NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

June 29, 2013

Rare bird gets celebrity treatment on Plum Island

PLUM ISLAND — Every once in awhile, a wayward bird shows up on Plum Island that sends the birdwatching world into a flutter.

And that’s exactly what’s happened this week. Dozens of birders have enthusiastically been searching to get a glimpse of a colorful Asiatic shorebird that’s flown thousands of miles off course, finding respite on the southern end of the island.

The bird is a red necked stint, so named for the color of its neck during mating season. And that’s one of the reasons why this little bird has drawn so much attention -- right now, its neck is deep red.

“Every once in awhile, one flies over here,” said David Larson, education and science coordinator at the Audubon Society’s Joppa Flats center in Newburyport. “But it’s not like they show up all the time. This is pretty rare.”

Larson said red neck stints are commonly found in Siberia. They are an Asiatic shorebird that winters along the Asian Pacific coastline and flies north to the Arctic to breed in the spring, then heads south again after it has bred. They are sometimes found along the west coast of the United States, but this particular bird has gone far off course.

“This guy could have been an early southbound migrator, or an early breeder, or simply got lost,” Larson said. “It has nice brick red on its head and neck, and looks pretty snappy.”

Word of the bird’s sighting emanated through birding circles on Thursday afternoon, and spread widely yesterday. Larson said that avid birder Suzanne Sullivan of Wilmington was the first to spot it. Her photos and descriptions quickly mobilized birdwatchers, some of whom will drive hundreds of miles to get a glimpse of a rare bird. Sullivan couldn’t be reached for comment.

The bird was found on the border between the Parker River Wildlife Refuge and the Sandy Point State Reservation, located at the southernmost tip of Plum Island. To the delight of birdwatchers, Larson said it was “quite cooperative” -- it wasn’t spooked by the dozens of people hoping to get a glimpse.

“It’s a very cool bird,” he said.

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