Earlier this week while checking on the PiPl, a small group of shorebirds caught my eye. They were foraging at the water’s edge. Although the fog was as thick as split pea soup and visibility not great, something seemed off with the birds–they looked like Piping Plovers–but seemed a tiny bit bigger, and the silhouette of their bills was larger and chunkier than that of our PiPl. When they scurried along, coming closer, I could see that their bills were solid black, too, and their legs and feet were a fleshy pink, not the bright PiPl orange.
The three foraged nearly identically to the way Piping Plovers forage, pecking and darting at the water’s edge, enough so that when Papa Plover caught sight, he chased them further down the beach and out of his territory.
In the above two photos, compare the orange legs and feet of the PiPl, versus the Wilson’s fleshy pink legs and feet. The PiPl bill is black with differing degrees of orange; the Wilson’s bill is pure black and thicker.
The mystery plovers were fairly far down the beach and I only got few good photos, but did take some footage of Papa chasing the odd plovers with the pale pink legs.
Later at home I was able to identify the shorebirds and amazingly, they are Wilson’s Plovers!! I write amazingly because they are a southern species of plover, rarely seen as far north as New Jersey. I mentioned to Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer about the Wilson’s Plovers. I don’t think he believed me at first, but after taking a walk on the beach, he agreed, yes, they were Wilson’s Plovers!
Wilson’s Plovers live along beaches of the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They are named after the ornithologist Alexander Wilson who discovered them on Cape May in 1813. The species is (and was at that time, too) very rare for New Jersey, let alone northern Massachusetts!
Wilson’s Plovers are listed as threatened or endangered in some states. As with Piping Plovers, disturbances to nesting areas and loss of habitat are the primary threats to this plover species.
I only spotted the Wilson’s Plovers early in the day. The fog engulfed the shoreline even more, making additional sightings nearly impossible. The following morning I stopped by GHB to check on the PiPl, and did not find the Wilson’s. Ornithologists call these visitors in places far outside the bird’s range “vagrants,” but I prefer to think of them as guests. Please write and let us know if you see a Wilson’s Plover, and please take a snapshot if possible. Thank you.