A Couple of Life Birds

Like many birders, I subscribe to listserves for areas where I plan to travel and “lurk” on them, checking out what others are reporting in the days and weeks prior to my arrival.  Thus, I was reading MASSBIRDS prior to our grandparenting trip and noting that folks were seeing some neat birds at the Salt Pannes south of Newburyport on Route 1A.  I drove over the first morning after we arrived, to find several birders already in place with scopes aimed at the marshes.


As it turns out, it was the week prior to the MA Audubon’s Bird-a-Thon which is this coming weekend so birders were out in force scouting.  For Bird-a-thon 2012, there are 28 teams, each supporting an individual wildlife sanctuary, a group of sanctuaries, or a Mass Audubon program. The teams are vying to see:

  • Which team can spot the most bird species in 24 hours
  • Which team can raise the most money for their wildlife sanctuary or program
I no sooner got out of the truck and got my scope set up when a guy pointed out a Stilt Sandpiper, which is a new bird for me.  I asked him why he knew it was that and several folks pointed out field marks like the slightly down curved bill, the white supercillium, and a couple of other things.  Later, I read a great post by Jim Berry who said, 

This was a long-legged wader a little smaller than the nearby lesser yellowlegs, with a noticeable white supercilium and a fairly long bill.  I couldn’t see any droop at the tip of the bill on this bird, or any color on the face yet, as it was apparently just beginning to come into alternate plumage.  What clinched the ID was its behavior: bill held very vertically, the bird doing some pecking but also showing the sewing-machine-like drilling with the head underwater that is virtually unique to this species among the larger sandpipers (much faster drilling than dowitchers, whose motion reminds me of an oil derrick rather than a sewing machine). 

A Stilt Sandpiper in front of a Greater Yellowlegs.

Yellowlegs departs while Stilt Sandpiper keeps feeding

We saw a flight of Glossy Ibises but could not spot the earlier-reported White-faced Ibis among them.  Then, from stage left, paddled a group of Wilson’s Phalaropes which also had be reported, and were also a life bird for me.  I got some poor quality photos for the record but the camera auto focused on grass in the foreground and the images were blurred.


Other birds there included Mallards and Green-winged Teal, Willets, and a Solitary Sandpiper or two.  My new birder acquaintances all were hoping that the birds would hang around for the Bird-a-thon but who knows, it’s migration time.

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