Tuesday, August 20, 2013


This is a week of second chances. Yesterday's Blue-footed Booby was, incredibly, the second chance this year for a bird that is often absent most years from the ABA region. And today was my second chance at another previous miss - Curlew Sandpiper. This time on Long Island, NY.

Phoenix was thus a quick stop - flying in from Virginia in the morning, and out on the red eye at night. Red eye? More like red ribs after spending the night squished between the window and a very elbowy neighbor. At least the free eye mask meant I didn't have to witness the claustrophobic seat invasion.

The Curlew Sandpiper was first reported on Sunday, about a week after the one I missed on Plum Island, MA. Given the latter bird only stayed for 2 days, I was nervous about chasing this one. Hey - it could even be the same bird; Long Island seems to be on the flight path for shorebirds leaving MA - at least that's what seems to have happened for the Red-necked Stint earlier in the year.

Ninety minutes after leaving Queen's I arrived at Mecox bay, a sheltered cove on the east end of Southampton. The area the bird was frequenting was easy to find: follow the trail out to the beach, turn left when you see all the muggles having fun (swimming, sun-bathing, throwing frisbees), climb over sand dune (taking care not to entirely fill your shoes with sand) and enter a secluded, smelly mud flat (replace sand in shoes with mud.) 

The smelly mud flat was teeming with shorebirds, terns, gulls, and…

Black Skimmer. What a beauty!

Lots of Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Plovers, White-rumped Sandpiper, Sanderling. But no Curlew Sandpiper. This was a pretty small area, with most of the birds clustered around a pile of rusty metal wire. If it wasn't here, it wasn't here. I'd had a feeling this could be an awkward bird. It's a fairly common rarity, but one that's actually quite easy to miss. I start walking around the mudflats, in case I missed a few spots. Nothing. And then, as I come back to the metal heap, I see it: large shorebird, reddish body, long, drooping bill. It's feeding non-stop, like a clockwork toy, spinning around picking at the mud. Curlew Sandpiper!

Curlew Sandpiper. 
Note the deep red undersides which are splotchy - it's molting into its winter (basic) plumage. 
The strong supercilium (eye stripe) is also a feature of the winter plumage. 

I watch the bird for about 10 minutes before it dramatically runs over to the metal heap, drops down underneath it, tucks its bill in and goes to sleep! I bet this is where it was hiding when I first arrived. 

Not the most comfortable of places to sleep, but if I were a Curlew Sandpiper in this heat and bright sun, that's probably where I'd hide. But since I'm not a Curlew Sandpiper, and probably couldn't fit under the wire heap, I instead head back to the shade of the car, which, unlike heaps of rusty metal on beaches, also has a/c.

Nice spot Mr. Sandpiper. But how's the a/c situation?

The great thing about being back home in the northeast, is that I get a ride home from Gerri, who very generously picks me up from Queens. The bad thing is the traffic. Those 75 mph roads in Arizona are a distant memory as we're crawling through CT, and then the Boston / Cambridge traffic. But it's worth it to be home again. And it's my first chance to properly celebrate hitting 700 for the year…

Celebrating at the Cambridge Common.

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 701 + 1 provisional

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Curlew Sandpiper


  1. Congratulations. You're well into 700 territory now. This has been asked before, but I never saw your answer to it: did you take care of the Bell's - Sagebrush Sparrow split?

  2. So...on your way back to Alaska, do you plan to hang around Seattle for a couple of days and work Vaux's Swift and Eurasian Sky Lark?

    Steve Bobonick

  3. Thanks Wim!

    Yes - I did get the Bell's in California, but still need the Sagebrush. I'll probably have to look for it on wintering grounds. I did get "Sage Sparrow" pre-split at the "Thrasher Spot" on Baseline Road, Phoenix, but I believe this is where both nevadensis and canescens both overlap during winter, so can't count that.

    But - it's still a relatively easy opportunity for a free bird, so very happy with the split.

    - Neil

    1. This is certainly an accomplishment, but have you calculated all the greenhouse gasses you've created with your little bird quest? You're accelerating the extinction of some of the birds you claim to love so much!

      Izaac M. Greener