Shorebirds Mark Autumn in Maine

least sandpiper, maine, nature

Maine is gorgeous in autumn. The crisp fall air, the apple-picking, the fiery colors of changing leaves: all make it my favorite time of year. However, we birders have another autumn event to look forward to: migration.

On an early morning in September, I met Linda of the Wells Reserve for an estuary paddle. The sun was low on the horizon, but had already burned off the mist, leaving the air clear and cool. The tide ran halfway out, revealing a few feet of mudflats and the roots of marsh plants, glittering with a few drops of remaining dew. It was the perfect time to see shorebirds.

kayak, maine, nature

Most shorebirds breed in Canada and Alaska, traveling thousands of miles to and from nesting grounds in the spring and fall. I was hoping to catch them on their return trip, and within seconds of launching I had found my first one: a Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpipers will actually summer in the northern half of the United States, including Maine, and I had seen dozens in August during a trip to the Maine North Woods. They are notorious for dipping their tails, and the one a dozen feet from the tip of my kayak acted no differently, performing its wriggling dance before flying to the opposite bank.

least sandpipers, birds, nature

We paddled upriver, chatting about the reserve and the coming fall season, just beginning to peek out here and there in pops of crimson leaf color. As we rounded a corner, three avian silhouettes took a few running steps away from us before they resumed feeding. The long form of a Greater Yellowlegs was most obvious, the golden color of its limbs aiding in identification. Two teeny Least Sandpipers skittered at the edge of the lapping water, and I confided to Linda how cute I always found peeps. It’s hard to believe these little guys – weighing barely an ounce – can fly from Alaska all the way down to Florida and South America, but fly they do!

Eventually we turned to return to the dock, late morning already turned warm. Last, but definitely not least on our shorebird list, we found a solitary Semipalmated Plover, a dark band crossing its white breast like a necklace. In a few more weeks, I’ll see these plovers in their wintering grounds on the coast of Florida, so I sent up a silent wish that this one would make it safely.

Erika Zambello

About Erika Zambello

Erika Zambello is a writer, birder, and photographer, born and raised in Maine. She has a bachelor’s degree in Government and Anthropology from Cornell University, and a master’s degree in Environmental Management from Duke University, specializing in ecosystem science and conservation. Her love of the outdoors was inspired by her childhood in Maine, and she returned for her National Geographic Young Explorer grant in 2015-2016.