Saturday, July 21, 2018

Birds of Newfoundland: Solitary Sandpiper

As it's name suggest Solitary Sandpiper is a bit of a loaner. It's not a bird you will see in big flocks like other Tringa Sandpipers, such as Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. You might see a small flock of a few individuals but that's about it and even that is a rare occurrence.  Solitary Sandpipers can't seem to get along with one another. Unlike many other species of shorebirds that will flock together to migrate, Solitary Sandpipers are territorial and aggressive towards one another year round.

Their solitary nature is the primary reason why this species of shorebird remains a bit of a mystery. Solitary Sandpiper was first described in the early 1800's, but no one found a nest until 1903. There is good reason for that, since people were probably looking for their nests on the ground, which is where virtually all shorebirds nest. However, Solitary Sandpipers (along with close relative Green Sandpiper) are the only shorebirds that nest in trees! They actually reuse the nests of other species, such as American Robin and other songbirds.

juvenile Solitary Sandpiper Newfoundland
juvenile Solitary Sandpiper, Cape Broyle, Newfoundland, August

Status in Newfoundland 

Solitary Sandpiper is rare on the island of Newfoundland. If you are lucky you might see one or two a year on the Avalon Peninsula. It's possible the species might occur more regularly in western portions of the province. They do however breed in Labrador, though I don't believe they are overly common there.

Part of the rarity of Solitary Sandpiper in Newfoundland is likely due to it's habit or migrating alone, as well as it's choice of habitat. Solitary Sandpipers are mainly found in freshwater, at the edges of small ponds, or even large puddles. Occasionally, they are seen in brackish areas as well, but they usually don't remain there long.

Where and When to see Solitary Sandpiper in Newfoundland

As I stated above, Solitary Sandpipers are most often seen in freshwater pools, or pond edges. They are extremely rare in Spring in Newfoundland, but they are regular in small numbers in late summer  (early August- mid September). On the Avalon Peninsula, some of the regular places they have been seen in the past include, Ruby- line Pond in the Goulds (before it grew into a marsh), Forest Pond, Cochrane Pond Road, Cape Broyle (the brackish pool there where the tame ducks are), Renews (some of the inland areas) and a few other places around Portugal Cove South and St.Shotts sod farm. People who aren't local will have to forgive me, you have no idea where these places are :)

Identification Pitfalls and Similar Species

Solitary Sandpiper is a member of the genus Tringa and is perhaps most likely to be confused with other members of that genus, though confusion with immature or basic plumage Spotted Sandpiper is also possible for inexperienced birders or if the views are fleeting. 

In Newfoundland Solitary Sandpiper is most likely to be confused with Lesser Yellowlegs, especially a random Lesser Yellowlegs in a field or other freshwater site, where one might expect to find Solitary Sandpiper. Lesser Yellowlegs are most often seen in flocks of the much more common Greater Yellowlegs and usually in harbours at low tide and other coastal sites.

Both Solitary and Lesser are medium sized Tringa Sandpipers. Their bills are similar in length and similarly coloured, though Lesser's is somewhat thinner towards the tip and straighter. Solitary Sandpiper's bill is greenish with a variable amount of black on the outer half and ever so slightly drooping.
Solitary Sandpiper Newfoundland
Note the slight droop in the bill at the tip

Comparison of Solitary Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs in Newfoundland
Solitary Sandpiper left and Lesser Yellowlegs right

In direct comparison Solitary Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs are relatively easily separate. Note especially the following differences,

Facial Features

- Solitary always has an obvious, thick eye ring. In comparison to Lesser Yellowlegs, which does show a bit of an eye ring, but it blends into the pale supercilium, so it isn't as noticeably. Note that Solitary Sandpiper lacks a pale supercilium making the eye ring the dominant facial feature.


- Solitary Sandpiper has a greenish bill about the same length as Lesser yellowlegs but is usually thicker towards the tip and dropped slightly at the tip as well. Lesser Yellowlegs has a thin, straight bill, that is never dropped.


Solitary Sandpiper has green or greenish/yellow legs, whereas Lesser Yellowlegs has orange/yellow or bright yellow legs.


- Solitary Sandpiper shows a dark rump versus the white rump shown my Lesser Yellowlegs

Solitary Sandpiper flight, Newfoundland
Solitary Sandpiper showing characteristic dark rump. 
Note that any Spring Solitary Sandpipers or late fall, i.e. beyond 2nd week of October, in Newfoundland should be scrutinized with Green Sandpiper in mind. Green Sandpiper is the closely related European counter part of Solitary Sandpiper. They two species look very similar but Green Sandpiper has a white rump! Note that there currently are not any records of Green Sandpiper in Newfoundland and I don't think there are any in Eastern North American, BUT it could happen, so it's better to be prepared when it does!

Green Sandpiper in flight
Note the obvious white rump of this Green Sandpiper

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