So I take photos and compare them, point by point, against the photos in my bird book, and then against Cornell's All About Birds descriptions. "Ah," I say, "so those were sanderlings!"
But next time, against an impossible background, with little brown specks fleeing me and my camera, I can't distinguish them again. Just peeps.
These, after having gone through the slow process of identification, I think are black turnstones.
|Black turnstones, Oyster Bay. They've seen me before I saw them, and are already running away.|
|And they're off!|
A turnstone against the brown and black mud of Oyster Bay is a different bird altogether than a turnstone in the air. On the ground, they blend in, except for the flash of white belly. In flight, they show a dramatic white/brown/black pattern.
|Zooming in, with the background faded out.|
Bold wing pattern visible in flight, produced by white feathers at the base of the leading edge of the wing, a white wing stripe, and a white lower back.
White tail with black terminal band. (Cornell)
The black terminal band on the tail is visible while they're on foot; flying, the white tail is longer, and shows as a white terminal band.
Location helps for id purposes; the black turnstones are supposed to prefer noisy beaches.
In winter, found along high-energy rocky shorelines, on beaches near rocky coasts, and on jetties and piers. (Cornell)
Oyster Bay is anything but high-energy, but just across the rock breakwater, waves pound the stones. And in here, in the lagoon at low tide, they find a banquet prepared with their favourite treats: barnacles, mussels, crustaceans, with a side dressing of rotting plant material. Once the water comes back, they'll go back to the open coast, leaving the bay to the mallards, geese, and wigeons.