Beginning of August on St. Paul Island: Stints and other shorebird stunts

The beginning of August on St. Paul Island is a time for shorebirds and migrant shorebirds have been on the move since the middle of July. Songbirds are still lagging behind and despite a few redpolls we have not seen much in the small bird department, although that should change starting in a week or so.

Ruddy Turnstones started their southward bound migration in July and have been increasing in numbers ever since with several hundred a day feeding on the kelp beds around the island.


Ruddy Turnstones Photo Stephan Lorenz

Thus we have turned our binoculars towards the mudflats in Salt Lagoon and the various freshwater wetlands, giving them at least one good look over per day. Pumphouse Lake has been by far the most productive wetland with low water levels exposing mud and sandbars, shallow water among the sedges, and muddy pools. Not surprisingly shorebirds have flocked to the lake and for the past two weeks with up 10 species gracing the lake at a time. Rock Sandpiper number continue to balloon with hundreds upon hundreds in Salt Lagoon and the island’s shoreline.


Juvenile Rock Sandpipers complement the already high numbers Photo Stephan Lorenz

Other hotspots have included Tonki wetlands and to some degree the Barabaras wetlands, but I have a feeling eventually everything will funnel through Pumphouse Lake anyway. A Semipalmated Sandpiper was a good find one day in Tonki wetlands, but it is important to beware of short-billed Western’s (this one looked good though).


Semipalmated Sandpiper, note overall color dull and bill short Photo Stephan Lorenz

Throughout August Wandering and Gray-tailed Tattler have been around with the former much more widespread and numerous and the latter mainly sticking to the mud at Salt Lagoon, but with one bird preferring the rocky areas of Southwest Point. The even pitched hollow call of the Wandering sets it apart from the double, plover-like call of the Gray-tailed, but if birds are silent the whiter flanks, lack of barring on under tail, and lighter overall color usually are enough the find the Gray-tailed Tattler. Also a tattler sprinting around on mudflats is usually a Gray-tailed, but not always. We are likely to have both species around for most of the fall.


Wandering Tattlers have been numerous with daily sightings Photo Stephan Lorenz


The white flanks and lack of barring on under tail are obvious on this Gray-tailed Tattler Photo Stephan Lorenz

A good number of “peeps” have been passing through with flocks of Western Sandpipers and the occasional stint with up to 2 Red-necked and 2 Little present. Compared to “our” dark-legged peeps, Western and Semipalmated sandpipers, the two similar stints, Red-necked and Little, show distinct structural differences. Western and Semipalmated sandpipers have semipalmations, or partial webbing between the toes especially pronounced between the outer two toes. While this seems like a difficult field mark to see it is actually fairly obvious if the birds are close. It is also equally possible to see the lack of partial webbing especially in photos of the bird moving and is best seen as the bird walks away from or towards the observer. Here are some examples:


No identification headaches here with this adult Red-necked Stint, but look especially at the left foot where there is a clear lack of palmations Photo Stephan Lorenz


Even in relatively distant pictures like this adult Little Stint that graced Pumphouse Lake for a few days the lack of palmations are obvious Photo Stephan Lorenz

The stints also have longer primary projections, making them more attenuated and longer looking. In breeding plumage Red-necked Stint and Little Stint show extensive reddish and rufous coloration around the head and neck making the identification fairly easy, but juvenile plumages can be more subtle, although the stints tend to be still brighter.


The long-billed Western Sandpipers are numerous right now and straight forward to identify Photo Stephan Lorenz


Most adult shorebirds move through earlier and from now on juveniles will be dominating like this sharp-looking Little Stint Photo Stephan Lorenz

An adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was a great find on Pumphouse Lake where Pectoral Sandpipers have been present for the better part of two weeks.


Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, adult on Pumphouse Lake Photo Stephan Lorenz


Pectoral Sandpiper for comparison Photo Stephan Lorenz

Up to three Baird’s Sandpipers hung around Pumphouse for a few days, allowing excellent studies and photo opportunities (note especially the long-winged and attenuated appearance).


Baird’s Sandpiper Photo Claudia Cavazos

Pacific Golden Plover have been present every day (with up to 15 birds), mostly on the barren tundra where they seem to feed on the ripe moss berries and then fly to Pumphouse Lake to roost and bathe.


Pacific Golden Plovers Photo Stephan Lorenz

Red Phalaropes are passing by the hundreds to thousands, depending on the weather. I counted at least 300 on Webster Lake one evening with hundreds more flying offshore or feeding just past the turbulent surf. Most of the Red Phalaropes have lost their breeding finery.


Red Phalarope migrating St. Paul Island Photo Stephan Lorenz

In addition to the Gray-tailed Tattler, Red-necked and Little stints, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a Common Snipe and “Siberian” Whimbrel (ssp. variegatus) have made appearances from the other side of the pond. The Whimbrel hung around Novastoshna for three days before going missing.


“Siberian” Whimbrel, poor photo barely showing the white lower back Photo Stephan Lorenz

Another nice shorebird find was a Red Knot, an adult in fading breeding plumage that was joined promptly by a juvenile the following day. This is a somewhat uncommon migrant on St. Paul Island and could have come from either direction.


Red Knot Photo Stephan Lorenz

Other odds and ends have included a long-staying Sandhill Crane. I wondered what it subsisted on, but during every observation of the bird I could never see what it was taking. I believe it was digging around in moss possibly eating plant material or worms? I flew strongly and appeared healthy, seemingly having left the island.


This Sandhill Crane may have been around for several week on St. Paul Island Photo Stephan Lorenz

Glaucous Gulls seem to be coming in with the approaching fall.


Glaucous Gull Photo Stephan Lorenz

It is also high time for puffins with both species attending chicks, carrying fish, and generally offering great photographic opportunities. So here are some puffins.


Horned Puffin pair Photo Stephan Lorenz


Tufted Puffin in flight Photo Stephan Lorenz

Until next time…



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Judy on August 15, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Very interesting and informative. Awesome photos. Thanks.


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