Friday, August 10, 2012

Fri-D: Stilt Sandpiper

Recalling from last the last "Fri-D" blog, you have to age shorebirds if you are going to use plumage to identify them. And further, that if you are looking at a juvenile, all the feathers will be the same condition (new) and often are uniformly edged in buff (or orange, or white), creating a neat scalloped or scaly look.

So here, we're not looking at a juvenile. This Stilt Sandpiper wears a mix of worn, patterned breeding feathers and some new winter plumage gray feathers, with the new ones mainly on the scapulars (just above the folded wing). So this is an adult molting to winter plumage. But you can still see some of the Stilt Sandpiper plumage features - a trace of an orange cheek, the prominent eyebrow, the barring on the flanks.

Plumage aside, Stilt Sandpipers have a distinctive shape and distinctive mannerisms. A lot of people have trouble picking Stilts out of dowitcher flocks (which is a very typical scenario). Look for the slightly smaller, slightly slimmer bird that is foraging by walking with its neck outstretched, probing often but seldom in one place the way dowitchers do. This photo shows the posture I'm talking about. I'm not saying dowitchers don't move around, but Stilts move around much more.

As the name suggests, Stilt Sandpipers are longer legged than dowitchers, and so sometimes look like their tail is sticking up in the air when they probe.

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