Sandpiper Solitaire

After the rains of Tropical Storm Lee last week the water level in the Wetlands is back to normal. Prior to the rains the water had been quite low exposing much of the muddy bottom of the pond, great habitat for foraging migrant shorebirds. On September 1, a Solitary Sandpiper dropped in to take advantage of that habitat.

A Solitary Sandpiper feeds just off the boardwalk in Explore the Wild.

Solitary Sandpipers are one of three “most likely to be seen” shorebirds on the list of species here at the Museum, along with Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer. Our Wetlands is simply not conducive to shorebird feeding, not enough open mudflats. Even in dry years like this one there’s no guarantee that one of the trio mentioned above will show up in our rather small habitat.

Needless to say, I was excited to see our little friend. After watching the sandpiper for several minutes I noticed that other eyes were studying the bird as well.

It was a Bullfrog and it was stalking the sandpiper.

The frog in this photo is clearly stalking the bird. It was crawling commando style towards the shorebird.
A little too close, if you ask me.

Several times the frog got quite close to the bird. But each time the bird would simply walk away in the opposite direction, creating what it considered a safe distance between itself and the frog.

The stalk-and-walk continued for perhaps ten minutes while I shot photo after photo waiting for the inevitable leap at the bird.

The bird seemed to take it all in stride, but I was getting anxious. Leap, frog! Leap!

Finally…

The frog crawled close to the bird one last time and…
SPLASH!

The frog missed. You can see the bird’s reflection and shadow in the upper right corner of the photo above.

The bird momentarily hovered above the frog, all the while protesting loudly at its inconvenience. The indignant frog hopped off to deeper water to lick its wounds.

The bird watches as the frog (far right) tries to forget.
The frog originated its stalk near the grass at bottom left. You can clearly see its tracks in the mud as it slowly crawled along.

The frog had stalked, crawled on its belly, a dozen or more feet only to fail. The frog must have been in a desperate state to try such a maneuver.  From where I stood, it was certainly interesting to watch. Although I’ve heard stories and seen depictions of bullfrogs capturing birds, mostly warblers, I’ve never witnessed it myself.

Bullfrogs are stimulated by the movement of potential prey. It’s the movement that draws their attention and triggers the lunge at the prey. If the prey doesn’t move the frog will most likely ignore, or may not even see, the prey.

Potential prey is anything that is of reasonable size, the same size or smaller than the frog itself. I’m told, however, by Ranger Kristin, that a relative of her’s once witnessed a bullfrog take a stab at a pigeon that was drinking by the edge of a small pond.

I would think a pigeon too large to swallow. But from what I’ve seen bullfrogs eat here in our Wetlands, everything from insects, to other frogs, to the whopping crayfish we have here, I don’t doubt that a large bullfrog would consider a pigeon fair game. Besides, who would make up such a story!

The gruesome part of the story is that the frog was only able to secure the head of the pigeon. How it did that I don’t know since frogs don’t chew or tear food. They grab, swallow, and digest. But, and this is an important but, they don’t easily let go of something that they latch onto. The pigeon must have struggled tremendously. It’s a good thing that frogs don’t grow as large as, say, a Labrador Retriever.

And voila, another Solitary Sandpiper showed up!

A pair of Solitary Sandpipers feeding together.

The two sandpipers fed peacefully alongside one another for several minutes.

Wait a minute, who are you?

And then, as if suddenly realizing that they were both “Solitary” Sandpipers, they began chasing one another, drawing lines in the sand, or rather, mud. One bird seemed to be the chasor and the other the chasee. Curiously, the chasee would fly out over the water after being charged at by the chasor, and would land back where it had started only to be chased off again. This behavior went on for about fives minutes until one of them flew off to land on a boulder on the other side of the Wetlands.

Towards the end of the day they were both seen happily, or at least passively, feeding together.

The two shorebirds cautiously watch as a turtle swims by (right). Probably a good idea considering the earlier encounter with the frog.

I’m not sure which of the two birds had the run in with the frog, but I’ll bet it’s the one with the outstretched neck (above).

What fun, to watch these two birds! The following day, both were gone.

4 responses to Sandpiper Solitaire

  1. Avatar
    Sara says:

    Hey there Ranger Greg! Those Bullfrogs are definitely ambitious!

    • Greg Dodge
      Greg Dodge says:

      Yes indeed they are, Sara Brown!
      Hope all is well out there in the Land of Enchantment. The Range just isn’t the same without you!!
      Keep us posted on any unusual wildlife you see out there.
      Have a good one,

      • Greg Dodge
        Greg Dodge says:

        After checking out the local birding listserv I noticed a posting about a bullfrog eating a House Finch at a bird bath. Here’s the link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/natureimages/
        I did a little Googling and it seems it’s a fairly common strategy for bullfrogs to wait in ambush for birds at high traffic areas. Not surprising, but very interesting.

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