Saturday, March 30, 2013

Black-tailed Godwit--Yes; Fieldfare--No

There continue to be some very rare vagrants in the ABA area this year.  I have written about the many northern lapwings along the east coast.  British Columbia has had all winter a citrine wagtail, and for the past month a red-flanked bluetail.  A not quite so rare vagrant, a black-tailed godwit, was found last fall at Chincoteague NWR in Virginia by Bob Ake who did a full ABA big year in 2010.  We got to know each other that year when our paths would cross while I was doing my lower 48 big year.  About 2 weeks ago a black-tailed godwit was found again at Chincoteague.  It is most likely the same bird from last fall.
 I had a trip planned beginning Monday the 25th to drive up thru Washington, DC on my way to New York City and Boston.  I thought about waiting to try for the godwit, but since it was only a 5 hour drive each way to Chincoteague from Chapel Hill, I decided to not risk missing the bird by waiting.  So on Thursday the 21st, I got up at 3 AM to make the drive up.  It was a cold morning, but the weather was pretty good even though snow was in the forecast.  I arrived at the visitor center at Tom's Cove about 8:30 AM.  A couple from Colorado was already there, Rick Anderson and his wife.  The black-tailed godwit had been seen regularly with a group of marbled godwits, but when I arrived there were no godwits in sight.

The ranger in the visitor center said that a bald eagle had flushed the godwit group about 7:30.  So we all just had to be patient for the birds to return.  While scanning the area, I did see 2 piping plovers. As the morning progressed, several more birders arrived, and about 11 AM suddenly the godwit group appeared and began feeding close to the visitor center.  As a result, everyone got very good looks at the black-tailed in conjunction with the marbled.  It was quite windy and cold, and my photos ended up being record shots.  Fortunately, Rick emailed me good photos that he had taken (click on any photo to enlarge). I did clearly see its black tail band and white underwings when it flew. I was pretty happy to finally see this black-tailed since now I have seen all 4 godwit species that come into the ABA area.  I was back home by late afternoon.

I did make the road trip starting on Monday the 25th getting into Boston very late that evening.  A fieldfare was found in Carlisle, a town to the northwest of Boston, and very near Lincoln, MA where I have good friends.  The last fieldfare sighting in the ABA area was in February of 2011 far out on the Gaspe peninsula of Quebec.  I was going to see that bird with my friends Dan and Doreene, but at the last minute I had to cancel joining them.  They flew from Ohio to Manchester, NH, and then drove 15 hours one way to see the fieldfare which had been feeding on crab apples in a person's backyard. 

I made the short drive Tuesday morning to the area in which this fieldfare was being seen.  I arrived about 7 AM and soon after a birder from Colorado pulled up.  We spent the rest of the day walking between 3 locations.  The first was where the fieldfare had last been seen with a flock of robins.  The second was about a 1/2 mile away where the robins and fieldfare had first been seen beginning on Sunday the 17th.  The 3rd was about a 1/4 mile in the other direction--the only place nearby that we could find any robins at all.

A few other birders came by during the day including Christian Gras, a french man who now lives in the Boston area.  While looking at the robins we had the good fortune to have a northern shrike appear (photo taken by Christian).  Northern shrikes are not nearly as rare as a fieldfare since they visit MA each winter, but only in very small numbers.  Nevertheless, it turned out to be my consolation prize since by 4 PM we had not found the fieldfare.

The plot line on the fieldfare is as follows.  It was first found feeding on berries along the edge of a field.  After a few days it snowed, covering up the fields, so the robins and fieldfare relocated to a yard that had a few barberry bushes to feed upon.  The flock was seen working up and down Maple St., and regularly coming to the barberry bushes.  On Sat. and Sun of last weekend, there were as many as 100 birders each day looking for the fieldfare.  It was last seen mid day on Sat., and not seen again after the snow melted enough for the flock to be able to find other food sources.  The flock was probably not far away from the Maple St. barberry bushes, but no one had been able to relocate the birds.  As of today, the 30th, the fieldfare has still not been found again.

I am back home now.  My next bird trip is to southern California at the end of April.  Stay tuned!

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