Shorebirds and Pipits – Margo Hearne
Shorebirds – Now you see them, now you don’t. Birds are like that, especially when the tides are changing. One moment the beach will be alive with feeding shorebirds, next moment they’re away into the mist. Where? Well, only they know, although we’ve seen flocks of Dunlin riding the kelp off Wiah Point, not their preferred habitat as they don’t swim and the waters are deep, but any old port in a storm. They usually hoist up on rocky shorelines but it was foggy and they probably got a little lost.
Shorebirds are always on the go. They are small, have a fast metabolism and need to eat frequently. When the tides are down they’re so busy feeding in the seaweed that they might not notice that falcon on the periphery until a gull screams a warning and with a ‘whoosh’ they’re gone. They prefer to travel in tight flocks, veering and turning so they look like one very large bird and impossible to bring down. Even the falcon veers away. But there is always the lone bird left behind when the flock takes off which is either too tired to get away in time or too young to realize the threat.
The shorebirds that run along Haida Gwaii beaches in winter are often a mixed flock of Black Turnstones, Dunlin and Sanderlings. The turnstones flash clear black and white in flight, the Sanderlings are white and not as clearly marked and the Dunlin are dark grey on top, white underneath, and don’t have the drama of the flashing turnstones. When speaking to a kindergarten class at Tahayghen Elementary School some years ago, one lad said that ‘shorebirds on the beach look like running sand.’ You can’t do better than that.
Pipits – Then there are the pipits. They also feed on the beach, often in the same habitat as the shorebirds, and when scanning a flock it’s always a surprise to hit upon one as it trips among the rocks or bobs on top of a seaweed pile. When it flies overhead it calls ‘pip-it, pip-it’. They are meadow birds, not beach birds, and they often show up in fall in small scattered flocks and, if the weather remains mild, they’ll stick around. In some places they form large winter flocks but they don’t here. This week we came upon five or six feeding among the rocks where a small creek drains into the ocean. They were almost all American (they used to be Water Pipits, another annoying name change) and they usually nest in the Alpine and Arctic Tundra. But one wasn’t. It’s always the strange bird that keeps one’s interest. It was marginally larger, had pink, not dark, legs, was paler down the front and had a lot of heavy black striping down its front. It stood slightly apart. Well, out with the camera and many good and bad photos later, it could prove to be one of the pipits from Eurasia known as a Siberian Pipit, or Anthus japonicus. We have had Red-throated Pipits from there, so why not a Siberian?