For the Birds: Sandpiper in the puddle

Here’s the latest For the Birds column …

Photo by Chris Bosak
A least sandpiper seen in New England.

This moment existed only because of the heavy rains we experienced last week. The body of water was small, shallow, algae-ridden and not at all something to behold.

OK, it was a puddle. No more, no less … your typical run-of-the-mill puddle.

Until a least sandpiper showed up and transformed the puddle into an exotic waterscape. The small shorebird was migrating south earlier this week and saw the puddle as the perfect place to rest and perhaps find an easy meal.

It had flown in from somewhere up north and was on its way to points south. But for a few hours anyway, home was a puddle in New England.

The bird paid little attention to me as I watched and photographed it for several minutes. Migrating birds can be like that. They are intensely focused on fueling and resting for their long journey.

The funny thing about the sighting was the location of the puddle. It exists on and off — depending on the weather — at a dirt parking area that divides a beach from a marina.

Long Island Sound is a few hundred yards away. A river is about the same distance away. A group of islands, which offer a ton of remote shoreline, are a short flight away.

But this young least sandpiper picked a dirty puddle in the parking lot to spend its afternoon.

Luckily for me, I happened to be walking by at the right time.

It only proved once again that birdwatching highlights can come at any time, anywhere. You don’t have to visit exotic, out-of-the-way locations to see great birds.

Sure, the least sandpiper is not what many birders would consider to be a great sighting, but when you expect to see nothing except for Canada geese, crows, gulls, pigeons and starlings, a least sandpiper may as well be a rarity.

I didn’t even see the bird at first. In typical shorebird fashion, though, it noisily took flight as I inattentively approached the puddle. Usually when a bird does that, it’s gone. You get a fleeting glimpse of its tail end as it flies off and out of sight.

But this bird simply landed on the other side of the puddle, putting no more distance between us than from where it took off. Then it immediately walked toward me to close the distance even more.

I dug into my backpack for the camera — which is another surefire way to chase birds far, far away — but the sandpiper remained determined to stay at this puddle. There must have been something good in there because the bird dipped its beak into the water about every five seconds. This hungry migrant knew it was on to a good thing and went about its refueling business undaunted.

Eventually, I left the shorebird and continued my walk. I saw a ton of geese, gulls and starlings, but after seeing the puddle-jumping least sandpiper, somehow none of the birds seemed commonplace.

The “fall” migration is well underway already. Shorebirds and even some songbirds have started their journey south. It’s a good time of year to appreciate our summer breeding birds and catch a few migrants in action as well.

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