Migrants – Black-bellied Plover

Many shorebirds migrate through our area. Black-bellied Plovers breed along the Arctic Ocean and then migrate to as far south as the Caribbean and South America. We in Massachusetts live just a bit north of their most northerly wintering area so seeing one after late autumn is a rare sight. This is a young Plover on its first migration. It has stopped to get some food and rest and wander among the pickleweed.

Only breeding males have a black chest and belly and only in the spring. That marking gives the species their name. One thing all Black-bellied Plovers have are black armpits. It is easy to see in the flight shot.

These two plovers are flying with a flock of Dunlins and the black under the wings stands out.

Dunlins are another migrant but we are in the northernmost bit of their winter range so we do see them on occasion during the winter. When these photographs were taken, a mixed flock of shorebirds were flying from one end of the pannes to the other, occasionally stopping to forage for food before taking off again to go back to the other end. The Dunlins are recognizable by their long, slightly drooping bills.

The flock also included Semipalmated Sandpipers and White-rumped Sandpipers. They are also migrating through our area. They are smaller and have a short, straighter bill compared to the long, droopy bill of the Dunlins. There are White-rumped Sandpipers in the photograph. Look for the smaller birds with an unbroken white patch above the tail

The party ended abruptly when an uninvited guest (Peregrine Falcon) came along. All the shorebirds abandoned the area very quickly!

The flock behavior I photographed is a common defensive tactic for these birds. The fast moving crowd of birds constantly shifts their orientation from the dark backs to the bright undersides. The goal is to confuse the falcon so it can’t focus on an individual. All the practice runs I saw must have helped since the falcon left without a catch.

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