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Friday, September 9, 2011

I Don't Always Go Shorebirding... but When I Do, I See Dos Avocets!

So, Tropical Storm Lee made his way through Louisiana and broke up over the southeast, but even still we got a lot of rain around here. A lot of rain, actually, it raised the water level of Falls Lake by a whole four inches, which can mean death to mudflats. Still, Mark K and I decided to head down to the Ellerbe Flats to see what we could find.

The rain did something I never expected. Of course, the mud was gone, but the flats really didn’t decrease in area at all. Instead, they’ve become covered in a field of grasses and sedges, and apparently the birds love it! We saw almost 1000 birds (maybe more, it was hard to count them!) all in the grass and on the grassy shores. A bunch of them frequented a little puddle in the middle of the field, including a bunch of Stilt Sandpipers and a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers. All of a sudden, our best birds of the day flew into scope view – a fantastic pair of American Avocets, truly a special bird this far inland!

Oh, and did I mention the Avocets were Durham County bird #200 for me?!

The shoreline abounded with so many birds I would have assumed I was on the coast if we didn’t travel a scant twenty minutes from home. We found both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs in good numbers, with plenty of peeps of all kinds to go around. In fact, I saw over 60 Semipalmated Sandpipers, which is by far the most I’ve ever seen in one location. I think they even outnumbered the Leasts out there!

They also let us get closer than any other Semipalmated Sandpipers I've ever seen.

Poring through the remaining shorebirds led to many White-rumped Sandpipers, clearly visible by their long primaries and teardrop shape. I counted almost ten definite White-rumpeds out there, including four in one scope view towering over the surrounding Leasts and Semipalms. A good thing too, as the White-rumpeds were lifers for Mark, and a bit of a nemesis at that, apparently. At that point, he announced an interesting pair of birds along the far side of the lake, a pair of nice American Golden-Plovers, both of them in a very cool plumage, and bringing my total up to three for the year.

You know what's awesome? Getting these guys in the same scope view
as a flock of Wild Turkeys. Yeah, that totally happened.

Of course, all the grass around meant that Mark and I were looking for a very specific shorebird. Sure the nine Ruddy Turnstones running around in a tight group were nice, but if you go to coastal North Carolina, you can find one at any time of the year. No, we were looking for a bird that’s considered a nice find wherever you go, the kind of bird that makes even the most seasoned veterans salivate. While looking at a nice White-rumped Sandpiper, Mark yelled out “Woah – Buff-breasted Sandpiper! Right in front of us!”

You know, every Buffy I've ever seen has been at these very flats,

Not just one, although that would have been enough, but actually a pair of them! Truly one of the coolest shorebirds out there, and with the extensive grass, I expect several more of them in the near future.  Having gotten several great birds for the state, Mark and I turned home, but not before seeing a Broad-winged Hawk fly over the old railroad tracks, and hearing a couple of Caspian Terns screaming their way across the local boat ramp. The sun started to set and it was getting late, so we turned in for the day, but what a day! I can’t wait to get back there as soon as possible!

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