Friday, May 24, 2013
Fri-D Peep Bonus: Western Sandpiper
On Western Sandpiper (WESA), quoting David Sibley's Birds of Cape May (1997), "Despite published reports, there are no documented records of spring migrants." We maybe know a little bit more about Western Sandpiper status than we did 16 years ago, but we can pull a similar trick with this id. to what we do with dowitchers: "In May, in NJ, they're all Semipalmated Sandpipers (SESA)." Or almost all.
By the way, what we say about NJ and spring shorebird status generally applies to all the northeastern states.
Westerns do occasionally overwinter in NJ (SESA's do not), and if one sticks around long enough in spring you can see it in breeding plumage. Compared to SESA, WESA has more rufous above, distributed in a localized way on the scapulars, ear coverts and eyebrow/crown. Below, WESA's "streaking" is more spotting, with at least some of those spots taking the form of chevrons, and with many distributed down the belly and flanks, farther than on SESA.
If you've looked at a lot of peep, you can use WESA's front-heavy structure, in particular the thick neck and large head, and the longer, drooped bill to tell it from SESA.
Western, like Long-billed Dowitcher, is another species I've never seen in NJ in May, but I believe they do occur, and when they do, I believe they are birds that wintered locally or nearby, and I am sure they need to be documented thoroughly with good field notes and/or photos.
I don't want to discourage people from looking for spring WESA's (or LBDO's or anything else), just know that a measure of caution is advised.
Posted by Don Freiday at 7:46 PM