rare bird

July 22, 2006




My Collins Birds of Britain and Europe was in the bed with me when I woke up this morning. Plum Island Coffee Roasters is unusally busy at 8:00 AM when I stop in for coffee to take with me to the beach. A convoy is forming on Plum Island Turnpike across from the Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary. These are clues that with a little luck it's going to be an extraordinary day. There's been a black-tailed godwit seen at PRNWR since Tuesday.

Despite claiming that I'm not a twitcher, I actually did come up here after work on Wednesday to look for the black-tailed godwit but missed it. Wednesday evening birding was still fun though because I was treated to the sight of a black-crowned night heron flying low over my head with a mob of two tern species and a few swallows in hot pursuit. Not sure what's in it for the swallows, but black-crowned night herons are known for devouring tern chicks. Go terns!

My reason for being here is, as always, piping plovers -- protection thereof -- so I'm hoping I can find the godwit on my way to lot 6 at the start of my shift or later after my shift is over. Supposedly its appearances at certain spots depend on the tides. Based on that I may be more likely to get lucky after my shift. At any rate I studied up last night so I can be absolutely certain when I see it even if there are no other birders around (highly unlikely). So, on to lot 6.

As I'm getting my beach chair out of the trunk, mosquitoes are swarming around my head, which I have already doused with Deep Woods Off. A middle-aged couple just leaving wish me luck with the mosquitoes. By the time I get through the dunes from the parking lot to the beach I've been bitten several times by tiny little mosquitoes whom I'm hoping don't carry EEE (that used to be on my list of reasons it is insane to live in Massachusetts, but since it occurs in the whole eastern half of the USA I decided I was being too hard on Massachusetts).

On the beach, the fog is thick and getting thicker. There's a lone fisherman just visible south of me. Other than that I'm alone with the mosquitoes and the sanderlings. The sanderlings start out as one big flock then break into 4 smaller flocks then recombine and then split up and so on. A few semipalmated sandpipers show up. It goes like that for an hour or so. There's not even any radio chatter about parking lots or power outages. Visitors appearing out of the fog turn out to be Big Steve and a friend of his out for a walk. They head south back into the fog, which is getting thicker by the minute, and disappear. A couple of birders appear and ask how the piping plovers are doing. I give them the latest news I have:

Refuge beach: 10 adults, 3 nests incubated, 1 nest hatched, 2 chicks.
Sandy Point beach: 11 adults, 2 nests hatched, 6 chicks.
Least tern colony on refuge beach: 23 pairs, 8 chicks.

The report in the backpack is from July 10, so who knows what's happened to either nests or chicks since then. Mosquitoes are swarming all over me and the two birders. Where are those swallows? They should be feasting on these mosquitoes. The birders head back over the dunes. It starts raining. Even the lone fisherman has left. Time to call it a shift.

Gatehouse tells me people are arriving who have driven 500 miles to see the black-tailed godwit. There's a crowd of 30 or so birders on the side of the road just south of the salt pannes. Sure enough there's a bird that looks exaclty like the plate on page 155 of my Collins guide in a pool close to the road. Instantly, my mosquito bites stop itching, my wet Life's a Beach for the Piping Plover t-shirt ceases to bother me, and the rain slows down to intermittent drops in the mist. The bird is beautiful. Very long bill probing like a dowitcher. It preens so we can see its underparts. A kind birder even adjusts the height of his tripod so I can have a look through his scope. There's nothing like a good scope to bring out the field marks even in the mist. I hang around watching it for awhile. On the way out, I tell Gatehouse I saw the black-tailed godwit. He says it's my reward for coming out to protect the piping plovers in all kinds of weather and greenheads and mosquitoes.

A shower and dry clothes feel extra good this afternoon.


Bird Sightings

Plum Island

gray catbird 13
tree swallow 8
American robin 3
mourning dove 5
eastern kingbird 1
snowy egret 1
semipalmated sandpiper 10
sanderling 25
ring-billed gull 2
great black back gull 1
semipalmated plover 3
redwinged blackbird 21
brown thrasher 2
northern mockingbird 2
Canada goose 16
great egret 1
short billed dowitcher 11
least sandpiper 2
killdeer 1
common tern 2
BLACK-TAILED GODWIT 1 ( along with about 30 birders)
orchard oriole 1

Other sightings:

monarch butterfly 2
eastern cottontail rabbit 1

Today's Reading

The Bird of Light by John Hay, Journey into Summer by Edwin Way Teale

This Year's Reading
2006 Booklist


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Copyright © 2006, Janet I. Egan