Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Check Area Fields for Shorebirds
August 27, 2021
By Steve Grinley
Last week I talked about the shorebird migration that is happening on Plum Island, in Newburyport Harbor, and in our area marshes. Often times, the edges of more inland ponds and reservoirs can also provide open edges for feeding shorebirds. However, with the amounts of rain that we have had this season, most reservoirs, lakes and ponds are filled to the brim. However, temporary puddles and wetlands are created in area fields that can also attract many shorebirds.
Such is the case at the southern end of the Topsfield Fairgrounds where there is a large, mowed field bordering the Ipswich River. Known by birders as a “hotspot” that can be worth checking for such species as solitary sandpipers, Wilson’s snipe, or a Wilson’s phalarope where the overflow of the river spills into the field. In the wetter areas of the field, egrets, glossy ibis and ducks can sometimes be seen there as well.
Margo and I decided to stop by there on our way back from Boston late one afternoon last week. It had rained heavily earlier in the day, so we thought that conditions could be right to attract some birds there. And were there ever birds!
The mostly short cut grass, bordering the overflowing Ipswich River created many pools of water that was full of shorebirds, ducks and waders. Hundreds of semipalmated and least sandpipers were everywhere we looked! With our scopes, we could spot more shorebirds in the puddles and tall grasses further away.
Although the majority of ducks were mallards, a few black ducks with mixed in and numbers of blue-winged and green-winged teal were also present. There were at least eleven glossy ibis, a few great egrets and a great blue heron feeding there as well.
Most amazing to me were the numbers of solitary sandpipers that were there – perhaps more than I have ever seen at one time. Yes, the solitaries were anything but solitary! We counted at least twenty and Rick Heil, who was there for a much longer period than we were, reported twenty-six!
Killdeer were also numerous as we counted more than forty. There were even more yellowlegs, mostly of them lesser yellowlegs and a few greater yellowlegs. Our search of the taller grasses revealed some pectoral sandpipers and 4 Wilson’s snipe.
Rick told us about a couple of Baird’s sandpipers that were there and we eventually spotted them, as they tend to stay hidden in the grasses. Rounding out the nice array of birds were eighteen Canada geese, a few tree swallows and barn swallows flying about, and a kingfisher calling from the river.
So it can be rewarding to stop and check flooded fields, or even freshly mowed fields for possible shorebirds. Birders like to look for “grasspipers” as they term a class of shorebirds that prefer grassy areas rather than sand or mud flats. The Baird’s sandpipers that we finally spotted in the tall grass are often considered to be one these “grasspipers”. Whimbrels, a large tall shorebird with striped head and long decurved bill, are also ones that likes grassy areas and there have been a few of those around.
As migration continues, we should see some buff-breasted sandpipers and golden plovers in the area fields. Often time we might find golden plovers or buff-breasted sandpipers mixed in with a flock of black-bellied plovers in a newly mowed field.
Upland sandpipers nest in large fields but are mainly found around airports with enough grass bordering like Pease in Portsmouth and Hanscom in Lexington. It is a special treat when we see one in migration!
So expand your search for shorebirds away from the coast and you may be surprised what you might find!