The polar opposite to the Caspian Terns featured in last week's post when it comes to both plumage and personal space, is the extremely approachable but rarely seen in Metro Vancouver migrant, the Buff-Breasted Sandpiper. With its small, dainty head; thin bill; buff coloration; and black speckled wing/back feathers, this shorebird is visually distinguishable from the other peeps (sandpipers) of the Calidris genus who frequent the local wildlife habitats during fall migration.


 forage, eat, stop, stare (rinse and repeat ad infinitum): I think s/he's trying to make sure the four camera lenses trained on her never stray to the other BBSA. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.


Last year around this time, there was only a single Buff-Breasted Sandpiper seen in our area. This year, five have been seen so far--one at Iona Island in Richmond and four at the Boundary Bay Wildlife Management Area in Delta, where my two subjects were photographed on August 30. The BBSA is a transcontinental bird, flying northwards to breed in the arctic, and wintering in South America. Although they exhibit an odd preference for grassy areas (which has earned them the alias "grasspiper"), four of the five who were sighted here were found on mudflats at low tide (which is apparently their very last choice for habitats!)


though it doesn't coo, the Buff-Breasted Sandpiper certainly looks like a dove, and spends plenty of time on the ground, too!  © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.


Rather comically, this one spent some time chasing off the only other one I was able to find in the immediate area. Apparently, the former wanted the attention of the photographers all to itself! When it wasn't hogging the limelight, my photogenic subject made sure every lens was trained on it -- regardless of what it was doing -- foraging, resting on the grass, or grooming its feathers. How tame are these shorebirds? One of my fellow birders reported that a BBSA actually walked up right to them, the evening after my encounter with them!


these "grasspipers" are not playing leap frog. really. :)  they're just getting a little too much into each other's spaces, and the top bird is actually hightailing it for a less crowded place to feed. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.


The BBSA is special for another, more sobering, reason: fewer than 90,000 individuals are estimated worldwide (per data from migration sites and its allaboutbirds profile; actual figures--which may in all likelihood, be much, much lower--are difficult to obtain, as it does not always exhibit nest fidelity). This species once numbered in the hundreds of thousands (and perhaps, even millions) until widespread hunting at the turn of the century brought the species to the verge of extinction.


the main attraction, seen here nearly camouflaged while taking five from an active afternoon of foraging -- a respite that made it easier on the photographers to capture it! © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.


The enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 banned hunting of BBSAs and contributed to a rebuilding of the global population of these insectivores, but now, BBSAs are, once again, sadly in serious decline due to pesticide use and significant loss of suitable (grasslands) habitat. Its Near Threatened status means that unless there is human intervention now, this bird may go the way of the dodo. See what's being done to help the Buffies here, and learn more about the Buff-Breasted Sandpiper (including its fascinating dating and mating rituals) by visiting its Cornell Lab of Ornithology allaboutbirds profile. ✍️


Published by Hui Sim