Scanning the shore with my binoculars as my daughter piloted our canoe around Billy’s lake, I was a bit startled when I saw a small group of four plump sandpiper birds gathered on a downed cypress tree. Sandpipers in the Okefenokee? This was definitely a first for me. Since our Okefenokee excursions have always been in March, I had not spotted a Spotted Sandpiper in the swamp before! About an hour later, near the entrance of The Narrows, I saw another group of 9 standing on a log in the shade.
Apparently, I wasn’t the first person to be surprised at seeing them. In 1913, Albert Wright and Francis Harper explored the Okefenokee for the American Ornithological Society. In the society’s scientific journal and official publication, The Auk, they wrote of the delight in finding the Spotted Sandpiper within the great Swamp:
“The Spotted Sandpiper was a distinct surprise as a summer resident of the swamp. Not only is this several hundred miles south of its known breeding range, but one would not expect it to find a suitable haunt in the Oke-finokee. The lakes and runs are practically shoreless; they are simply open spaces in the otherwise continuous cypress swamps. However, the logs and driftwood near the edges of Billy’s Lake serve as teetering stands; half a dozen were seen here on May 11, one on June 5, and still another a few days later. Earlier in the spring one or two were reported from the canal. The species probably does not breed in this latitude.”
According to www.allaboutbirds.com, Spotted Sandpipers are “the most widespread sandpiper in North America, and they are common near most kinds of freshwater, including rivers and streams, as well as near the sea coast”… and apparently blackwater swamps as well!
Looking at eBird’s illustrated checklist for Charlton County, the Spotted Sandpipers are most commonly observed in the Okefenokee in April and May. So I was happy to be able to make a May visit to the swamp (thanks COVID19!) and spot this Spotted Sandpiper!
iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/46503864
eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S68310839