2014-07-24 / Nature

Early Migrants Passing Through

By Jack Kelly


Ruddy Turnstone at Brenton Point. Note the metal banding tag on its right leg near its foot and the plastic tag on its left upper leg. Local birders are attempting to identify both banding origins. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Ruddy Turnstone at Brenton Point. Note the metal banding tag on its right leg near its foot and the plastic tag on its left upper leg. Local birders are attempting to identify both banding origins. (Photos by Jack Kelly) The early migration of adult shorebirds through Newport County is under way and many species are being reported across our region. This early onset usually involves adults that failed to mate or lost their nests, eggs, or young to predators. Full shorebird migration, featuring large flocks of juveniles, will arrive in our area in 3-4 weeks.

The Short-billed Dowitcher is a striking example of the diversity of shorebirds. The average adult is 11 inches long with a wingspan of 19 inches. It has a rich brown and black-speckled back and wings, white belly, and a spotty pattern in orange on its foreneck. It has long legs that tend to be a pale yellow in late summer and fall.

Using its long tapered bill, it forages in “sewing machine” motions in salt marshes, mudflats and occasionally freshwater habitats for invertebrates. This species nests in the muskeg and mossy tundra of northern Canada and along the southern coast of Alaska.


Spotted Sandpiper Spotted Sandpiper The Least Sandpiper is a diminutive shorebird that is six inches long and has a wingspan of 13 inches. During migration it visits a number of different habitats including muddy pond edges, rivers, wet farm fields, fish hatcheries and saltwater wetlands. It stays on the periphery of these areas and picks at the many surfaces for food. It has the unusual behavior of portraying a posture that often seems crouched, as it weaves its way through grasses while foraging.

It nests across a large swath of Alaskan and Canadian tundra and muskeg and winters across the southern United States, Mexico and into Central America. Its call is a distinctive, high, trilled “preep” or “kreep.”


Least Sandpiper Least Sandpiper The Spotted Sandpiper has one of the most widespread breeding distributions of any North American shorebird. It nests across vast areas of Alaska, Canada and the lower 48 states, including regions of Rhode Island, in open or partlywooded areas near water.

The average adult is 7.5 inches long with a wingspan of 15 inches. It has a rich brown plumage above with a brown spotted, white belly below. It has a white eye ring, broken by a black eye line, a tapered bill and yellow legs. It will bob the rear half of its body during foraging, as it actively pursues insects.

It winters along the southern Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States, the Gulf Coast, as well as the coasts of Mexico and Central America. Its call is a sweet, rising “pwee!”, which is often doubled when flushed.


Semipalmated Sandpiper Semipalmated Sandpiper The Semipalmated Sandpiper is the most abundant of shorebird species that migrate along the eastern United States. Millions nest and breed in the northern reaches of the Canadian and Alaskan tundra near the Arctic Circle. In the late summer, the birds make their way to traditional stopover sites in the Canadian Maritimes, New England, and the mid-Atlantic states, where they fatten up for long-range migration over open ocean to their wintering grounds in South America. Flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands can be sighted just offshore during migration.

The average adult is 6.25 inches long and has a wingspan of 14 inches. Its call is a low, rough “krup” and a higher “chit.”.While foraging, this species will emit a descending series of tittering, nasal “dee.”

The Ruddy Turnstone nests chiefly on the far-northern coastal tundra of Alaska and Canada. The average adult is 9.5 inches long with a wingspan of 21 inches. It is easily recognizable with its brilliant ruddy tones above, a white belly, a black “harlequin” head pattern and bright reddish-orange legs.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Most members of the species forage in beach wrack and along rocky shores for small crustaceans and invertebrates. However, this highly adaptable breed may also be sighted eating earthworms in plowed farm fields, foraging on mudflats in brackish wetlands, or picking through trash at landfills.

Ruddy Turnstones winter on both American coasts, the Gulf Coast, and will travel south to Mexico and Central America. Its call is an incisive “kyew!” or “ki-du” accompanied by a protracted, low rattle.

While these early migrants have arrived in our area recently, they are merely the vanguard of millions of migratory birds that will soon pass through and by our region.

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