By Mia Davidson and Jan Sattler
Designated a bird sanctuary by a 1978 ordinance, Laguna Beach is a refuge for a wide variety of migratory species that travel along the Pacific Flyway, the route taken from the breeding grounds in the far north to the wintering grounds in the more temperate south. The Sanderling (Calidris alba) is a small sandpiper that commonly winters on the Laguna coast. Having one of the widest ranges of any shorebird, the Sanderling depends on the sanctuary for sustenance and survival before traveling thousands of miles to its breeding grounds in the high coastal tundra of the Arctic where it lays one to two clutches of up to four eggs per season.
Small and dainty in appearance with a black bill and black legs, the adult Sanderling is up to seven inches in length. Male and female birds are similar in appearance, both having a bright white belly and mottled gray upper body. Found singly or in groups, they characteristically scurry as they keep pace just beyond the waves while they probe the sand for food, mostly aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates and small crustaceans. They have been known to live up to 12 years.
The Sanderling populations have declined 80 percent since the 1970s due to destruction of the stop-over habitat needed for migration. Although an increase of temperatures due to global climate change may also threaten the breeding territory, the biggest threats are considered to be habitat loss, environmental contamination and disturbances due to urban development and increasing human population.
Even so, opportunities for bird watching in Laguna are numerous but enjoy them from a distance so that the birds can continue to thrive. This winter, enjoy their antics as you watch the Sanderlings chase the waves probing for sand crabs.
Mia Davidson and Jan Sattler are residents of Laguna Beach, year-round ocean swimmers and board members of Laguna Ocean Foundation. The foundation conducts shorebird surveys four times a year. If you are interested in participating or need more information please go to www.lagunaoceanfoundation.org