Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wilson's Plover

It has been a long time since Sharon and I headed out to Grandview Nature Park. So with shorebird migration picking up, we decided to make a trip out there. There is by far the best place near us for shorebirds and well as other unexpected birds. eBird has nearly 200 species reported from the 3 mile long stretch of beach along the Chesapeake Bay and Back River. The best birding is usually at the far end, known as Factory Point for an old fish processing plant that washed away many decades ago. But there is usually enough going on along the way that we tire out before getting to the end. This time we committed to getting to Factory Point quickly and birding on our way back. We also timed our trip to arrive at low tide to have the best mudflats. We pretty much stayed to plan we only a few diversions to look for seaside sparrows and check out the rocks of the old lighthouse (the only rocky part here). We found ruddy turnstones on the rocks but no sparrows. As we approached the end we found a couple of peep sandpipers (a genus of small and rather similar birds that can be challenging to distinguish) that we eventually identified as semipalmated sandpipers. We then reached the first set of mudflats. There were several sandbars with a range of gulls and terns and many more shorebirds, semipalmated plovers, semipalmated sandpipers, sanderlings, turnstones, least sandpipers, and an american oystercatcher. There was also a killdeer flying over. Just as we had arrived, another birder caught up with us. We chatted for a few minutes and then he headed to the other side of the point where he had seen whimbrels several days previous.

As we finished up with our scan and were preparing to move further down the point, the other birder, Ernie, came rushing back. "I think I have a Wilson's plover, you've got to see it." We packed up and followed him back. A Wilson's plover would be quite a find. They are rare visitors along the part of the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. He led us to a large expanse of mud and water saying, "it was the only bird out here." We all set up and started scanning but found nothing. Ernie was in a frenzy to get confirmation, even though he has good photos to back-up his identification. We continued scanning and eventually found a semipalmated plover. "No, that's not it It couldn't have left. It was just walking around here and had been here feeding for several minutes." Still we scanned without luck. Finally Ernie saw movement just over a small ridge in the mud. We moved further along the beach were the ridge, probably all of 6 inches, wouldn't block our view. And then we saw it. The plover is masterfully camouflaged and was hard to pick out when it didn't move. But sure enough. There it was.

Ernie was already late for an appointment so he packed up and headed home.We watched for a few more minutes and then started our way back. We had planned to spend time birding on the trip back but it was starting to get late, we were tiring, and there hadn't been much action along the beach. We did get some more nice shorebirds, including a black-bellied plover that was still in breeding plumage.

In the short trees along the dune we found a pair of common yellowthroats and a prairie warbler. We also followed a small group of shorebirds most of the way down beach. As we would approach they would flush further down never realizing we were still coming and would have to get past them at some point. In the end, it was a great day out at a great location that we don't get to enough.

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