13 February 2011
Are purple sandpipers really purple?
Last weekend I took a trip to the Ocean City Inlet in Maryland to do some photography and look for winter seabirds. I'm still working on putting a full post together, but I thought I'd post this image of a purple sandpiper (Calidris maritima) among a flock that was feeding and resting along the rock jetty that separates the beach from the inlet. I have to admit that I've seen many purple sandpipers over the years, but I've always scoped them at a distance, feeding on the inaccessible reaches of rocks or jetties in the rough New England surf. I had always assumed that they got their name from having some sort of purple color somewhere (maybe visible only in the hand), but I had never seen it or really given it a second thought. Upon working my way closer to this flock of birds and getting them in the camera lens, I was delighted to see the purple iridescence so conspicuous on the back feathers in the morning light. This is what I love about photography; taking the time to get intimate with a species (even one I've seen a million times before) and gaining a deeper understanding of the bird and its behavior.
So the answer to the question posed in the title of this blog is yes, they are really purple. However, apparently only in their nonbreeding plumage, and only when you view them at a close distance. Another interesting fact about the purple sandpiper is that it has the northernmost winter range of any shorebird. So, if you live near the Atlantic coast anywhere from North Carolina to the north, keep an eye out on rocks and jetties for flocks of these lovely shorebirds.
More images from this trip will be up soon...