Fall Shorebirds of Seapoint


Least Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Plover

Baird's Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper



• Pectoral Sandpiper

• Purple Sandpiper

• Ruddy Turnstone

• Killdeer

• Black-bellied Plover

• Greater Yellowlegs

• Quiz


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Sanderling (Calidris alba)

8" Length. A few adults just beginning to molt out of breeding plumage first noticed 8/2, first juveniles spotted 9/6, arriving later in fairly large numbers. Most likely to be confused with the smaller Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Sanderlings are the sandpipers you see running back and forth with the waves, and prefer the sandier beaches to gravelly ones, but they'll also seek refuge and rest on rocky points and jetties. At Seapoint, it's possible to see all 3 plumages—breeding, juvenile, and nonbreeding adult as well as the stages in between. Bill length is relatively short compared to Dunlin. Note that in all plumages the leading edge of the forewing is dark, but is often obscured by white breast feathers overlapping the folded wing. In the juvenile below only part of this fieldmark is visible.

Now here's 2 adults from early August just beginning their molt, the breeding plumage males have a reddish cast to the face throat and breast. As the molt progresses the head and breast become whiter and the pale grey feathers you can see starting on the right-hand bird replace the browns. In this photo, the dark forewing is obscured by overlapping breast feathers.

Now here's a juvenile, not all that different than a breeding plumage adult except for the lack of red, a less streaky breast and a more spangled black and white patterned topside.

By the end of October, these juvenile Sanderlings are well into their first molt taking on their winter plumage. No obscured forewings in this pic.

In December you'll see the full nonbreeding or winter plumage of delicate greys while the breast and underparts are pure white. The dark forewing area of the preening bird in the back is evident, but hidden in the other 2 birds.

Sanderlings can easily be confused with smaller Semipalmated Sandpipers, especially between molting adults seen in August. The female Sanderling on the left (breeding males have more reddish faces and throats) is larger and the new feathers coming in are paler, but the markings of both birds are similar and when you don't have other birds to gauge size, it can get tricky.

The juvenile plumage of these two birds are also similar. But the larger Sanderling has a more black and white spangled topside and there's that unreliable dark forewing fieldmark.

Here's a juvenile Sanderling (right) with two similarly-sized juvenile Dunlin just beginning their molt.

Late in the season after the resident Purple Sandpiper flock has arrived in November, it's not all that unusual for one or a small group of Sanderlings to join them. They are quite easy to tell apart since they are so much paler and sport no orange in the bill or feet.

Juvenile Sanderlings in a crowd are whiter than most other sandpipers and are medium sized.

In flight Sanderlings sport a fairly broad white wingstripe.

Next > Dunlin

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