If Pixar's amazing 2016 animated short film, Piper, has got you jonesing for a fix of small, cute sandpipers, then you've come to the right post and place. I have not seen much of that tiny shorebird called a Sanderling (after whom I strongly suspect the tiny protagonist Piper was modeled) this winter--either in numbers or frequency--until just before Valentine's Day 2017.


An egg-shaped Sanderling
First time I've shot a Sanderling from this "ovoid" angle (yes, because my subject looks like an egg).


Sanderlings are small, cosmopolitan shorebirds which I only tend to see in their non-breeding plumage, as they generally exhibit their russet brown plumage in the high Arctic during the summer. These circumpolar, intercontinental shorebirds may spend their winter breaks in Australia, Europe, and Africa, but also head as far south as the southernmost coasts of South America. That's quite the long distance flight for a bird who tips the scales at 100 g and measures less than 8 inches in length!


Nice haul for this Sanderling
This Sanderling just hit the all-you-can-eat mother lode with this clam © W.H. SIM PHOTOGRAPHY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Their crisp white and black feathers make them stand out at the beach on a sunny day. Seen from a distance, though, it's easy to miss them, or make me think that I'm seeing a bunch of small white rocks on the beach. The two photos below featuring grains of Sanderlings (yes, that's the proper term of venery) in flight and at rest on the beach were taken in February 2015, about 2 weeks apart (all at Boundary Bay Regional Park).



I first encountered these diminutive shorebirds three years ago, while wandering the beach on a sunny winter's day. What continues to astonish me is their tameness; there's no need to (covertly) drop down into the sand and muck, and slog slowly through the elements to get close to them. In some instances, Sanderlings will walk right up to you (rendering a long lens useless) as they forage for their favorite aquatic invertebrates, almost invariably, in a single file along the shoreline.


Sanderling blowing bubbles (fun with burst mode!)
Had a little fun with the burst mode on my camera. Tiny bubbles ... sorry, just channeling Don Ho here 


Sanderlings stick their long black bills in the shoreline waters to probe for food. They are quick to poke, poke, poke, and then walk or run to the next patch of sand as the waves ebb and flow. When they're done inspecting an area, they will call to each other to take wing to another part of the beach not far away, to "rinse and repeat." If they happen upon the remainders of food left behind by other birds--clams, for example--they will stay and eat at their leisure. They generally ignore humans in their midst, throwing the most cursory of glances at photographers and walkers before resuming seafood dining.


What gulls leave behind are tasty tidbits for the Sanderlings
A Sanderling scoring with a less-than-thoroughly cleaned out clamshell left behind by the gulls


Learn more about these long-distant migrants by visiting their Cornell Lab of Ornithology allaboutbirds.org profile here.  ✍️

Published by Hui Sim