Spotted Sandpiper Glacier National Park Service

Early spring in Western Maine is a time when a surprising number of shore birds are moving through our area. Of course, most of us recognize the Great Blue Heron, but did you know that at Valentine Farm we’ve documented a number of other shore birds that migrate from South America, up the U.S. coast and then cut through our area on their way to Canada and even Alaska?

The Solitary Sandpiper is a good example. This medium-sized sandpiper is usually alone. It uses stream banks and muddy areas around temporary pools at Valentine Farm and other fields as a stopover as it heads to boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. Not much is known about the breeding behavior of this bird because of its solitary behavior. One unusual fact. . .It seems to use former nests of songbirds rather than build its own.

The Spotted Sandpiper (photo Glacier NPS) is another migrant from South America. However, it nests in our area in bogs and marshy areas around ponds and rivers. This bird is unique in a number of ways. First, during nesting season, roles are reversed between males and females compared to other birds. The females are the first to arrive and are larger and more aggressive in defending territories. Also, blood tests have shown that the males have higher than expected hormones associated with parental care. Second, this bird is easy to identify when you see it because it pumps it’s rear up and down in a teetering fashion as it walks, probing mud and the shoreline. This teetering behavior has led to a local nickname that I can’t write here. But you can probably guess it, if you are lucky enough to see this little teeter this spring.

Finally, one of my favorite shorebirds is really a forest bird – the American Woodcock. This dumpy bird is well known in our area. It often arrives before the snows have fully melted and can be seen at dusk over fields and meadows performing its incredible mating flights. Listen for its “peent” call in marshes after dark. We had intended to hold a Woodcock Walk at Valentine Farm this April. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, this has been cancelled. However, feel free to stop by Valentine Farm and walk the trail above the old cornfield and marsh. At dusk, watch and listen for its twittering and chirping as these birds fly high into the evening sky trying to attract a mate. Please let me know if you are seeing or hearing them on your visit.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

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