Chasing Bar-tailed

There’s an undeniable intrigue when chasing rarities from across the globe. This time I was hoping for a shorebird off course from its typical New Zealand to Alaska migration called a Bar-tailed Godwit. Thanks to unusual weather patterns, a handful had shown up on the Oregon coast this spring.

I timed my trip to arrive in the coastal hills at sunrise to listen for Mountain Quail.

Since I was at the right place and the right time, I heard this life bird’s call pretty easily. A pair was calling back and forth across the valley. But no visuals this time, and I didn’t have much time to spend looking. Next time, quail.

I kept focus and made it to Lost Creek State Park while it was still early. I felt both relief and excitement when I saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

But it wasn’t. The Bar-tailed had been seen in mixed shorebird flocks of Whimbrels and Marbled Godwit and those were both here.

Down-turned bill = Whimbrel

Upturned bill = Marbled Godwit

This godwit gave me pause. I realized then that I’d never seen Marbled Godwits in breeding plumage. More buffy-brown cinnamon colored, with barring on the chest, and an orange-ish coloring at the base of the bill (signalling increased hormonal levels). I had only seen them in non-breeding plumage with a pink base to the bill.

There were also some birds with intermediate colors.

This was getting more complicated. I had done my homework before arriving of course, Bar-tailed Godwits differ from Marbled in that they are slightly smaller, with a slightly shorter bill, and they lack the cinnamon underwing colors. They are slightly more reddish in breeding plumage and grayer in non-breeding. I began to doubt I’d recognize these slight differences.

So I looked at peeps instead. Hey, look! Western Sandpipers!

Bath time!

Dunlin in breeding plumage, look at that black belly!

Sanderlings! That one on the right is in breeding plumage (mottled, rufous head and neck).

And the best distraction. Semi-palmated Plover.

You’re cute, even when you’re digging in the sand.

That helped. I walked back to the car ready to try another location. As I was returning, a group of birders passed by and we exchanged information. They too were looking for godwits and hadn’t seen any Bar-tailed yet. At least I hadn’t missed anything.

I pulled over at another beach spot, and found only plovers and Whimbrels. The next stop was Newport’s South Jetty where I found no Whimbrels or godwits, but I did catch a distant glimpse of a black ghost. A Pacific Loon in breeding plumage!

Note to self: spend more time with shorebirds in breeding plumage. They’re beautiful.

It was late afternoon by now and I had time for just one more stop. Since it was close, and I’d never been there, I decided on Yaquina Bay State Recreation Area just across from South Jetty.

I approached the beach and saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

OMG, this was it! I spotted one of the banded birds in my binoculars. Some reports had been of birds with multiple blue and white bands on their legs, part of a bird-banding program in New Zealand, and positively identifying them as Bar-tailed Godwits. It was the best-case scenerio BTGO to find.

But before I could snap a photo, a woman approached me, asking about the birds. She asked what the birds with the long bills were, “are they Long-billed Dowitchers?” Normally, I appreciate people’s interest in birds when I’m out, but this was terrible timing. But I explained what they were anyways. She thanked me, then proceeded to walk right towards the flock, spooking them all.

Seriously? I had told her about the rarity too. I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t have time to sulk, because I had to jog down the beach to keep up with the moving flock. Eventually, success!

Look at all the jewelry on that New Zealand bird! What a huge relief. And the stranger thing was, besides that rude woman, I was the only one on the beach. No other birders. I posted the sighting on OBOL and enjoyed my time. I’d actually hit the jackpot of shorebirds at this spot.

There were Black-bellied Plovers in breeding plumage.

I almost dropped my binoculars.

A Ruddy Turnstone.

And a pair of Brant casually on the shore.

Whimbrels, plovers, godwits, sanderlings, it was hard to keep up!

The tide came in further, many birds moved up to the jetty rocks to sleep in the warm afternoon sun. I regained and lost site of the Bar-tailed again, grateful for the time I had.

X marks the spot, I’d found the treasure!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Shell Island, Florida

While on vacation visiting my family in Florida, my mom and I took a boat ride to Shell Key Island. This wouldn’t be like the last time I was on a boat when I got horribly seasick. This was a 10-minute quick trip from St. Pete Beach to Shell Key Island, part recreation destination, part wildlife preserve, part bird haven.

Shell Key Island

I’d never been before, but I heard a rumor that hundreds of White Pelicans nest there in the winter. My grandfather grumbled something about damn White Pelicans stealing his fish in Montana, but I was super stoked.

While waiting to board the boat, I spent the few spare moments appreciating the local Brown Pelicans hanging out by the docks.

Brown Pelican

Brown PelicanBrown PelicanBrown Pelican

I can’t help it. Every time I see Brown Pelicans with their long stretched out bills, it reminds me of Alec Baldwin (Adam) in Beetlejuice. Ooh, scary.

Beetlecan

See the resemblance? No?

Anyways, we eventually boarded the boat and set off. The island has no facilities and it is pretty rugged. It’s what I imagine Florida probably looked like before all the urban development and huge condo strips. Though practically swimming distance from civilization we felt like we had arrived at our own deserted island. Complete with oranges on the shore. It was awesome.

Shell Key Island

Shell Key Island Orange IslandShell Key Island

We crossed the sandy dunes toward where the captain said the pelicans should be. Along the way, I decided that the island should be called “Spur Island” after those vicious sandspurs. In reality they’re probably a good deterrent keeping people from trekking all over the place. Except me. (To be clear, I followed all island regulations and did not trespass in the bird nesting area).

We got to the pelicans just in time for a boat to speed by in the wake zone and scare them. I managed a couple of quick shots. White Pelicans!

White Pelican

White Pelican

White Pelican

Since they were long gone, we went back to the beach to eat lunch, look for shells, and watch the Foster’s Terns dive-bomb fish. It was a grand time, but after a bit we thought it might be worthwhile to check back in on the pelicans.

I’m glad we did. They were back! Hundreds of them! As were many shorebirds that I couldn’t identify from a distance. (Dunlins, Sanderlings, sandpipers?)

White Pelican

White Pelican

Shorebirds and a pelicanShorebirdsShorebirds, so far away

I did manage to find an American Oystercatcher! (in between the pelicans) I was pretty excited to find one since I had seen signs posted that they nest on the island.

American Oystercatcher

Shell Key Island

And a Little Blue Heron!

Little Blue Heron

I got a closer look at a few (I’m pretty sure) Dunlins. 

Dunlin

Dunlin

My mom and I happily watched the pelicans and shorebirds for a while, then went back to relax on the beach. Tough life. While relaxing I couldn’t help but notice a few birds in the water, like the Horned Grebe.

Horned Grebe

And another exciting sighting was a pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds (!!) that flew overhead at one point. I didn’t get the best look at them, and in fact, in the moment I knew they were something unique, but I thought maybe they were a kite of some sort. Until I looked it up. Nope, Mag Frig!! How awesome. Here’s my one quick frantic shot of one of them. Those long wings! I kept one eye on the sky after this, but didn’t see another.

Magnificent Frigatebird

I also saw an American Kestrel on the island and a Red-breasted Merganser that flew by over the water.

American KestrelRed-breasted MerganserRed-breasted Merganser

And, yes! We even found shells during our time on Shell Island. Though we did not take them. Instead, we filled our (provided) shell bag with garbage we picked up on the island. Leaving it better than we found it.

ShellsSand DollarRelaxing

Back at the dock we were greeted by a Snowy Egret (black legs and yellow feet!).

Snowy EgretSnowy EgretSnowy Egret

And a Great Egret! (larger, black legs and feet).

Snowy and Great EgretIMG_5545 (2)IMG_5544

And because this is Florida, and the birding never ends, here’s a Green Heron we found wading in the pool when we returned back at our condo.

Green Heron

Green HeronGreen HeronGreen Heron

Green Heron

Thanks, Florida!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey