Saturday, September 5, 2015

Ode to the Buff-Breasted Sandpiper

[Juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper, photographed from the observation platform at the South Cape May Meadows, a.k.a. the Nature Conservancy's Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, NJ, today, Saturday September 5, 2015. Click to enlarge. Look at those long wings - and see the range map below to learn why the wings are long. Onlookers included David LaPuma, Director of CMBO; Richard Crossley;Vince Elia; Sam Wilson; Catherine Bush; Mike Lanzone;  Bob and Stephanie Brown; Tim Freiday; Allison Anholt; Glen Davis, CMBO morning flight counter; Margeaux Maerz, George Myers Naturalist; and many others - the Cape May birding community coming together with many welcome out-of-town visitors to experience a phenomenal bird.]

A juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper settled into the South Cape May Meadows today, joined by an Upland Sandpiper and the continuing Baird's Sandpiper (three of the "grasspipers.") As Vince Elia commented, you knew a buffie would show up here. Right time of year, perfect habitat.

It's not like Buff-breasted Sandpiper was unexpected - but they are rare.

This "buffie," as birders like to call them, triggered a memory of an Ed Brinkley column in the "Changing Seasons" feature of North American Birds, volume 65, number 1, autumn 2010:

"The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan rated this handsome species “Highly Imperiled” in its most recent update. Once a bird that existed in the millions, hunting [that would be commercial and subsistence hunting in the late 1800's and early 1900's, as well as continued commercial and subsistence hunting through today on its wintering grounds, not sport hunting - DPF] and habitat loss have reduced its  populations to about 15,000 individuals in 2010. So every report of every migrant Buff-breasted Sandpiper counts. We birders know how to find them, we know when they pass through our areas  between late August and early October, and we should spread the word to our fellow birders: report every single Buff-breasted Sandpiper that you see. And enjoy each one. Arguably, every bird species that nests in the taiga and tundra habitats of Alaska and Canada deserves this level of attention and appreciation."

Thanks, Ed Brinkley. It was great sharing this rare bird with my friends, but the prize of the morning came when a family of four, non-birders, climbed the observation platform and asked what we were seeing. We welcomed them, told them about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and I lowered my scope to the height of the smallest boy and aimed it at the bird. The older of the kids, a boy of maybe 13 years, came forward to look, and I explained how to get his eye lined up with the eyepiece for a good view.  He got it right away.

Knowing that, beautiful as they are, and even with a strong scope view, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper was unlikely to knock the socks off an early-teenage boy, as soon as I knew he had it lined up in the scope I said, "The really mind-blowing thing is where this bird came from and where it is going."

Someone, I think it was Richard Crossley, asked (rhetorically, obviously, if it was Richard), "And where is that?"

I said, "They nest in the highest part of the Arctic."

And Richard said, "The top of the world."

I said, "Yes. And they will spend the winter in southern South America."

Richard said, "The bottom of the world."

I said, "Unbelievable. What's that, 9,000 miles?"

The boy was looking at the bird now, really looking - and his brother and parents seemed ready to push him out of the way for a look themselves.

We can get there, one child, one adult, one family, one human at a time..

[Buff-breasted Sandpiper range and migration, from BNA online.]

Shorebird conditions are pretty great in the meadows right now, although we may need some rain soon or it will get too dry. Here's my shorebird list from today:

American Oystercatcher 1
Semipalmated Plover 4
Killdeer 3
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Greater Yellowlegs 2
Lesser Yellowlegs 10
Upland Sandpiper 1
Stilt Sandpiper 1
Baird's Sandpiper 1 cont
Least Sandpiper 30
White-rumped Sandpiper 2
Buff-breasted Sandpiper 1
Pectoral Sandpiper 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper 30
Western Sandpiper 3

1 comment:

  1. That was some epic birding at the Meadows! I can't wait to bird with you again Dad!