Friday, May 6, 2016

Episode 315 (5-9-16): Sandpipers Fit the Title Bill of "Flying Cloud Reel/Rusty Piper" by No Strings Attached

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:12)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, photos, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 5-6-16.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of May 9, 2016.

Sound – ~ 6 sec

That’s a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recording of shorebirds.  The broad term “shorebirds” refers to a large, diverse group of wading and swimming birds, including seven different bird families in North America.  One of those is the family of sandpipers, with about 50 species observed within North America and about 30 species observed within Virginia.  Sandpipers breed typically in areas north of Virginia, but many species are winter residents along Virginia’s coastlines or can be seen migrating through parts of the Commonwealth.  Besides many species actually called sandpipers, the family includes groups with a variety of other common names, including curlews, godwits, phalaropes, and turnstones.  Although many sandpipers are coastal shorebirds, some in the family spend time around inland waters.

Small sandpipers are often called “peeps,” and both that name and the “piper” name fit the kinds of sounds many sandpipers make.  Have a listen for about 25 seconds to a sample; you’ll hear a Sanderling, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, and Short-billed Dowitcher, courtesy of Lang Elliott and the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs.

SOUNDS - ~25 sec

Another characteristic of various shoreline sandpipers is the habit of flying in large, coordinated flocks, referred to sometimes as a flying cloud.   For example, an October 2014 article by the Audubon Society and BirdNote® asked, “What is that cloud low in the autumn sky, shape-shifting as you watch from a beach or mudflat...? It's a cloud of small sandpipers called Dunlins.”

Finally, a notable visual feature of various sandpiper species is breeding feathers colored with some combination of red and brown—one might say “rusty”—such as in the Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, and Red Phalarope.

Flying clouds, rusty colors, and piping – by a strange coincidence, these three sandpiper features just happen to be captured in the title of a medley by the Blacksburg and Roanoke-based band No Strings Attached! S o with thanks to Lang Elliott for the sandpiper sounds, and to No Strings Attached, we close with part of “Flying Cloud Reel” and “Rusty Piper.”

MUSIC – ~ 15 sec

For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.   Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.   In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The sounds of shorebirds were taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Digital Library, online (“Shorebirds Close” audio clip, online at

The sounds of Sanderling, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Short-billed Dowitcher were taken from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott, whose work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site,

“Flying Cloud Reel/Rusty Piper,” by No Strings Attached, is from the 1999 album “In the Vinyl Tradition—Volume I,” from Enessay Music, used with permission. More information about No Strings Attached is available online at

Thanks to Shannon Ritter of the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and to Randy Marchany of No Strings Attached, for their help with this episode.


Solitary Sandpiper (front) and Spotted Sandpiper (back) along the New River in Radford, Va., April 29, 2015.  Photo by Robert Abraham of Christiansburg, Va., used with permission.

Flock of Short-billed Dowitchers in Alaska. Photo by Dave Menke, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at, accessed 5-6-16.   Direct link for photograph:

Scientists group sandpipers in the taxonomic family Scolopacidae, which includes birds with the common names of sandpipers, curlews, dowitchers, phalaropes, woodcock, snipe, and others.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Species Information” Web site, online at, lists the following species in the sandpiper family (Scolopacidae) as having been observed in Virginia (some only as transients and some only occasionally).

Curlew, Long-billed
Dowitcher (Long-billed)
Dowitcher (Short-billed)
Godwit, Marbled
Phalarope, Red
Phalarope, Red-necked
Phalarope, Wilson’s
Red Knot
Ruddy Turnstone
Sandpiper, Curlew
Sandpiper, Least
Sandpiper, Pectoral
Sandpiper, Purple
Sandpiper, Semipalmated
Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed
Sandpiper, Solitary
Sandpiper, Spotted
Sandpiper, Stilt
Sandpiper, Upland
Sandpiper, Western
Sandpiper, White-rumped
Snipe, Common (now Wilson’s)
Temmnick’s Stint
Whimbrel (a type of curlew)
Woodcock, American
Yellowlegs, Greater
Yellowlegs, Lesser


Used in Audio

Audubon Society and BirdNote®, “Chorus Line in the Sky—Learn how Dunlins avoid in-flight collisions,” Oct. 22, 2014, online at

Ken Duckert, “Flying Cloud of Sandpipers” photo, Apr. 16, 2010, online at

Russ Kerr, Newport Bay [California] Conservancy Web site,

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at [Links to birds featured in this episode: Sanderling; Dunlin; Least Sandpiper ; Ruddy Turnstone; Short-billed Dowitcher.]

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, “Birds of North America Online,” online at (subscription required). [Link to bird featured in this episode: Ruddy Turnstone.]

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md. (2006). [From p. 89: “As the tide ebbs and the flats emerge from the sea awash with seaweeds and alive with prowling crabs and hopping amphipods, clouds of small sandpipers arrive on the flats and being feeding. ...tiny brown sandpipers known as ‘peeps.’”]

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, N.Y. (2001).

Bob Sundstrom, “Singing Sandpipers,” BirdNote®, 5/4/16, online at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Species Information,” online at

For More Information about Sandpipers

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, E-bird Web site at  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

Virginia Society of Ornithology: online at  The Society is non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site at  The site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (; see particularly the “Birds” subject category.

For a previous episode on other sandpiper species (Solitary Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper), see Episode 264, 5/4/15.

For a previous episode on another kind of small shorebird (Piping Plover), see Episode 79, 9/12/11.


This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.6 - ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS. 4 - organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 - adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies SOL:

World Geography Course
WG.7 - types and significance of natural, human, and capital resources.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at