-- © Dave Spier
Yes, it was alone, and yes, this is typical behavior for this species. They often travel by themselves or small flocks at most. After spending the winter in South and Central America, Southern Mexico or the Caribbean, these birds stop briefly at the Montezuma Wetlands Complex to refuel and be on their way to Canada. We see them from mid-April to mid-May, but the peak is during the first week of May, so the one at Malone Unit #1 on Savannah Spring Lake Road (Wayne County, New York) was right on schedule. I found a second one at the edge of a puddle in a farm field, another typical habitat for this species.
The Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) is eight or nine inches long and thinly built. The white eye ring, speckled dark wing and darker "shoulder" bend are keys to identification. The somewhat similar but chunkier Pectoral Sandpiper lacks these features and has a more densely streaked breast with an abrupt lower border. The legs of both species are olive-yellow and both have medium-sized bills. The Solitary’s rump and center of the tail are dark, but these features can be hard to see. They become more important when separating the Solitary from its close relative, the slightly larger Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) that has a white rump and mostly white tail.
After shorebirds reach their breeding grounds in Canada, the males of other species defend a territory, build a nest and usually help with incubation. The Solitary has a somewhat different tactic, though; it lays its eggs in the deserted tree nests of songbirds including those of robins, blackbirds, kingbirds, jays and waxwings.
For most shorebirds, the parents usually split up after the eggs hatch and only the father remains to care for the chicks. The female leaves a few days after hatching and sets off on a leisurely migration south. Here in the Finger Lakes Region we see this as a longer stay for shorebirds on the return trip, beginning in July for some species and lasting through October for others (like the Dunlin). Most Solitary Sandpipers pass through central New York from mid-July to late August with a few birds lingering until early October, but global warming may shift those dates.
Questions and corrections may be sent to The Northeast Naturalist. For more information on birds around the Wetlands Complex, visit the Montezuma Birding Trail website: http://montezumabirding.webs.com There is a special page describing birding hotspots in the Town of Savannah.