Sanderlings are so common on our winter beaches, it would be easy to think of them as mundane. But the life history of this little, pale shorebird who so perfectly blends in with the surf, is actually extraordinary.
Sanderlings migrate long distances, from 3,000 to 10,000 miles, to breed only in the high Arctic tundra.
They lack a back toe which helps them skitter in a blur against receding tides, probing for mole crabs, and bathing in the swash.
They advance and retreat with the waves, a choreography of tiptoes. Their skinny black legs barely mark the sand as they chase the water, or scavenge the mud and wrack line for food: insects, marine worms, anthropods, isopods.