Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Piping Plovers

Here on Sandy Hook it's been raining more or less continuously for the last 48 hours, effectively bringing any landbird migration to a complete stop. Supposedly, once this weather system clears out, there's a warm front with higher temperatures, plentiful sunshine and light west winds to replace it. I expect migration will slowly pick up during the rest of the week, and by Friday we may be looking at Pine Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers around the platform, and maybe a hawk or two overhead. But today I have a series of Piping Plover shots from last Saturday, when it was bitterly cold but still sunny.

This bird is most likely an adult male, in breeding plumage. The breast band and band on the forehead appear black. On an adult female, these are slightly duller, but the differences are not very pronounced.

Same bird seen from the other side. Note how the breast band looks less black - 'more female-like' actually - than in the previous photos. The head band curves more in a point from this side too, but I'm telling ya, it's the same bird.

Here's a head-on shot of that bird.

It was busy feeding, but occasionally would cock its head up to keep an eye out for predators.

Here it's got a small marine worm of some kind.

In this shot, we see some social interaction. These birds probably arrived fairly recently (one or two weeks ago), and are still a few weeks away from being on eggs. At this stage, they are probably pairing off. Here our male charged at what is presumably another male (only half visible in the frame), running with raised mantle feathers and spread tail while whistling. Standing nearby, a bird molting from winter to breeding plumage, and a bird largely in winter plumage still.

Here's a closer comparison of those breeding and winter plumages. The bird on the right is the same male as in the pictures above. It seems to be finished or almost finished molting its body feathers to a breeding plumage. The bill too, black in non-breeding plumage, is nicely bi-colored black and orange. The bill of the left bird is still largely black, with only some orange starting to appear at the base. The breast and head bands too are just starting to blacken: this bird has just started its molt from winter to breeding plumage. Note how worn the wing coverts are. These are not replaced during the pre-alternate (pre-breeding) molt, and are quite worn on all Piping Plovers right now. These feathers will be replaced during the prebasic molt, in late summer or fall.

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