Monday, August 25, 2014

Common Ringed Plover at Cupsogue LI New York

So where do I begin with this post. Let's see, I was running on a few hours of sleep between Friday and Saturday night due to the Shorebird Festival at Jamaica Bay and trying to get out early to Cupsogue Long Island.  When I arrived at Cupsogue around 7:30 a.m. yesterday, the tide was pretty high; nevertheless, I got my gear together and began birding. I started in the parking lot, checking the corner of the dump for sparrows and anything else, scanning the ocean and then checking the marsh for sparrows.  During that time, I counted at least 15 Saltmarsh Sparrows (9 juveniles), picked up a few warblers (Common Yellowthroat and Yellow) and had calling Clapper Rail and Whimbrel in the marsh. A few sweeps of the gulls loafing on the islands out near the inlet did not result in anything out of the ordinary but I did enjoy looks at the fresh looking juvenile Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls.

A few hours later, I began spending some time studying juvenile Willets in looking at the field marks to separate Western from Eastern.  By then the tide had dropped but there was not much flats exposed and I felt if I attempted to cross too early, I would only push off the shorebirds that had begun gathering on the small areas of the flats that were being exposed.  Eventually, I headed onto the flats and amidst the alarms of Greater Yellowlegs, I managed to settle in on a spot where I began to sift through the shorebirds.

I was at it for a few hours, checking and rechecking. The flats had opened a lot more providing more areas for birds whose numbers continue to grow.  There was not an overwhelming number of birds but there was enough to look at and I was enjoying the peacefulness of it all. I spotted a Semipalmated Sandpiper that was in a plumage that reminded me of a juvenile molting to first winter, which is normally on the wintering grounds outside of the US, so I began to study that bird and grab stills in trying to document the plumage.

By then, some Semipalmated Plovers had begun showing up and I could hear them around me. After the Semipalmated Sandpiper wandered away from decent study views, I turned my attention to the Semipalmated Plovers. I was sorting through them for about an hour when I heard a call that seemed a bit different from the Semipalmated Plover calls. I looked up from my scope and switched to my bins expanding my search area while thinking about the call.  It was softer than a Semipalated Plover but sounded Plover like. I started to mull it over about Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) calls, but then dismissed it and instead focused on checking the birds.

One of the early looks at the Common Ringed Plover. As you might detect, the light was not that good.
About another hour into sifting through the flock of shorebirds, I spotted a paler backed looking "Semipalmated" Plover, it was with a few other SEPL and I could immediately detect a size difference.  It was feeding, facing away from me, so I studied the back for a bit as it fed and took note of the attenuated look with its long primaries. I reached for my discope setup and grabbed a few stills.  Then I changed my angle to get a side view. When I got a partial look at the face, I froze, this bird looked like no other Semipalmated Plover, that I had seen before and I had looked at a lot...thousands! My thoughts circled back to the call I had heard and images of Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) that I had studied. I began to check off in my head all the field marks, I needed to verify for CRPL and jotted down some field notes.

Common Ringed Plover in the foreground with Semipalmated Plovers in the background.
I was beginning to get excited! I had not yet studied this bird at length but I was feeling very sure I had a possible Common Ringed Plover in my scope (dangerous thoughts but I have learned to trust my instincts with the odd bird). I had yet to see the toes well.  I patiently waited, watched and digiscoped the bird trying to grab stills showing the toes. After a few photos, without bothering to check whether I nailed the toe shot, I decided I was going to get a few people involved as I was pretty sure I had the real deal.

I first texted, a digiscope photo to Shai Mitra and after waiting a few minutes for him to respond, followed up with a phone call. His phone kept ringing out and so I called his partner in crime, Patricia Lindsay, who answered and I told her that I had sent Shai a photo of what I believed to be a Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) . I learned that Shai's phone was dead and so I sent the photo to Pat.  Subsequently, I texted Gail Benson a photo of the bird and called Tom Burke. I then went back to monitoring and studying the bird with the nearby Semipalmated Plovers.  Pat, called back a few minutes later and responded that the photo of the bird looked good. Alas, while I was taking her call, 3 knucklehead clamers who ignored my frantic efforts to keep them away from the flock, put everything up and I was unable to relocate the bird. By then much of the flats were exposed, so the bird had plenty of habitat to retreat to, including nearby mudflats that were inaccessible to us.

Inner and middle toe shot, crucial in determining webbing. No webbing supports Common Ringed Plover.
Soon after, Pat and Shai joined me on the flats and together we searched for several hours to no avail. Nevertheless, I remained optimistic that the bird was still around. So much so, I decided to cancel dinner plans and stuck around to help in re-finding the bird (I felt it was the right thing to do). It was around 4:30 p.m.  and I was returning to the flats after taking a much needed break for nourishment.  Doug Futuyma, whom I had called earlier convincing him that despite being ill, he should suck it up and get out to Cupsogue for the CRPL was keeping vigil on the flats. As I was crossing the channels, Doug phoned in to report that he had a "suspicious" looking candidate (incredible timing).  I moved in closer to get a scope view and once I looked at the bird he was looking at, conveyed to him that it was the target bird.  I quickly, signaled Shai and Pat who had stopped to assist some other birders who were looking for Marbled Godwits and then motioned John Gluth over who was also keeping vigil. I was happy it was Doug that had the refound, he has always been a good friend and he trusted my judgement when I called him about the bird.

Common Ringed Plover at Cupsogue LI.
The five of us, enjoyed crippling views of the bird and I was amused and delighted at the reaction of Shai and others. I wrote a post for the list serves letting the birding community know that the bird was refound and then our thoughts turned to Micheal Schiebel who was on the flats but had just left. Luckily for Michael, I had his cell number and I was able to get in touch with him and he charged back in time to see the bird. This is the second MEGA, I was able to get Michael on after he was about to or had left the flats, the other being the Elegant Tern, I think drinks are on him next time I see him.  Dave Klauber and Arie Gilbert who showed good birding sense to make the twitch, also showed up and were able to see the bird but a few others unfortunately did not make it in time before the birds had flown off the flats due to a low flying aircraft and the high tide.

Common Ringed Plover background with Semipalmated Plover in the foreground.
A margarita among friends on the deck closed out a most satisfying day of shorebirding. Common Ringed Plover, is one I had been looking for and had heard from several birders, it could be near impossible to pick out one.  I was crazy enough to think I could find one.  All those hours of studying thousands of SEPL at Breezy Point, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Cupsogue and several other sites paid off. Despite the distinctive plumage of this bird, it could easily be missed once it begins to move around with the SEPL. It happened several times in the afternoon after it was refound.  It is not going to be easy for those going to look for it today, but I am hoping those who plan to try for it today refind it and it is enjoyed by many because that is the best part of finding something good, the sharing. Life bird, state bird and the finder, I am going to savor this one for awhile.
Common Ringed Plover at Cupsogue LI, NY.

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1 comment:

Anne Lazarus said...

Louise and I are so excited about the Ringed Plover you found at Cupsogue. We find your pictures and description so informative. Thank you for this wonderful discovery. Also, we are becoming more observant and are studying more. Anne Lazarus and Louise Fraza