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Shore Birds of Central California

Sandpipers shore birds Monterey California

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#1 Autzman

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 07:23 PM

I recently visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium in central California, and took some pictures of birds they were rehabilitating there. Unfortunately, not even the museum's guides seemed to be able to tell these birds apart! I'm a complete novice when it comes to shore birds (just moved to California from the Midwest), so I would definitely appreciate some identification help. If I can't tell them apart up close like this, I fear I'll never be able to identify them in the field!

First bird
Possibly a Sanderling in breeding plumage? There were numerous Dunlin in the area which I could tell by their black bellies, but this one had an all white belly... (That's an avocet standing over the top of it, if a size comparison will help anyone.)

Second bird
A much, much smaller bird, definitely a sandpiper. Reddish color makes me think Western Sandpiper but maybe a Semiplamated Sandpiper? Didn't see their feet either, so could even be Least? Augh, sandpipers all look so similar! (For a tiny bit of size comparison, the tuff of feathers on the far right is a Semiplamated Plover.)

Third bird
Okay, I don't have too much hope of getting this one exactly right. I'm pretty sure it's a Dowitcher (maybe) but I can't at all tell the difference between the long-billed and short-billed varities... Not to mention he didn't want to lift his beak out of the grass for anything in the world. Any advice on telling the dowitchers apart would definitely be appreciated.


Then I decided to go down to the actual shore and give myself a challenge. I ended up coming across this fourth bird, here. I apologize for the image quality; they were very shy and wouldn't let me get close at all. The white eye stripe and shorter beak makes me think it's a Whimbrel, but that would supposedly put it out for range for the season?


Definite thanks in advance for any help, and any advice on telling these little guys apart! :D

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#2 psweet

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 08:06 PM

The first one looks like a Western to me, as do the ones in the second shot. The third bird is a Short-billed Dowitcher, and the fourth is a Whimbrel.

#3 Autzman

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 08:20 PM

Hmmm, pretty sure the first bird was not a sandpiper? There was a significant difference in size between it and the sandpipers in the second picture; it was about equal to the Dunlins in size?

Here is another photo of that type of bird from a different angle. You can see it's bigger than the snowy plover behind it.

(Belatedly though, I'm worried I may have mixed up some of the pictures. I think the first bird in my original post is of the same type of bird as the one in this post, but maybe not!)


Edit: Oops, I was so confused over the sandpiper/not-sandpiper deal, I forgot to thank you for the other IDs! Exciting that I wasn't massively far off with my guesses. :D And I'm glad to know I wasn't crazy about it being a Whimbrel, but does anyone know why there would be bunches of them on the beach during the summer if California is supposed to be their winter range? I'm still pretty new to understanding how birds move around the world (and when).

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#4 psweet

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 10:02 PM

First, sandpiper actually refers to the entire family. So all of them are technically sandpipers.

The first bird isn't a Sanderling -- there's no point at which a Sanderling should have those dark anchors on the lower breast. That back bird in the last shot appears to me to be a Snowy Plover -- black bill, no black between the eye and the bill, no black over the bill. And a Snowy averages as long as a Western, if a fair bit heavier. It's possible that second bird is a Least, looking at it more closely, which would make the Westerns noticeably larger.

As far as the timing, 'fall' shorebird migration actually starts in late June for a few species, and you also get a few birds of many species that simply choose not to migrate. So flocks of Whimbrel in July wouldn't be surprising at all.

#5 illin

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 10:40 PM

I agree with Paul on the first bird being a Western. Second bird looks like a Least to me, yellowish legs for one. I can agree with Short-billed for the third, though I am not entirely confident with just seeing one pic. Whimbrel for fourth. I also agree about the Plover.

Are you sure that is a BN Stilt over the bird in the first photo? Looks like an Avocet to me, the one in the background is for sure.

Aren't shorebirds fun! :D

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#6 Melissa :)

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 10:47 PM

Are you sure that is a BN Stilt over the bird in the first photo? Looks like an Avocet to me, the one in the background is for sure.

I agree-- its an avocet :)

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#7 Autzman

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 01:04 AM

Whoops, I wasn't paying too much attention to which birds were in the backgrounds of which pictures it appears. Looked back and it definitely is an avocet over the bird in the first picture and a Snowy Plover in the fifth picture. :D There were quite a few birds in the exhibit and my memory of seeing them has clashed with my pictures of them!

Thanks for telling me about them all being sandpipers. I didn't know they all were in the same family--there seems like so much variety between them in size! But are plovers sandpipers then, or is that a specific divide?

The size variance between a Western and Least probably would explain why the two appeared so different to me in person, although I don't think I ever saw the feet of the very small ones.

Thanks so much everyone!

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#8 psweet

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 01:14 AM

Plovers are in the family Charadriidae, and Avocets and Stilts are in the Recurvirostridae. Sorry about the confusion - I should have been more specific.
So: looking at Sibley's, everything from Greater Yellowlegs to Red-necked Phalarope would be a sandpiper.

#9 Autzman

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 12:26 AM

Plovers are in the family Charadriidae, and Avocets and Stilts are in the Recurvirostridae. Sorry about the confusion - I should have been more specific.
So: looking at Sibley's, everything from Greater Yellowlegs to Red-necked Phalarope would be a sandpiper.


Gotcha! Thanks a ton. I'll definitely keep this info in mind next time I go out looking for shore birds!

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