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September 14, 2013

Encountering an uncommon visitor on Plum Island


Fifty to 60 black-bellied plovers were both feeding on the flats and standing in the water. So it was the “usual mix” of shorebirds that we have been seeing for the past week or more. I looked for a godwit — there had been one or two Hudsonian godwits in the past couple of weeks. A marbled godwit had been reported earlier in the day at Sandy Point. But I found none that evening. I did come across two red knots and a stilt sandpiper in the mix. I also found a young least tern roosting among the semipalmated sandpipers on one spit, along with a special surprise: two brightly colored, juvenile western sandpipers. Their rufous scapulars and caps, along with their slightly larger size, make them stand out.

Their long bills, broad at the base and slightly drooping at the end, were also evident. Each time that I spotted an interesting sandpiper and started fumbling for my adapter to take pictures, the shorebirds would all fly up and relocate. The harrier had been joined by a second, and though they are not much threat, the shorebirds flew up each time the harriers drew near, only to settle down again in a different part of the pool. As I was watching the shorebirds all this time, there had been a continuous influx of egrets into the pool. They were arriving in small groups of four to 10 birds at a time. I was resisting counting them because I wanted to concentrate on the shorebirds, but finally I gave in and took a count.

Even as I counted — and after I counted — more arrived that I had to factor in. By the time I left just after 7 p.m., I had counted 314 great egrets and 176 snowy egrets. I assumed that these birds were just “staging” there and that they would move out to the marsh after I left. (I have since found out that they have been roosting overnight right there in Bill Forward Pool.) The sun had peaked through the clouds just long enough to let me know that sunset was near. I needed to leave lest the refuge law enforcement be waiting to hand out their fines. Besides, the no-see-ums had become intolerable. As I was leaving the dike, I noticed that the lark sparrow was still feeding at the edge of the path. He was great incentive for drawing me out to a wonderful evening of shorebirds, egrets, and picture-taking for documenting his uncommon visit.

Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport and the Nature Shop at Joppa Flats.

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