Sunday, 2 December 2012

Purple Sandpiper - lots of photos

This morning, word got out that Mark Jennings had found a Purple Sandpiper at Bronte Harbour. Purple Sandpipers are an uncommon but certainly annual migrant to Hamilton, though it was a nemesis bird of mine, so I figured I would take a look for this one.

After picking out a Christmas Tree in Flamborough with my parents, I continued east until I arrived at the harbour. There it was, feeding among the rocks!

Despite Purple Sandpipers being uncommon but regular autumn migrants in Ontario, I had only one previous sighting of this species this year. That was a crappy look at one flying with several Sanderlings in southern James Bay this October with Alan. Most of the Purple Sandpipers that showed up in southern Ontario this autumn arrived during the two/three weeks when we were away, so that was it for my PUSA sightings! Until this one, of course.

Purple Sandpipers are perhaps the hardiest of Ontario's shorebirds. They normally winter on the east coast of North America, however unlike most shorebird species, their wintering range includes Atlantic Canada! Here they spend the coldest months of the year crawling over the algae and ice covered rocks, battered by waves, and searching for whatever invertebrate morsels they can find.

This Purple Sandpiper, like nearly every single one that shows up in Ontario, is a juvenile molting into its 1st basic plumage (winter plumage). Some of the retained juvenile wing feathers (the tertials and greater coverts) appear dark with white edging. The new basic feathers are slate gray with less obvious pale edging.

Fortunately for me and several other people present, this bird was not concerned with our presence and we were able to obtain some nice close photos. As long as we moved slowly it tolerated a relatively close approach. This is most likely because it is starved for food, though shorebirds in general can often be quite "accommodating".

By the time you read this, I will most likely be in Presqu'ile Provincial Park with a group of other birders. While I am extremely unlikely to get any new "year-birds" this trip, it will be a fun weekend with a good group of people! I am hoping the Barrow's Goldeneye is still around, so I can knock another species off the "only seen it once this year" list. I already have de-listed Greater White-fronted Goose and Purple Sandpiper in the last few days...


  1. Awesome photos Josh. I wish I lived a little closer to Toronto...

  2. Thanks Dwayne! I wish I lived a little closer to Point Pelee...

  3. I wish I lived closer to Netitishi Point!

    1. Alan, I'm pretty sure you would live there permanently if you could! Winter might be a tad boring though...

  4. I had no idea it was such a gorgeous bird! Yours are the best photos I've ever seen of one. Wow!