The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 29, 2009


Dunlin, a new sighting for Carlisle

(Photo courtesy of
U.S. Fish and Wildlife)

May 17 was an important day in the tracking of the biodiversity of Carlisle. That is because of the first known occurrence of a Dunlin in our town. Ken Harte advised that “Although there are inland Massachusetts records for Dunlin, including Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, it is quite rare, especially in Spring, and certainly new for Carlisle.” If you are not a birder you may never have heard of a Dunlin. It is a type of sandpiper and is a shore bird.

Name: The Dunlin is Calidris alpina. There are several species of sandpipers in the genus Calidris and some of the others are well-known visitors to Carlisle. The smaller sandpipers are collectively referred to by birders as “peeps,” so named because of the sound they make. So why aren’t they called sandpeepers? The Dunlin may be named because of the dun color (brownish gray) of its non-breeding plumage. This one was in its spring finery and was more colorful. It was certainly not dun and it was also not done with its journey. It was undoubtedly on its way north to its breeding grounds in the coastal tundra in northern Canada around the western shores of Hudson Bay.

When and where seen: Alan Ankers spotted the Dunlin at the Cranberry Bog on May 17. Here is his account. “At the large pond toward Fiske Street there was a Spotted Sandpiper – no surprise there – but I then noticed a small flock of “peeps” flying around over the water. I figured they were probably Least Sandpipers, but one bird was obviously larger than the others and I could clearly see a large black patch on its belly and a long down-curved bill – a Dunlin.” Steve Spang also saw a Dunlin at the Bog on the same day – presumably the same bird. In addition to the black belly patch that Alan noted, the adult Dunlin in breeding plumage has a reddish back, hence its former name of Red-backed Sandpiper. David Sibley writes that Dunlins are likely to be seen at beaches and on mudflats wading in shallow water and probing rapidly to find the invertebrates they feed on.

References: The Sibley Guide to Birds, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, David Allen Sibley. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito