Fall Shorebirds of Seapoint
• Pectoral Sandpiper
• Purple Sandpiper
• Ruddy Turnstone
• Black-bellied Plover
• Greater Yellowlegs
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Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)
The smallest of the North American peeps, Least Sandpipers are also the smallest shorebird in the world. In a mixed flock it's easy to take note of relative sizes to help spot them, but when these birds are observed by themselves without others to compare with, size can become difficult to judge. Even still, the best field marks for the Least Sandpiper are that they are small and dark with a relatively short and thin, slightly drooping bill, and usually with distinctive greenish yellow and relatively short legs. The breast streaks go all the way across, ending at a somewhat defined lower edge, overall color varies from a rich reddish brown with multicolored back and wing scapulars in juveniles, to the more drab grey brown of adults. Here is a juvenile.
While juveniles are redder than adults, how red varies between individuals. Below is a particularly reddish juvenile. The amount of white-tipped or white-fringed scapular feathers also varies between individuals. Light conditions and angles can really effect how prominent the color appears. The dark spot on this bird's breast isn't a field mark, but some of its underfeathering showing through after having taken a puddle bath.
In contrast to the juveniles above, below's an adult from late July in worn breeding plumage, looking much drabber and paler. This bird is a bit anomalous—at first I thought I'd found something unusual since the legs aren't the usual yellow-green. But experts have told me leg color isn't nearly as reliable a field mark as is its small size and and short slightly drooping bill. Note there's none of the white edging in the scapulars, and the bird is almost as pale as a Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Below's a late arriving October adult still in breeding plumage, again less colorful than the juveniles, less scaly patterned, and very little white in the scapulars. But this adult shows the more typical yellow-green legs.
Leasts are fairly short-legged and are often seen in a crouching posture. This one is another juvenile, and you can see the breast streaks crossing the front, and some white-edged scapulars.
Here's a snap of 2 small shorebirds, the smaller and darker juvenile Least is on the left, and a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper on the right. The Least is only slightly smaller in size but noticeable enough when side by each. Also note the difference in leg colors.
In this photo of a mixed crowd of Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Sanderlings, the Least Sandpiper is highlighted on the right, you can just make out its yellow-green legs and, more conspicuously, that it's the smallest bird of the bunch.
Here are a couple Least Sandpipers highlighted in flight with some Semipalmated Sandpipers and a Semipalmated Plover. The Least has dark wings, a dark back, with a fairly thin and weak wingstripe.
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