Sunday, July 22, 2012

Delaware: Black-tailed Godwit

After having missed the 2001 Black-tailed Godwit on Long Island because I was away on vacation, this species had nestled close to the top of my rarity priority list in recent years.  There was an early summer BT Godwit in TX this year that had me tempted to fly for it in a piece of gratuitous chasing.

So the red alert buttons went off on Friday while at work, when a report of a Black-tailed Godwit at Prime Hook NWR in Delaware turned up on the NJ email list.  Since Prime Hook is south of Dover it's too far for an after work sprint, so I had to bide my time for an early morning drive.  So I left at 4am from Ewing, off about 2 hours sleep after being out the previous night in Philadelphia.  Uneventful 3 hour drive but even at 6am DE Route 1 held some beach traffic.  Since DE-1 was built, it's a lot faster to get down there compared to the old sluggish Route 13.

Prime Hook Rd is a little north of Broadkill Beach Road, where the Wood Sandpiper was found in summer 2008, although it's all part of the same marshland just inland of the beaches.  On Prime Hook Rd the habitat seemed to have taken a bit of a beating - signs of water crossing the rode with all sorts of debris on it.  The weather was heavily overcast, cool and windy.  Short-billed Dowitcher was the most numerous shorebird, with some small peeps, a couple of Willets and one Ruddy Turnstone.  It took a full hour for the Black-tailed Godwit to appear, apparently flying into an island of exposed mud while many of us were looking elsewhere.  It seemed that it might be an adult female - it wasn't in basic and it didn't look like a juvenile.  The bird was quite restless - it spent the five minutes on the ground mostly preening and then picked up and flew to the west.  The was useful, because the single most dominant ID feature compared to the similar Hudsonian Godwit is pale wing linings (Black-tailed) vs black wing linings (Hudsonian).  There were also the very prominent wing bars.  Later in the day it was found roosting along a neighboring beach road but apparently wasn't found on Sunday.

I've seen lots of Black-tailed Godwits before, including a few wintering birds on my most recent trip to Britain in Feb 2010, but this was my first one in the USA and completed an unlikely Godwit grand slam for the year:
  • Marbled Godwit in TX in January
  • Bar-tailed Godwit in Alaska (Nome & Anchor River)
  • Hudsonian Godwit in Alaska (Anchorage)
  • this Black-tailed Godwit
On the way back I stopped at Bombay Hook NWR but the sleep deprivation was too much to do any attentive birding.  I did track down a few worn alternate plumage Western Sandpiper and a small flock of Stilt Sandpipers but missed the more notable Ruff and Hudsonian Godwit.

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