In the fens of Daring Lake, Least Sandpipers are busy watching their nests. Breeding season seemed to reach a climax in the middle of this month. The males could be heard calling to the females while performing aerial displays of short bursts of flight followed by a glide back to the ground. Now there are eggs to be watching. In particular there is one Least Sandpiper nest that was built quite close to the boardwalks of our fen research station. There is a clutch of four eggs nestled snugly in the grass atop a large hummock. A single puff of Cottongrass marks the nest that is otherwise difficult to see. I would never have found this nest if it wasn’t for the protective parent attempting to distract me and lead me away. Similar to the “broken wing act” of the Killdeers back home, the Least Sandpiper adult (not sure whether it’s the male and/or female that watches the eggs) attempts to remove me from the nest area by puffing up their feathers and calling while walking in the opposite direction of the nest location, hoping I’ll follow. One of the sounds made by the Sandpiper during this behaviour sounds quite similar to a sneeze. I feel quite guilty when this scenario occurs because I know I’m causing the sandpiper a lot of stress. Now that I know where the nest is located, I try to spend as little time in that area as possible. It is my goal to live harmoniously with the local wildlife.
The Least Sandpiper looks very similar to the Semipalmated Sandpiper which also calls Daring Lake home during breeding season. The Least Sandpiper is smaller than the Semipalmated Sandpiper, in fact the Least Sandpiper is the world’s smallest sandpiper, but size relative and difficult to discern when the two birds are not next to each other. An easier feature to use to ID is the colour of the birds legs. The Least Sandpiper has yellow-ish legs, while the Semipalmated Sandpiper has black legs. As well, the bill of the Semipalmated Sandpiper is slightly shorter and heavier than the Least Sandpiper, and it’s feathers tend to be more greyish and less brown. Interestingly, the term semipalmated refers to the structure of their feet. Palmated means webbed, so in the case of the Semipalmated Sandpiper, the feet are partially webbed. I have not yet been close enough to check their feet out for myself. I have only seen Semipalmated Sandpiper in the evenings while they are foraging along the beaches of Daring Lake. It is not uncommon for me to find both the Least Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper foraging in mixed groups along with the Semipalmated Plover.
The only other bird from the sandpiper family Scolopacidae that I have seen in the area is the Ruddy Turnstone. The Ruddy Turnstone doesn’t breed in the area, and I was told that my sighting is only the second time they have been seen at Daring Lake in the spring.