A fine day, with bright sun but a cool southwest breeze. The beach was full of walkers, joggers, and dogs. Few birds, other than a small congregation of willets and a smattering of sanderlings.
Both species winter along the South Carolina coast, and when other shorebirds are absent, you are almost certain to find the Mutt and Jeff of the shorebird tribe. Both are fairly drab until they fly, and then you are treated to a flash of bold white against the darker wings. Other than their winter presence here and their wing pattern, these species have little in common.
Willets are quite comfortable getting their feet wet as they probe for food, but sanderlings keep their feet mostly dry by running back and forth with the rising and falling waves.
Willets are large, about 15 inches long with a 26-inch wingspan. Sanderlings are petite, averaging about 8 inches in length with a 17-inch wingspan.
The greatest difference between them, however, is their annual migratory flight. Willet is a homebody, prefering to stay in the U.S. and the Canadian grasslands for breeding and wintering. Sanderling, however, racks up frequent-flyer miles each season, breeding high in the Arctic and wintering as far south as the tip of South America.
Although considered common, both willets and sanderlings are wonderful birds to observe and photograph, reminding us once again that the natural world is full of joy and wonder!