For the Birds: Shorebirds aren’t only for the shore

Photo by Chris Bosak – A solitary sandpiper on the edge of a pond in New England, August 2022.

When hearing the word shorebirds, most people likely think of sanderlings and other small sandpiper-like birds running back and forth among the waves at the ocean.

Shorebirds, however, are not limited to small “peeps,” nor are they limited to the ocean. While it is true that the ocean and other coastal regions, such as Long Island Sound, are the best places to find shorebirds, inland lakes and ponds have shorebirds too.

I have seen lesser yellowlegs at many inland lakes in New Hampshire, all the way from the northern tip in Pittsburg to southern lakes such as Edward McDowell Lake in Peterborough. Yellowlegs may be seen on the edges of inland lakes during migration periods, such as now.

The other day, an otherwise slow bird walk got much more exciting when I saw a lone sandpiper-like bird digging in the mud near a shallow pond. I immediately suspected it was a solitary sandpiper. A few minutes of observation and study confirmed that it was indeed a solitary sandpiper.

As a side note, solitary sandpiper is a good argument for capitalizing bird names. I could tell somebody I saw a solitary sandpiper, and they might assume it was a different type of sandpaper that happened to be alone. But in this case, it would have been the specific species, solitary sandpiper. Many style guides, publications and journals have different styles on whether or not to capitalize bird names. Most newspapers’ style is to not capitalize bird names.

Yellow warbler is another example of a good reason to capitalize bird names. There are plenty of warblers that are yellow, but there is also a specific species called yellow warbler.

Anyway, back to the solitary sandpiper. As its name would suggest, solitary sandpipers are usually found alone hunting the edges of lakes and ponds. They nest in Canada and migrate through the U.S. In my experience anyway, they are just as likely to be found around small ponds as they are around big lakes.

I used to live near a small park that had a tiny pond as its centerpiece. A Little Leaguer could easily throw the ball across the pond and have room to spare. One morning, I was surprised to see a solitary sandpiper hunting around the edges of the pond. Whatever food there was to be found on the edge of that small pond was good enough for this bird. 

Solitary sandpipers look a lot like many other types of sandpipers. Average-sized, brownish overall and no outstanding visual highlights to immediately identify it. They are usually found alone and often bob their heads. They have a white eye ring, which may be hard to spot from a distance, and the tail has white edges in flight. 

Just because you may live away from the coast doesn’t mean you can’t be treated to the occasional shorebird sighting. The fall migration, which is well under way for shorebirds, is perhaps your best chance to find them. 

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