5 June 2013. As I wrote, we went further east into the Adventdalen valley on Spitsbergen, to a marshy tundra area not far away from dog cages. There, we saw something really special: a male pectoral sandpiper.
According to BirdLife in the Netherlands, pectoral sandpipers are the most common American wader species in Europe.
Still, they are fairly rare vagrants in most of Europe. The site aviflevoland.nl says that in Britain and Ireland, where they come more than in other European countries, they are present year after year.
They’re scarce passage migrants from America and Siberia. A few are seen in spring, but the vast majority appear in late summer and autumn. Young pectoral sandpipers from the eastern coast of North America can be blown over the Atlantic by areas of low pressure. It is the most common North American wading bird to occur here and has even started to breed in Scotland very recently.
The British Trust for Ornithology writes:
Number in Britain: 56 records/year … Scarce Visitor, Has probably bred.
In the Netherlands until 1991, pectoral sandpipers had been identified only 48 times ever. They nest on north Alaskan tundras, where they are the most common waders. Also in Arctic Canada and eastern Siberia. They winter in South America, or in Australia or New Zealand. Sometimes, storms or other factors take them to unexpected places.
This video is about a pectoral sandpiper (and a dunlin) in winter plumage in Sweden.
How about Svalbard? The book Birds and Mammals of Svalbard, page 188, says that people have seen a pectoral sandpiper on this Arctic archipelago less than twenty times.
The list on svalbardbirds.com, more up to date than the 2006 Norwegian Polar Institute book, says these sandpipers have been on Svalbard more often than twenty times. They say their data have been approved by the Birds Rarities Committee. They say the pectoral sandpiper is a “relatively frequent occasional visitor”. So, over 20 visits, but not annually. However, they also say that this species is a “problable annual breeder”.
It is breeding season now on the Spitsbergen tundra. And here, we see this male pectoral sandpiper. In breeding plumage; with his throat and breast conspicuously forward. At this time of the year, he has an inflatable sac in his breast.
Every now and then, he rests on a hillock.
Then, he does his mating season flight, singing with his throat sac, his hooting song, almost owl-like: “U-u-u”.
According to recent research, in the midnight sun mating season, male pectoral sandpipers sleep less than 5% of a day. That is remarkable, as they have arrived recently from a long journey from the southern hemisphere.
So, here we have pectoral sandpiper male courtship display. But is there a female? We don’t see any. There are plenty of dunlins, and some purple sandpipers around here.
Sometimes, the pectoral vagrant amourously approaches one of them. They, busy with their own mating season, indignantly reject these advances.
Sometimes, the pectoral sandpiper goes to a muddy bank to feed.
Then, it flies away.
Then, it sits down on a hillock again.
Then, it looks for food again.
I do hope that by now, either a female pectoral sandpiper has joined this vagrant male; or that he will be able to find his way back to his normal summer or winter quarters.
Pectoral sandpipers in the Netherlands: here.
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