Monday, August 17, 2009

Hawaiian Shorebird Safari

Yep, you read that right - but may not be quite what you think. No I didn't just jet-set my way to Hawaii for shorebirds. This past Saturday the Brookline Bird Club had it's annual "Hawaiian Shorebird Safari" trip to South Beach (in Chatham, MA) lead by my friends Laura and Mark. Now I've mentioned here before that I am not the biggest fan of shorebirds, but each year I do make a trip or two for my year lists, and hopefully one year I'll pick up a life redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper or even a (breath-held) Spoon-billed Sandpiper. This trip is one I like to try and make each year - not just because it's led by my friends, but because we always attract a fun group with a great sense of humor. How will I know that the group will be fun? Well - that's where the "Hawaiian" part comes in - everybody has to wear a Hawaiian shirt for the day. Many of the participants have come back year after year, and some go so far as to make sure they get a different shirt for each year! This year had an added bonus, in that our friend Bev (who I've met on the last two Birders who Blog, Tweet, and Chip gatherings) came up for the Jersey highlands to join us too!
The day started out meeting at 8:45am at Monomoy NWR headquarters where we boarded a boat run by "Rip Ryder" who brought us down towards the southern end of South Beach, and over the next several hours our group slowly worked our way north scanning through the flocks of shorebirds that arrive here during their fall migration, as well as through flocks of Common Terns to try and single out Forsters, Black, Arctic, or Roseate terns.
Some of the highlights for me included large numbers of godwits - both Marbled and Hudsonian. In most places, Hudsonian is the rarer of the two, but it seems to me like we see a lot more Hudsonian than Marbled Godwits around here - I think that it is because we must be along their migration route from Hudson Bay down along the coast.

Hudsonian Godwit
Marbled Godwit
Both godwits together

Another shorebird I rather like are Whimbrel. (starting to see a pattern - larger, easier to see & identify...) There were about 5-6 that we seemed to see a few times, and I tried to get some photos, but I only got them in blurry flight.

At one point an odd fog rolled in, providing an opportunity for the photographically inclined of the group (William Freedberg, Bev and myself) to get quite close to one of the Hudsonian Godwits, and while we sat nearby we watched and photographed him foraging by plunging it's bill deep in the sand, and spitting out the water when he withdrew it. Also did a bit of preening for us too...

Lest you think that I was lying about that fog, here is a photo I took of the group - you know it's a thick fog if you can't really make out the loud shirts we were wearing!

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, we added many Black-bellied Plovers, Semi-palmated Plovers, a few Piping Plovers, a few Semi-palmated and Least Sandpipers, many White-rumped Sandpipers, a handful Red Knots, a single Dunlin (!?!), several American Oystercatchers, and many Ruddy Turnstones - certainly among my favorite shorebirds:
Oh, and of course, there were plenty of gulls - some Black-backed, a few Ring-billed, some Laughing, and a lot of Herring Gulls. Rather than picking through fast-food bags in parking lots - it was nice to see them eating more 'natural' food items - grabbing clam shells, and dropping them to crack them open.

The birding was capped with a visit to Bird-watcher's General Store in Orelans, a stop at the Chocolate Sparrow, and then dinner with a smaller group of us at a local Mexican restaurant, where we reviewed the day, laughed long and loud.
What a great day.

(Oh and if you do go, take my word for it - bring sun-block and bug-spray!)