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Semipalmated Sandpiper at Malibu Lagoon

August 21, 2022

[Posted by Chuck Almdale, photo by Chris Tosdevin]

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Chris Tosdevin, 8-15-22)

Semipalmated Sandpipers show up every year in SoCal, but not in many locations or in big numbers. A half-dozen of them would be a big number. I’ve never recorded one at the lagoon. This one has been hanging out with Western Sandpipers. Chris calls it a “continuing bird” so it might stick around for a while, unless it becomes a discontinued bird.

Distinguishing them from Western Sandpipers can be difficult if you’re not familiar with them. The bill is shorter, straighter and more tubular than Western, and stouter than Least Sandpiper. They have less rufous colors on back and crown than Western, a thicker, whiter supercilium, and the juvenile has darker ear coverts. They both have black bills, black legs and are both “semipalmated,” meaning they have short webs between their 1st & 2nd toes (counting from the inside). Don’t spend a lot of time trying to see this particular field mark. Best thing is to check your field guide.

The eastern Semipalmated were discovered and named before the Western were discovered. When they determined that some of those “Semis” were a different species, they couldn’t change the original name for the first species (Semipalmated) – a custom people followed for centuries – and they had to call the 2nd species something, so “Western Sandpiper” was chosen. It’s certainly more of a western than an eastern bird, although many spend the winter along the gulf coast and well up the east coast to about Delaware.

Semipalmated Sandpipers, on the other hand, although they breed all across the North American arctic to the northwest Alaskan coast, migrate south by passing east of the Rockies and only a few odd birds wander off course into California.

We will, of course, look for this bird on our next lagoon field trip, along with that Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that keeps coming and going at inconvenient times.

One Comment
  1. Teresa Penner permalink
    August 21, 2022 3:06 pm

    Well spotted!


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