Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ruddy Turnstones and Crabs

There was a second day of beautiful weather and I decided to go out to Inskip Point. It was a very low tide and I hoped to walk right out to the sand island. Over the last couple of months there has been a lot of sand moved around and access to the island is now only at extremely low tides. This is the first time in two or three years that I have seen a change as big as this in this area. I walked out over what looked like sand but must have been mud underneath because I kept sinking over my ankles. There were very few birds feeding over this area - just a few Godwits, Whimbrels, and Curlews - birds with long bills that could get down below the mud. I didn't seen any smaller ones at all until I got out onto the island and went over to the western side where the sand was firm and clean. I found a small flock there of Red-necked Stints, Red-capped Plovers, and Ruddy Turnstones. As I approached they retreated down to the edge of the water but when I stood still and simply watched them they spread out over the sand again and even came back much closer to me.
I had a quick look at the Stints and Plovers and found this one with flags on its leg. From the color combination it has been flagged in China.
There are always lots of Soldier Crabs running over the sand. The Stints and Plovers were spread out over the sand pecking up food away from the crabs. However the Ruddy Turnstones seemed to be getting food right close to the crabs.
When I focused in on them I found that they were actually catching and eating crabs. They seemed to go after a crab that was away from the group - maybe it was easier to target one that could not hide out in among the rest. The following photos were taken within a couple of seconds. Is that a leg or a nipper in the last photo? After a few pecks like this they simply broke the crab right open and demolished it!
I have not seen other shorebirds eating crabs like this although they will all take the occasional peck at the very small ones.
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19 comments:

Neil said...

So much for the weather hope it improves great photos.

mick said...

Hi Neil, whatever happened to that tourist slogan - "beautiful one day - perfect the next"! It sure hastened happened this season so far.

NatureFootstep said...

wow, that´s a lot ofa crabs. :) But the Ruddy Turnstones don´t seem to mind. I am not that fond of crabs and I don´t think I would like to walk there. I´d hate to step on one.

mick said...

Hi NatureFootstep, those crabs are very quick at getting out of your way. I don't think I have ever stepped on one.

Wren said...

Great series of photos, mick! The series at the end with crab is fascinating.

Vickie said...

Wow! Besides loving Ruddy Turnstones and always enjoying my encounters with them, I was wowed by the crabs in your images! What great photos. I was intrigued with the first one in the eating series, where it looks as though the bird has flipped the crab in the air in the process of making him a meal.

The idea of all those crabs shifting as you take a step gave me pause! Never have seen so many in one place before.

mick said...

Thanks Wren, I have the camera set to take multiple shots as long as my finger is on the button and it really paid off this time.

mick said...

Hi Vickie, I agree that the bird must have flipped that crab up in the air as I have another very similar photo with another crab flying upside down.

Phil said...

That is very interesting behaviour the way Turnstones break open the crabs, but I guess that actually they have quite a stout bill. I have never seen them eat anything so big over here.

mick said...

Hi Phil, I see from one of my books that there are two sub-species of Ruddy Turnstones. I wonder if the same ones come here that you see up your way?

Kelly said...

...really interesting post, especially the bit about the crabs, and catching the crab in the photo mid-air is even better! I miss the ocean so much. I remember so well what it feels like to wade out...I'm jealous!

mick said...

Hi Kelly, Thanks for commenting. I love the ocean and am so glad I live here where I have easy access to it.

Snail said...

With all that nosh available, they'll have to be careful or they won't be able to take off!

I wonder if they crabs fight back?

Bob Kaufman said...

Great photos, Mick. Fantastic capture of an oysterctacher "catching" a crab.

mick said...

Hi Snail, I wouldn't imagine the crabs would have much defense against a bill as hard and fast and sharp as that!

Thanks Bob. It's always interesting to watch how birds feed themselves.

Midmarsh John said...

Well captured with the crab sequence.

mick said...

Thanks John.

Mark Young said...

Nice series of images Mick. Love the crab sequence.

mick said...

Thanks Mark