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Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)


The Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) is rather drab of color, but elegant of form and graceful contours and delicacy of pattern. It is medium small for a sandpiper, weighing from about 45 to 120 grams (1.6 to 4.2 ounces), and is the kind of bird most people overlook or dismiss as a small, drab little wading bird. But James Holdsworth is no such person, and had the once in a lifetime thrill when, in May, 2022, he saw one at a sewage holding pond in Thedford, southwestern Ontario. Birders go to such often smelly places to view migratory shorebirds attracted to them, hoping to see a rarity, but one could do so daily for several lifetimes without seeing one as rare as the Marsh Sandpiper. Oh, there are plenty of them, but in they breed from extreme eastern Europe to eastern Russia. When they migrate, it is to such places as Africa, India and other parts of southern Asia, and Australia. One has never, ever, before been seen in Canada.


I decided to do a painting of one so it would be available if needed for use as a cover for Ontario Birds, the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, which normally documents first sightings of species for Ontario. But while I had lots of photographs for reference, I also needed an actual specimen to let me take measurements and see finer details. I was able to borrow one thanks to the kindness of my friend, Mark Peck, and Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum – which has been helping me with my art, now for 70 years! It has been that long since Canadian bird artist T.M. Shortt showed the little boy I then was the museum collection of bird specimens and explained their value to the would-be bird artist, something I aspired to since earliest childhood.

The specimen, itself, was obtained in April, 1877, in Calcutta (now Kolkata), in the northeastern corner of India, by W. T. Blanford. In those now distant days ornithologists established the presence of various bird species in various locations around the world by shooting them, or hiring locals to do so, and preserving their skins as museum specimens. Without the specimen, there was no way to be sure of the identities of birds, or document, for sure, where they were from or determine much else about them.

William Thomas Blanford (1832 – 1905) was a distinguished, highly respected and well-travelled English geologist and naturalist who is perhaps most remembered as the editor on a series of publications on “The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma.” Thanks to a technology he could not have imagined I have at my fingertips his own description of this species (although he was wrong about the species nesting as far west as France…their normal breeding range ends in easternmost Europe.)

“The breeding area of this species,” he wrote, “extends from South-eastern France, through South Russia and Central Asia, to Southern Siberia. In winter T. stagnatillis (sic) ranges throughout Africa, Southern Asia, the Malay Archipelago, and Australia. It is locally distributed in India and Burma at that season, but is abundant in Ceylon…The Marsh Sandpiper, as its name implies, is rather a bird of inland marshes and freshwater pools than the mudflats and sandbanks of estuaries and the sea-coast, though it is found in all. It is generally met with in small flocks, sometimes singly, and is an active, vivacious, noisy little bird.”

The painting of this active, vivacious, noisy little bird is approximately 16 by 20 inches, in oils, on compressed hardboard.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

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