A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called My Cape Cod Gull Lesson 1, in which I shared what I had learned trying to identify the gulls I had seen on a short trip to Cape Cod in October. Gulls are really hard for me, what with their multiple plumages, and I had to force myself to stop and identify what I had seen.
Then I came upon my shorebirds images from the trip and it hit me: I have as hard a time (maybe even harder) identifying shorebirds! It is so easy to look at a flock of shorebirds and assume, most probably erroneously, that they're all the same species. And identifying shorebirds in fall is a whole different ballgame than identifying them in spring when they're in their breeding plumage.
So I started with a handful of isolated bird images to help me learn, and then will move on to the group shots. Here's what I've been able to pin down so far, with the help of the Facebook I ♥ Shorebirds group.
This is a medium-sized shorebird that breeds in north central Canada and winters in the southern US. The long bill with a slight downturn was the biggest help to me besides its medium size. It is described as being chunky, with a short thick neck and short legs.
When I saw the short, thick bill, I knew to look in the plovers. The black-bellied is larger than the other plovers, about 11-12 inches long. It is suggested to pay attention to the length of the primaries in relation to the tail as an important way to identify shorebirds. I have a really hard time with that, but this plover's primaries project past the tip of the tail.
When I think of plovers, I picture a bird that looks like this: medium sized, with a short, thick beak and distinct breast band or bands. The common Killdeer serves as my plover "benchmark" bird.
The Semipalmated Plover has a distinctive orange base to its otherwise black bill. The bird is described as chunky with a short thick neck. I also found out that it is named for the partial webbing between its middle and outer toes.
Studying shorebirds is tiring work for me, so that's all for now. I still have images of shorebird flocks to go through. Hopefully it will be a process of elimination: identify the three species I've become a little comfortable with and then work on the rest. Wish me luck!