Bird Identification – Least Sandpiper

 Across the narrow beach we flit, One little sandpiper and I; And fast I gather, bit by bit, The scattered driftwood bleached and dry. The wild waves reach their hands for it, The wild wind raves, the tide runs high, As up and down the beach we flit,— One little sandpiper and I. Above our heads the sullen clouds Scud black and swift across the sky; Like silent ghosts in misty shrouds Stand out the white light-houses high. Almost as far as eye can reach I see the close-reefed vessels fly, As fast we flit along the beach,— One little sandpiper and I. I watch him as he skims along Uttering his sweet and mournful cry; He starts not at my fitful song, Or flash of fluttering drapery. He has no thought of any wrong; He scans me with a fearless eye. Stanch friends are we, well-tried and strong. The little sandpiper and I. Comrade, where wilt thou be to-night When the loosed storm breaks furiously? My driftwood fire will burn so bright! To what warm shelter canst thou fly? I do not fear for thee, though wroth The tempest rushes through the sky: For are we not God's children both. Thou, little sandpiper, and I? 

Almost every child I know is more familiar with Celia Thaxter’s poem about the little sandpiper than with the bird itself. But if you have the good fortune to be at the seashore in the late summer, when flocks of the friendly mites come to visit us from the Arctic regions on their way south, you can scarcely fail to become acquainted with the companion of Mrs. Thaxter’s lonely walks along the beach at the Isles of Shoals where her father kept the lighthouse.

The least sandpipers, peeps, ox-eyes or stints, as they are variously called, are only about the size of sparrows—too small for any self-respecting gunner to bag, therefore they are still abundant. Their light, dingy-brown and gray, finely speckled backs are about the colour of the mottled sand they run over so nimbly, and their breasts are as white as the froth of the waves that almost never touch them. Beach birds become marvellously quick in reckoning the fraction of a second when they must run from under the combing wave about to break over their little heads. Plovers rely on their fleet feet to escape a wetting. Least sandpipers usually fly upward and onward if a deluge threatens; but they have a cousin, the semipalmated (half-webbed) sandpiper that swims well when the unexpected water suddenly lifts it off its feet.

These busy, cheerful, sprightly little peepers are always ready to welcome to their flocks other birds—ring-necked plovers, turnstones, snipe and phalaropes. If by no other sign, you may distinguish sandpipers by their constant call, peep-peep.