Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Some Shorebirds More Elusive This Year
September 13, 2008
Steve Grinley

     I was away in Seattle last weekend for my daughter’s wedding, but the local birders were on Plum Island searching for some elusive shorebirds. Doug Chickering of Groveland describes his successful quest:

     “It’s been a tough year for some of Plum Island’s specialties this year. Labor Day weekend is supposed to be Buff-breasted Sandpiper time. I expect to see them gallivanting up and down the dike along the Bill Forward pool; poking in and out of the grass, oblivious to the delighted throngs and even occasionally bobbing up close enough to view without binoculars. It’s happened so frequently that we have come to expect it. Not so this year.

     “Lois and I spent only Saturday of Labor Day weekend on the island and were so put off by the beach-weasels; the frantic cars tossing up choking dust clouds, that we birded locally the rest of the weekend. Now retired, I have plenty of other opportunities. And we had seen Buff-breasted already, at pretty extreme distance from the platform at Stage Island a week earlier.

     “Still there were many birders on Plum that weekend and as far as I can determine there was no Buff-breasted. Also, Baird’s and Stilt Sandpiper have been at a premium. Lois Cooper and I consider ourselves fortunate to have a couple of good looks at Stilt Sandpiper this year. I know many others who still are looking. I also have seen Baird’s at great distance; from the tower at Stage Island. Lois was without.

     “So today (September 5), Lois and I decided to see if we could align all the favorable conditions and get lucky. We ate lunch and were at Hellcat at 1:30 pm. The tide was high enough to drive in the shorebirds and the sun was at our backs, so the birds were in and they would be perfectly illuminated.

     “Up on the dike at the Bill Forward Pool we joined friends, Brian Tucker and Bev Chaisson and others, set up our scopes and began our search. I was looking for Red Knot. I had good reason to believe we would find some and Lois hadn’t seen any yet this year. Bev had just come from scoring the Lark Sparrow at Nahant and was looking for those pesky Stilt Sandpipers. Brian was just looking and hoping.

     “We would not be disappointed. No Stilt Sandpipers. Try as we might to transform a smallish Dowitcher or two into Stilts we could not. But the Knots were there and we good looks, at middle distance. There were a dozen or so dozing and loafing and walking about. Brian also put us on a nice Pectoral Sandpiper that had flown in front of us and began foraging.

     “After a while Lois suggested that I start at the edge of the pool right in front and pick my way among a few sandpipers that had just flown in. I started into the familiar routine. Yellowlegs, Yellowlegs, Semipal Sandpiper, Semipal Plover, Samipal Sandpiper, Dowitcher, a space…. Semipalmated Sandpiper…..Here’s something different…NOT a semipal…..NOT a White-rumped…… buffy head, pointy look….Baird’s Sandpiper! Right in front of us; one of those glorious unexpected, fully illuminated views that make a mockery of that far off, tiny heat distorted view from the top of the tower.

     “The little perisher had snuck in right under our noses. And it stayed; feeding and milling about until we got bored with it and started looking for something else. It’s not like I have never seen a Baird’s Sandpiper up close before. I have. Perhaps I have even had better views. But this year things have been sparse and it was such a surprise. All on the dike were delighted by this touch of good fortune.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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