Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Plum Island: Curlew Sandpiper
Yesterday afternoon I got confirmation that the hatch year curlew sandpiper that was found on October 8th at Sandy Point on Plum Island was still being seen. So I caught a non-stop redeye flight last nite from Los Angeles to Boston. I arrived in Beantown before 7 AM with little sleep after sitting in a last minute center seat, and was at Sandy Point by 8:15. This was just before low tide, and after 90 minutes of looking, I decided to wait for the afternoon high tide to try further. I also knew that Bob Ake was coming with his friend Denny Abbott to look for the curlew.
After catching a little shut-eye, and then enjoying a lobster roll for lunch, I started looking again about 1 PM. I noticed that a few shore birds were hunkering down in the wrack area created by the high tides. This was the kind of habitat in which the bird was first seen so I thought we might find it there when more birds came into the wrack as the tide rose.
About 1:30 Bob and Denny arrived as did several more birders. We initially kept scoping the shoreline where there were lots of shorebirds, mostly dunlins which look very similar to a curlew sandpiper. But I returned to studying the wrack and realized that there were many more birds hiding out in the debris. The photo above (click on it to enlarge) gives you an idea of what I mean--these birds are white-rumped sandpipers with 1 western sandpiper mixed in (slightly smaller bird in the center).
After sifting thru sanderlings, semi-palmated sandpipers and plovers, and western and white-rumped sandpipers, finally we saw a bird that might be the curlew. But after studying it closely it became apparent that it was a dunlin (photo just below).
About 5 minutes later the curlew was finally found. The 2 photos just above are of the curlew. One is a good side shot that shows the bill shape which you will see is quite similar to the dunlin's. The very bottom photo is a rear shot where you can see the white rump peeking out and the distinct scalloped affect in the wing feathers. Once we found the curlew, while similar to a dunlin in size, etc., its unique features stood out clearly--bit larger, longer legged, slightly more decurved and thinner bill, white rump, lighter overall coloration, and different pattern on wings.
We all took long looks at the curlew since who knows when any of us might see this rare bird again, and about 4:30 we headed back to our cars. I drove into Cambridge to eat at the Summer Shack with one of my best friends. We thoroughly enjoyed some raw Wellfleet, MA and Pemaquid, ME oysters. I then had a pound of New England steamers, and some sauteed herbed mushrooms, and my friend had bluefish.
17 more new birds were seen for the week, and the curlew, which was also a life bird for me, raises the YTD up to 688. I am about to call it a nite, and will be flying home to NC tomorrow morning. On Friday I will be driving out to the Outer Banks to look for a white-cheeked pintail that has been seen there recently. Stay tuned!