Monday, August 4, 2008

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint at Jamaica Bay

At 6:40am on Sunday morning (Aug 3rd) I was the first birder at the north end of the East Pond at Jamaica Bay. Almost the first bird I set my eyes on was very unusual - the structure of a Pectoral Sandpiper but heavily barred with barring going well into the flanks. The overall color and pattern reminded me more of breeding plumage Stilt Sandpiper or Western Sandpiper. Another birder turned up but ironically set up so that when I tried to point out the bird to him I was right in his line of sight, and the "mystery" bird flew before I could get him on it.

Ten minutes of thinking later, I decided the most likely candidate was full alternate plumage White-rumped Sandpiper, something I doubt I've seen very much of, even though the structure of the bird was much more Pectoral-like. I was wrong with the initial ID, but I was never comfortable with it anyway.

30 minutes later there were a few more birders and the mystery bird turned up again, in better light, and for a little longer look. There was a rufous cap and partially rufous scapulars, and when it took flight there was only a weak pale wing bar and a strong dark line through the upper tail coverts and the tail. Very Pectoral-like. This wasn't a White-rumped Sandpiper - this was a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. An adult, in full breeding plumage - probably a little worn and darker because of that.

An amazing way to start the day. We saw the bird a couple more times after that. As of writing (8/4) it had been found the following morning (Monday).

After another 90+ minutes Jim Schlick did find the nominal target, a Red-necked Stint, which was the whole reason I went down to Jamaica Bay in the first place. Views were distant (east side of the pond viewed from the west side) and in bad light, but this bird glows in the right light given that it's in pretty much full breeding plumage. The Sharp-tailed remains more special for me, given that it's the first rarity that I've found.

Other, still interesting, birds present were two Wilson's Phalaropes, White-rumped Sandpiper and several Stilt Sandpipers. Other peeps were numerous, and there were some yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers. I didn't see a Pectoral Sandpiper but these were reported by others.

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