasionally utter the love-song, a series of sweet notes delivered in the air. When the Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers occur side by side, it is evident that the former has more chestnut-brown in the back, and a darker wash on the sides of the neck, but it is almost impossible to distinguish the two without shooting them, unless one can get near enough to see the color of the legs. Dr. C. W. Townsend has called my attention to the fact that the legs of the Least Sandpiper are greenish-yellow, while the Semipalmated Sandpiper has black legs.


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