Sunday, May 22, 2016

Curlew Sandpiper in Ohio! - 13 May 2016

Friday the 13th is supposed to be a day of bad luck. Not this time, though. Yesterday, Steve Jones stumbled upon an ABA Code 3 Curlew Sandpiper at the corner of Angola and Raab Rds in Swanton, OH. The Code 3 status means that only 1 or 2 birds are seen annually in North America, and that fact that this bird was found in breeding plumage made it even more special. Luck also brought the bird close enough for some wonderful photos, and luck also kept it around for several days. So, I did what any dedicated employee would do - I skipped out of work and headed out to see it, myself!

The bird was seen among a flock of Dunlin and Lesser Yellowlegs in a flooded field field in a rural part of NW Ohio. The fact that it was also found during the Biggest Week in American Birding Festival meant that hundreds of birders flocked to see it. I was fortunate to arrive just before noon Friday and see dozens of birders lined along the banks of Angola Rd. scoping and photographing the bird just 40 feet away. "You don't even need binoculars, the bird is that close" they replied when I inquired.

Its always fun to be among people seeing a rare bird for the first time. And the Curlew Sandpiper did not disappoint. It put on a show preening and foraging close to the near shoreline. I would shoot almost 75GB worth of digiscoped images with the Sony a6300, and even took some 4K videos. But, the near gale-force winds buffeted the scope enough to make the videos extremely shaky.

Still, I was very pleased with the camera's ability to capture the rare bird in its alternate (breeding) plumage. The last time I had seen one was at Pt. Mouillee about 10 years ago; a bird in basic plumage, far away, and in horrible light.

I even managed to capture its wing-stretch, which allowed me to see its bright white underwings.

An added bonus for those making the trip was the presence of a male Wilson's Phalarope in non-breeding plumage. A stunning female in breeding plumage would arrive a day later.

A Short-billed Dowitcher, and the myriad of Lesser Yellowlegs and Dunlin, were no slouches.

The curlew sandpiper breeds on the tundra in Siberia and Alaska. It is a highly migratory bird that winters in areas from western Europe and southern Asia to southern Africa and Australia. A highly gregarious bird, it occasionally wanders into North America, with regular sightings mainly in Alaska and Hawaii, but sometimes even farther south to our region.

The birds would flush and scatter, but not before circling in front of us before landing farther out into the field. That would be my queue to pack up and head back to work. This bird would provide some nice consolation for someone unable to participate in this spring's migration spectacle due to work obligations...

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