A recent fall trip to the seacoast of New Hampshire gave an excellent opportunity to view several varieties of shorebirds. It’s October and the largest number of birds were Ring-billed Gulls. The adults are easily identified by a dark ring around the tips of their yellow bills.
They’re the gulls that most often seen here in the northeast, especially in winter when breeding Canadian birds migrate to more southerly coasts. Although they are a shorebird, these gulls can also be seen far inland, except in mountainous regions. They seem to have learned that food doesn’t just come from the ocean—they’re an opportunist that is a regular visitor at fast food restaurants and dumps and will also frequent lakes and fields. Be careful if you take a picnic lunch to the beach! We saw two ladies that were instantly accosted when they began to unpack their meal and had to quickly retreat to their car! But for the most part, the gulls we saw were wading in shallow water and picking up food as seaweed-laden waves came in. And we were lucky to see two first-year juveniles close-up in a parking lot, still using begging postures as Mom came and went with nothing to offer them.
Farther out on the water, basking on rocks, we saw Double-crested Cormorants. There may have been some adults out on rocks too far away to really see, but there were several immature birds close enough to photograph. As adults, the birds are black with an orange throat-pouch. The younger birds can be identified by their brown heads and necks which clearly show in this picture. Double-cresteds can also be identified in flight by the way they crook their necks. Other cormorants fly with a straight neck. They dive and swim underwater to catch their prey of fish. Sometimes they can be seen on rocks, holding out their wings to dry after a dive.
We saw another very small bird running along the seashore, darting this way and that as it pecked the sand for aquatic insects, crustaceans and the like. It moved so fast it was difficult to get a clear picture, but after researching, we determined that this bird was a Semipalmated Sandpiper in winter plumage. The white belly and it’s very small size are apparent in the photos. They’re the most commonly seen sandpiper in the northeast in fall. Migrating from their breeding grounds north of Canada, some of these little birds will eventually find their way to South America for the winter, sometimes traveling up to 2500 miles. Sandpipers, also called peeps, are our smallest shorebirds. This one’s name comes from the fact that it’s toes are only partially webbed, palmated meaning webbed. That’s common in wading birds.
Autumn is a wonderful time of year to take a bird watching trip to the seashore. Although the birds we encountered are very common, it was still a treat to see them!
Written by Roxanne Brune