It's winter on Homer Spit in southern Alaska, and Rock Sandpipers feed along the gravelly shore. These small shorebirds probe for food. Anything that moves is fair game, especially amphipods, the little crustaceans that hop about when exposed. The sandpipers also snap up clams, snails, and barnacles. Gulls, waterfowl, and many other birds forage along the spit. How do we know which birds winter on Homer Spit? One way is through the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon. These counts go on all over the country. You don't have to be an expert to join - just bring your binoculars and your curiosity!
Rock Sandpipers Are Tough
Written by Dennis Paulson
This is BirdNote!
[Waves crashing on rocky shore, wind howling]
Although the town of Homer is in southern Alaska, no one would ever think of it as southern on this midwinter day. The temperature is well below freezing, and flurries of snow dance in the blustery wind. This is a place for rugged birders and the even tougher birds they seek. [Rock Sandpiper calls]
So let’s put on heavy parkas and head onto Homer Spit, on the longest road into ocean waters anywhere in the world. We’ll watch in particular for Rock Sandpipers feeding along the gravelly shore. These small gray shorebirds run or walk this way and that, probing into the gravel and seaweed. Anything that moves is fair game, especially amphipods, the little crustaceans that hop about when exposed. But the birds also recognize clams, snails, and barnacles as tasty food. [Calls of Glaucous-winged Gulls]
Gulls, waterfowl, and many other birds forage along the spit, but -- except for a tiny handful of Dunlin -- Rock Sandpipers are the only shorebirds.* [Calls of Rock Sandpipers] Their dense feather coat extends down their legs almost to the ankle, affording some protection from the cold. [Calls of Rock Sandpipers]
How do we know exactly which birds winter on Homer Spit? Well, one way is through the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon. These counts go on all over the country. You don’t have to be an expert to join one – just bring your binoculars and your curiosity. To find one near you, begin at birdnote.org.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Rock Sandpiper  recorded by W.W.H. Gunn; Glaucous-winged Gull  by A.A. Allen.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Waves recorded by Kessler Productions
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org December 2014/2017/2019 Narrator: Mary McCann
ID# ROSA-01-2012-12-17 ROSA-01
* Editor's note: While Rock Sandpipers are almost the only shorebirds, there are a few hardy Dunlin thrown in.* An eBird checklist from 2019 shows
2700 Rock Sandpipers and 40 Dunlins.