top of page

Part 2: Shorebirds passing through Southern Maine and World Shorebird Day

Derek Lovitch, Pine Beach, Scarborough Marsh Photo © Sam Wainright

To honor these long distance travelers, the shorebirds, and because September 6 is World Shorebird Day, this part of the blog will focus on the shorebirds we see on August 15 with Derek Lovitch, as our tour guide. We visit Biddeford Pool (Great Pond and Beach) and Scarborough Marsh, including Pine Point. In all we see 14 species of shorebirds. These birds are mostly adults, with the juveniles starting to arrive.

What are their feeding habits, what habitats do they prefer while migrating, where are their breeding grounds, and where are they going? We see them for a tiny fraction of their lives - as they stop to feed and rest during their long journeys, going either southward (fall) or northward (spring).


Biddeford Pool - Great Pond

On the muddy shore of Biddeford Pool - Great Pond we see Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and a Spotted Sandpiper without its spots.

The Least Sandpipers (smallest of all shorebirds) prefer these protected mudflats (1).

Even though the more pugnacious Semipalmated Sandpipers generally choose open beaches for feeding (1) a good mud meal will do for now as they wait for low tide on the beach.

Adult Semipalmated Sandpiper

The Semipalmated Plovers and

Short-billed Dowitchers feed on polychaete worms, molluscs, and crustaceans on beaches and mudflats, although their feeding strategies are distinct. The plover uses its feet (foot trembling) to stir up prey that it can see.

The dowitcher feeds by a rapid vertical probing in the mud, like a sewing machine – feeling for its prey with its sensitive beak, but not actually seeing its food. (2)

The Spotted Sandpiper, known for its bobbing tail behavior, typically feeds along the water margins using rapid downward movements – probing for just about anything that is tasty. This species, a loner, is territorial of its favorite feeding spots during migration. (2)

Returning from sub-Arctic Canada the Semipalmated Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and the Semipalmated Sandpipers mostly move along the northeastern coast of North America (NA) to southern NA or as far as South America (SA) – this plover may travel to nearly the southern tip of SA. The Spotted Sandpiper, found on Peaks Island in the summer, follows the coastline, or it may move in broad bands across the country in route to southern NA and SA, as does the Least Sandpiper. (2) Each of these five shorebird species will be challenged by a long journey - relying on abundant food sources along the way and favorable weather conditions. Storm Hermine does not provide favorable conditions - quite the opposite - threatening.


Biddeford Pool - Beach Side

We approach the beach side of Biddeford Pool – tide is falling - better for shorebird observations. We see 30 of those pugnacious Semipalmated Sandpipers searching and probing, alongside 20 of the Semipalmated Plovers and three White-rumped Sandpipers – with their distinct white rumps and long wings. Scattered orange-legged Ruddy Turnstones appear with their splendid ‘graphic-artist’ designer plumage: black, deep sienna brown, and white colors. They forage with the Lesser Yellowlegs, with their striking yellow legs. We admire birds with white rumps, orange legs, and yellow legs.

White-rumped Sandpiper Peabody Museum, Yale

The White-rumped Sandpiper breeds in the most northern edges and islands of Arctic Canada and travels in a few long non-stop jumps of up to 4000 km (2485 miles) to northeastern NA. After feeding along the coast, their journey takes them over the western Atlantic to northern South America. Here, the sandpiper’s strategy changes - it makes short hops along the coast until it reaches southern end of the continent – a month’s journey. (2) This species probably relies on plentiful food here in Maine to make its next big jump to SA. (2)

Ruddy Turnstones Peabody Museum, Yale

(breeding plumage front; non-breeding plumage back)

The Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres morinella subspecies)

breeds in Alaska, Arctic Canada and spends its winter along the southern NA coast or as far south as Chile and northern Argentina – making small jumps to its destination. As its name implies, it turns over rocks, shells, and seaweeds (see blue arrow for evidence of turnstones)

to find favorite foods – generally using a peck method of retrieval.

If needed, though, these birds enjoy a good chase of any escaped mobile prey. And, if a stone is too big for its beak, the turnstone will use its breast to move it. (2)


Scarborough Marsh

At low tide we visit Scarborough Marsh at Pine Point where large mudflats are exposed with a great display of shorebirds including 6 new species for the day:


Red Knot

Greater Yellowlegs


Black-bellied Plover (mostly without its black belly)


We are impressed with the estimated numbers of 345 Semipalmated Plovers, 500 Semipalmated Sandpipers, and 102 Black-bellied Plovers. Derek tells us, though, that greater numbers are on the way later in August. But, just as we enjoy the multitude of shorebirds, a large and stocky dark object approaches over the marsh – a Peregrine Falcon - also migrating and hungry. “The flight of the peregrine is considered one of the most remarkable demonstrations of speed and precision maneuvering in the bird world. (3)” This falcon singles out its hopeful meal, a Short-billed Dowitcher, and a chase begins. This chase sends a wave of alarm throughout the feeding shorebirds – “they scatter in scores” (ML), as the dowitcher out maneuvers the falcon.

The Sanderling (no photo) is another sandpiper that breeds in Arctic Canada and migrates as far south as the southern tip of SA. If you see a flock of greyish and small chunky birds running along the water’s edge – just behind a retreating wave - rapidly probing and pecking for food, it might be this sandpiper species that is touching, smelling and tasting its way to nourishment. Here in Scarborough Marsh it settles for a mudflat dinner. (2)

We see only one Red Knot in its non-breeding grey plumage (top).

This bird struts its orangish-buff breeding attire. The Red Knot probes for coastal intertidal molluscs and more rarely on crustaceans, worms, and insects on its very long journey from the subarctic Canada to South America, and as far south as Tierra del Fuego (Calidris canutus rufa subspecies) (2). During spring migration the Red Knot typically prefers horseshoe crab eggs that are most abundant around Cape May, NJ. However, horseshoe crabs are declining in numbers as their bodies are used for fertilizer. Hence the Red Knots are declining as well. We saw one knot.

GreaterYellowlegs and Admirer in Pink at Pine Point Mudflats

Greater Yellowlegs return to the mudflats, after the peregrine scare, while another young observer - in her pink attire – takes notice.

Greater Yellowlegs (background) Lesser Yellowlegs (foreground), Peabody Museum, Yale

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs (YL) are similar in

appearance. The Greater YL is larger and heavier than the Lesser YL. The bill, too, is larger with a titch of an uplift and ‘lightish’ at the base. The Greater YL display more dark spots on their undersides.

Greater Yellowlegs

Both yellowlegs species have, yes, distinctive yellow legs. Both species have similar fall migration routes leaving from the subarctic Canada and stopping anywhere from the southern NA to the southern end of SA. Their feeding habits differ. The Greater YL dash about the shallow water as it probes and picks with its long beak. It may wade or even swim. Nighttime feeding brings on another technique: ‘scything’ – bill side-sweeping through the water in search of tiny fish. The Lesser YL wades up to its belly, walk on floating weeds or objects, and pecks for its food from the water or mud. At night though, it too, relies on ‘scything’. (2)

The Willet resembles the yellowlegs but without the yellow legs – instead it flaunts grey legs and heavier stout bill. The Willet pecks and probes for prey, although this bird will run, ploughing its bill through the water. And it, too, ‘scythes’. The Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus semipalmatus subspecies) breeds along the eastern coast of NA and moves south along NA, CA, and SA. (2)

The Black-bellied Plover, as its name suggests, has a black belly (breeding plumage) extending up the neck and chin, handsomely covering the eye. The black is flanked by white, with a brownish back and top of head. But, in the winter it is simply a large headed grey shorebird. As most plovers it has a short plumpish bill. This species of plover is strictly coastal bird with a global distribution and breeds in Arctic Canada and Russia, migrating to their nonbreeding locations along all southerly continental shores. While foraging on mudflats, this plover displays a distinctive tactic: it flicks pieces of mud into the air - in a sideways motion - exposing its prey (worms, crustaceans, molluscs), before giving it a good peck. Even though this species is widespread, globally, they generally rely on specific areas for migration stopovers, making them vulnerable to any disruption of food sources. (2)

(no photo)

The Killdeer is related to this Black-bellied Plover, and the above-mentioned plovers. However the Killdeer’s breeding habitats differ – they prefer fields that are not always near water. However, during migration they forage on mudflats and shores. Here they share with the Semi-palmated Plover, the unique ‘foot trembling’ method for stirring up prey (insects, worms, snails, and crustaceans). The Killdeers breed across southern Canada and middle North America, migrating further south to southern NA, CA, and northern SA. This busy plover is easy to identify with its double black neckbands contrasting against its white belly and brown back – often seen in empty lots and fields. (2)

Shorebirds, all different species, during migration are compatible,

however if a meal is at stake,

turnstones and knots do not always get along.


Jones Creek

We see many more interesting bird species on this marsh tour: juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons, juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and juvenile Glossy Ibises - each species without a nearby adult. Small groups of what are perhaps juvenile and adult Great and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Great Blue Herons are seen foraging deep in the marsh. Derek points out a rare hybrid ‘Snowy Egret X Tricolored Heron’ (Jones Creek) in the marsh grasses. This bird is locally famous and it is fondly named “Patches”, as its plumage includes patchy whites, blues, and browns. As if on call, a Saltmarsh Sparrow at Pelrico Lot, is flushed from its tall marsh grasses to its favorite ‘look at me site’ – a rusty fence. A great day birding. Thank you Michael and Derek.

Juvenile Glossy Ibises

Snowy Egret

Great and Snowy Egrets

Great Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Photo © Sam Wainright

Saltmarsh Sparrow


Please see below for *entire bird lists from August 15.


Important shorebird information:

Best viewing locations for shorebirds on Peaks Island:

  1. Centennial Beach – preferably at low tide and early morning before human activity enhances the beach

  2. Evergreen Landing beach – low tide

  3. Backshore – walk along lower part of overhangs

  4. Picnic Point – gravely beach

  5. Sandy Beach – off Brackett Point


1. Lovitch. D. Freeport Wildbird Supply.

2. del Hoya, J, A. Elliot, and J. Sargatal. Eds. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol 3. Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions. Barcelona.

3. Brett, J.J. (1973) Feathers in the Wind. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association. Kutztown Publishing Co. Inc. PA.

Contributors: Derek Lovitch, Michael LaCombe, Sam Wainright.

Reviewed by: Sam Wainright, Michael LaCombe, Michelle Brown, Marty.

By: Patty Wainright

Photographs: Photos © Patty Wainright

Additional Information

If you have any additional bird sightings you would like to share or questions regarding Peak's bird life, you can send them to:

*Bird Lists for August 15 – Biddeford Pool and Scarborugh Marsh

Compiled by: Michael LaCombe as submitted to eBird.

Biddeford Pool--Great Pond, York, Maine, US Aug 15, 2016 7:00 AM - 9:30 AM 23 species Canada Goose 3 Double-crested Cormorant 3 Snowy Egret 2 Black-crowned Night-Heron 1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 3 (far shore of pond, together with one SNEG) Semipalmated Plover 5 Least Sandpiper 5 Semipalmated Sandpiper 20 Short-billed Dowitcher 2 Spotted Sandpiper 1 Herring Gull 5 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 12 Mourning Dove 1 Eastern Kingbird 1 American Crow 4 Fish Crow 3 (On route one Saco, near abandoned Burger King in parking lot) Tree Swallow 3 Barn Swallow 2 Gray Catbird 2 European Starling 20 Song Sparrow 3 American Goldfinch 2 House Sparrow 12

Biddeford Pool--Beach, York, Maine, US Aug 15, 2016 9:30 AM - 11:30 AM 37 species

Canada Goose 4 American Black Duck 2 Common Eider 20 White-winged Scoter 1 Double-crested Cormorant 20 Great Blue Heron 2 Great Egret 4 Snowy Egret 16 (large numbers at Granite Pt. Road) Black-crowned Night-Heron 1 Glossy Ibis 2 Cooper's Hawk 1 Semipalmated Plover 20 Ruddy Turnstone 5 White-rumped Sandpiper 3 Semipalmated Sandpiper 30 Lesser Yellowlegs 2 Black Guillemot 2 Herring Gull 30 Great Black-backed Gull 4 Least Tern 5 Common Tern 5 Eastern Phoebe 1 American Crow 5 Tree Swallow 2 Barn Swallow 1 House Wren 1 American Robin 1 Gray Catbird 1 Northern Mockingbird 1 European Starling 20 Cedar Waxwing 8 Common Yellowthroat 2 Yellow Warbler 1 Song Sparrow 3 Northern Cardinal 1 American Goldfinch 3 House Sparrow 4

Scarborough Marsh--Pine Point, Cumberland, Maine, US Aug 15, 2016 12:00 PM - 2:30 PM 31 species American Black Duck 2 Common Eider 20 Double-crested Cormorant 40 Great Blue Heron 4 Great Egret 2 Snowy Egret 8 Little Blue Heron 4 at Jones Creek Snowy Egret x Tricolored Heron (hybrid) 1 ("Patches" - at Jones Creek, together with SNEG's) Black-bellied Plover 102 Semipalmated Plover 345 (Counted by D.L. with clicker) Killdeer 2 Ruddy Turnstone 1 Red Knot 1 Sanderling 2 Least Sandpiper 3 White-rumped Sandpiper 8 Semipalmated Sandpiper 500 (Estimated from SEPL count by D.L.) Short-billed Dowitcher 18 Greater Yellowlegs 2 Willet 8 Bonaparte's Gull 2 Ring-billed Gull 2 Herring Gull 80 Great Black-backed Gull 8 Least Tern 4 Common Tern 5 Peregrine Falcon 1 (Spectacular; scattered scores of shore birds) American Crow 6 European Starling 30 Saltmarsh Sparrow 1 (At Pelrico lot; flushed from tall grass to rusted fence) Song Sparrow 2 American Goldfinch 4

Welcome to

The Backshore Bird Blog


The objective of The Backshore Bird Blog is to share the wonder and diversity of bird species seen along the Peaks Island shore.

If you like birds...

take a look at our list of the 100 varieties of birds that have been spotted around the Island here. How many can you spot?

Recent Posts
bottom of page