Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How Much Wood Would a Wood Sandpiper Pipe...

It was a busy day for me on Saturday the 13th. After work in the morning I had several errands to run. After a quick stop to fill up the tank it was food shopping and the all important beer run.  After putting away all the items, I had only a few minutes left to run to the store where sunflower seeds were on sale before they closed. Arriving as they were putting away display items, I caught the manager as he wheeled the bags back to the store room. When I asked if I could get some, he looked at the pile on the cart and asked: “how many do you want, six?” “Yes...”, I said. “...If that’s okay with you”. His eyes widened a bit. “We have more if you need” he offered, but took only the six for now.

At home, I went about prepping the back yard for a long overdue set up of my feeders. First step, mow the grass. Un-mowed grass requires much less water, but it makes it that much harder to see my ‘dinner guests’. I put out sunflower and mixed seed and suet, and then began to prepare dinner for myself. Fortunately I didn’t need to sit on a perch to eat!

Tasks completed, food prepared, I turned on the TV,  grasped my fork, and started my email app to catch up. It’s now 7pm, and I can say ahhh.... the comfort of my dining room chair. Scanning the email headers, my eye caught a header from one of the NJ lists with the header mentioning an extralimital bird. My interest piqued, I clicked it presuming that the bird was going to be in Pennsylvania. To my surprise it was in Rhode Island - and what a bird! It was the report of a Wood Sandpiper - a potential lifer!!

For the uninitiated, this is an Eurasian species with only 5 previous lower 48 sightings.

Very Cooperative Wood Sandpiper In Jamestown RI 10-14-12
The report pointed to the RI lists, where there was some postings but precious few. They did offer a few pictures a map and a video! And as I am reading this eyes growing wider, the phone rings. Jean was calling to see if I had seen the post, literally just after I had opened it. She had already discussed it with Earic Miller but seemed to think he might have trouble getting away for the day. I got a call from Gary Strauss who was also thinking of chasing, and we decided to coordinate to best car pool. Calling Jeff Critter next, I was surprised that he was on the fence about chasing this bird. So I called Avian Resnick and surprise surprise, all he wanted to know was what time were we leaving.

It shaped up that it would probably be the three of us going, though another call from Jean suggested Earic might try harder to get away. And then he called to let me know that he, Jeff, and Gary were going to go, but curiously, thought leaving early like I planned was ~too~ early. Well I was stumped by that one, as they are often out birding very early and I am the one preferring a later start. But be that as it may, we couldn’t all fit in one car anyway.

My next task was to contact a few people who had contacted me about the trip I was leading to Hempstead Lake STPK, for QCBC. One expressed the opinion that if we had a trip, that it should be adhered to, because some people just show up anyway. I pointed out that we have announced at every meeting that those who are participating will be out of the loop if plans change so contact leaders, and one of the reasons plans change besides weather is if something really good shows up. We are a birding club after all. In most cases we may change the location from one venue to another, have an earlier or later starting time, move the meeting location, or substitute leaders. In this case it was patently obvious that most if not all the participants would be headed to RI rather than to this trip. This also meant no one to substitute for me as leader. Oh well, thats the way the birding gods crumble cookies.

All that was left now was to contact Bob Hayes. All his calls went to voicemail, and even a call to his home # was routed to his cell, that went to voicemail. I also knew that he rarely if ever checks his email, so the email I sent out to let anyone else who was secretly planning on showing up, would not be a reliable way to contact him. Several calls, no answer. I sure hoped he would check his phone, presuming he had not misplaced it again.

Got a few final confirmatory calls, it was going to be Jean, Avian, and I. So I decided that perhaps we could move departure time up to 5:30 and neither Jean nor Avian complained - go figure.

Plans set, I consulted field guides, maps, and left everything needed by the front door. I have always found that thinking is more difficult in the morning, so rather than do so and risk forgetting something, I typically do so the night before while I am more awake.

Before it got too late, I got into bed, only to be startled by the phone; Bob had seen I had called. He was at a wedding reception, he could not hear the phone ring, but he was interested in joining us... until he heard when we were leaving. His plan to be at the reception until at least 1:30 meant meeting us was for all intents and purposes out of the question. But at least he didn’t find out about the change of plans upon his arrival at Hempstead lake.

The three of us met as planned the next morning and got off to a good start. Along the way it was raining, and I felt this did not bode well. We arrived on location and despite the monumental rarity, I was perplexed that there were not throngs of folks around. What is worse, no group was intently looking in one direction...

Parking, we inquired of those there if there was any word on the bird. Nope. But one fellow looked at my car and exclaimed QCBC!? He and his mom had been members years ago when they lived in Queens. It was nice catching up.

The day before the bird had been seen in a wet spot adjacent to the busy road, and also later in the day deeper in the marsh. Seeing that no one had the bird by the road, we took a shot out in the marsh. Bad idea. It was windier out there, and the trails were thick with briar. After a short spell, we headed back. The fierce wind was keeping most birds down, though we saw a few struggling Goldfinch, Bluejays, and Herons. 

AvIan walking past the shallow pools where the bird had been first found
I conversed with a few folks; many of whom lived in the area and were only stopping by for a short time - other responsibilities dictating their presence elsewhere. I also caught up with some folks from Massachusetts, and members of the Brookline Bird Club. While we were conversing one of the fellows phone rang, and he turned to look at the people standing at the “first” location, one of whom was wildly waving his arms. YES!

I ran over as fast as I could and there was the bobbing beastie! Like a Solitary Sandpiper it was shaking its money-maker. But obvious was the cappedness, lack of obvious eye-ring, and the yellow legs. No bout a doubt it, here was the bird we sought!

With great looks at close range ca 25', and even better scope views, I ran back to the car to get my camera, and ran back hoping to get a few shots. Though walking relatively quickly, the bird was for the most part cooperative. Jean called the others still on their way  to let them know that the bird showed up. 

Elated with my success in scoring a lifer after a long sabbatical, now I suffer from tringa disco phobia: the fear that someone saw me do the 'happy dance' when I got the life bird. 

 And then a short time later the bird up and flew away, being carried east by the gusting wind. I set off to find the Tri-colored Heron that was in the same marsh; a needed year bird for me. No luck. 

On the way back, we met up with the others. They were noticeably in less than our jubilant spirits, perhaps pondering the “YSHBH constant.” I inquired of Seth Ausubel, why they thought departing later was better than earlier [ as is most often the case ] and he said that he had been given ‘sage advice...’ I offered that thyme would have been a much better spice to use.

As we were departing Earic announced and pointed out the Tri-colored Heron, and I was able to see it before it disappeared into the tall marsh grass. We then made a hasty retreat. Partially disappointed that we did not have more time to explore and bird, I had an appointment at APEC to present to their board a short presentation on QCBC.

On the way back, Avian checked his email, and saw that Donna Queensgirl Schulman had actually emailed him last night about chasing this bird, but he had not checked it that night or before departure. Oh well, there would have been room for one more...

All things considered, we made good time, heading back towards NY by 11am. Arriving at 2:30 we heard the end of the APEC Board presentation, and then they introduced me. I go first? I asked. No, you go last, every one else made their presentations earlier! Well, better late than never, and my ad lib was well received. We then saw a presentation by a rehaber with Owls, Hawks, Turtles and Possums, had a refreshment, and beat a hasty retreat home. A long day for sure!

The first thing I wanted to do was check out my photos, and retrieved my email too. Zoinks! Donna had sent both Avian and I that same email, and neither he nor I had checked it before turning in for the night. Oh well, the moral of the story is the next time a good bird shows up call, email and text people!

From the RI RBA:    A WOOD SANDPIPER was found at Marsh Meadows in Jamestown on the 13th, seen all day, and relocated on the 14th, in the same area. This is a MEGA rarity, as  it is just the 5th record for the lower 48 states. It was found on the east side  of the marsh, visible from North Road. It moved around a bit, going behind  Zeke's bait shop on the west side of the road. (thanks to Carlos Pedro for this  fantastic find)

more of my pix here

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