I look forward to summer as much as anybody, but there is one sad element to the changing of the seasons: the absence of shorebirds.
Shorebirds are undoubtedly my favorite group of avian species. They make their home on beaches and mudflats, where it is generally easy to see and photograph them. In addition, they are usually full of activity, running, feeding, or taking to the air to move from one place to the other.
Over the winter, I saw one of my most favorite shorebirds: the Purple Sandpiper. It was a cold but sunny day on the border between Maine and New Hampshire, and a huge flock fed on the wet rocks along the shore.
Purple Sandpipers aren’t actually purple, but slate gray with bright orange/yellow feet. They are a hardy species, and unlike many other birds can remain along the coast of New England all winter long. In fact, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “The Purple Sandpiper has the northernmost winter range of any shorebird.”
I approached them cautiously, picking my way along the rough stone as I held my camera aloft. Turns out, I needn’t have worried, they seemed unperturbed by my presence, only flying when the wind moved them. I was so close I not only noticed their bright legs, but also the orange of their bills, tapering gradually to a deep black.
As I write this at the beginning of June, these sandpipers – weighing less than four ounces – have migrated to the arctic to breed, taking advantage of the many insects and berries of the region when feeding their young. Though I know they are far away, I can’t help but look for them along the rocky beaches of Maine all year round!