Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in SE Michigan! - 23 Jul 2017

I dedicate this post to Adam Byrne, who was gracious enough to call me this morning with news of a probable Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata) at Pt. Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co., MI. Robin and I were in the car and on our way to go for a run, but she was awesome and gave me permission to turn around and chase the bird. So, I grabbed the gear and bike and dropped her off at Lake Erie Metropark and continued on to the Siegler Rd. parking lot.

I biked out to where Adam, Scott Terry and Dave Powell were scoping the Long Pond Unit just where it opened up into a large expanse of grass, mudflat and cattail marsh. The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper had not been seen in the last 20 minutes, having disappeared into a low, muddy patch of the grass. It would be another 20 minutes before it would flush long enough to get brief glimpses of it in flight before it dropped back down into the grass (a pair of fawns waded across the marsh toward the mudflats where the shorebirds were and flushed them). Meanwhile, we would scope a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs, a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers, several Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a pair of Semipalmated Plovers. Marsh Wrens were actively calling from the nearby cattail marsh.

I had to leave after an hour to pick Robin up, but I would return later in the day, where I'd find a dozen or so birders patiently looking for the bird. Luckily, Don Sherwood had reported an immature (white) Little Blue Heron in the same area, so folks could distract themselves with another State rarity. I rode down toward the northeast corner of the Long Pond Unit and spent a few minutes digiscoping the Little Blue Heron juvenile while it perched, then flew off to catch a large Bullfrog.

I returned to the group and continued to scope the grass looking for the bird when afternoon rain started falling. Adam, Scott and Dave returned, and after a while Scott was able to locate the bird for everyone to see. After several minutes it finally flushed and flew onto the nearby mud flats where everyone could get great scope views.

Because of the low light and rain I put the Sony a6300 on video record and took a 10-minute video as the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper foraged on the mud flats near Short-billed Dowitchers and a Pectoral Sandpiper.

I was able to get some freeze-frame images to show the bird as an adult in breeding plumage. This is rare for a rare bird to North America as most records tend to be of juvenile or non-breeding adults in relatively plain or basic plumage. But, this bird was showing a strong reddish cap, strong spotting on a buffy neck and chest and strong chevrons extending down the flanks to a streaked under tail/vent area. Back feathers were large, scaly, and black with tan-to-reddish fringes that were worn but still distinct. Non-breeding birds would normally show light streaking on the breast but generally lack chevrons, so we were all doubly-fortunate!

According to Arkive the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper "breeds in the northern regions of Siberia (2) (3) (6), but migrates south to winter in New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand (2) (3) (6), as well as New Caledonia and Tonga (2)... is commonly seen on migration through China (3), and it is also known to visit North America, primarily in the autumn (4) (5). This species is classed as a very rare migrant in western Europe (5), and has been recorded in several countries as a vagrant bird, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Germany (7)."

This bird represents a second record for The State of Michigan. You may remember the first State Record being found in 2016 at the Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Plant last July. Update: according to ABA this is the 3rd record for MI with the bird being annually seen since 2015.

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