Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seeing a Curlew Sandpiper

This past weekend I was in Cape May, primarily to participate in shorebird banding, but also to see any rare birds that might be around. I was especially eager to see one of the several Curlew Sandpipers that have been frequenting the impoundments at Heislerville. This is a species I have missed on past visits to Heislerville. Plus, who can resist a sandpiper with a long, down-curved bill and a bright red breast? Not me!

During migration seasons, Heislerville attracts thousands of shorebirds, especially at high tide. As the tide rises, more and more shorebirds fly in from nearby feeding areas along the Delaware Bay and its tributaries. On Saturday evening, there were probably 10,000 or more in the main impoundment by high tide. From what I could see, the plurality were Dunlin, but there were substantial numbers of dowitchers and peeps as well. The shorebirds feed and rest a short distance from the dike, which allows for excellent views of these common shorebirds.

One of the other birders present announced that the Curlew Sandpiper was foraging in an exposed area with some of the peeps. My friend Mary found it in the scope before I found it with binoculars and let me have a look at it. The bird was a bit paler than I expected, but its bill was obviously down-curved and its overall pattern was noticeably different from other, more common shorebirds. It was convenient to have Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitchers nearby for comparison.

One other species of interest in the main impoundment was Red Knot. A group of about ten was among the thousands of other shorebirds. One of the group was banded and wore a light green flag with the code 3CP. By entering the code at bandedbirds.org, I found out that this bird was banded at Mispillion Harbor in Delaware in 2009 and was recaptured at Kimble's Beach in New Jersey in 2010. That means that this individual has made it back to Delaware Bay three years in a row as part of its annual round trip from southern South America to the Arctic and back.