[CT Birds] interesting shorebird (maybe)

Chris Elphick elphick at sbcglobal.net
Sun May 2 21:02:44 EDT 2010

Hi all,

Following up on the post that Frank sent to the list earlier, here's some (well, very few actually) details on the large shorebird at the East River marsh in Madison today.  The most important piece of information is that we saw it only very briefly and cannot be at all sure what it was.  Given the brevity of the view I'd hesitate even to call it a godwit, though I'm not sure what I'd say it could have been instead.

At around 2:10 this afternoon I was birding at the boat ramp at the end of Neck Road, on the Madison side of the East River marsh, with my Dad.  I saw a moderately large shorebird flying up-river (west to east), maybe 30-40 feet above the marsh and along the far bank of the main channel.  My initial reaction was that it was a greater yellowlegs, but before my bins were even up I was thinking that that wasn't right as the bird seemed a little big, a little long-billed, and not quite the right shape.  My brain then jumped straight to Hudsonian godwit, which would have been a new bird for my Dad (visiting from England) so I called him over as I switched to my scope and got on the bird.  

By this time it was past me and flying away across the marsh.  I followed it as it flew to the far eastern part of the marsh, where it was joined by about a half dozen smaller shorebirds.  The group all went down, as if to land, but the smaller birds came right back up again.  I didn't see the larger bird come back up, but I did not see it definitely land either.  The heat haze was bad, and the birds were quite distant, so by this point it was impossible to discern exactly what was happening.  The entire viewing time could not have been more than 30 seconds, and I'd guess it was somewhat less.  After jotting down a few notes I called Frank to let him know that people at Hammo and elsewhere nearby might want to keep an eye out for an unusual large shorebird.

The bird was seen shortly before the peak of high tide, at a
time when quite a few shorebirds were flying around.  My guess is that it
may have been displaced from a feeding site by the rising tide.  We stayed through the high tide in the hope that it would fly back down the river as the water fell, but no luck.  At 4:45, by which time a number of others had shown up, my Dad and I had to leave.  I presume that the bird was not seen again.

Here are all of the field notes I made immediately after the observation (pretty paltry, but copied verbatim from my notebook):

- long bill, godwit like
- no wing bar (Dad confirmed); plain brown upperparts; white V up back
- slightly bigger than willet, but less stocky; more gizz of g'legs but thinner longer bill; a bit more slender
- no call
- not big enough or orange enough for marbled
- pattern [on tail tip] unclear <this note made against scribbled sketch - indicating only that I didn't take in what the tip of the tail looked like]
- watched through scope for ~30 sec in flight <this probably overestimates the time - after the bird was gone I panned the same distance a couple of times at what seemed like approx. the same speed and concluded it could have been as little of 20 sec.]
- did not notice legs [again this note just indicates that I took in nothing about tail length, relative to tail, etc. and saw no leg colour].

As the bird was flying away from us the whole time I had it in my scope, I saw nothing of the underparts either.  Afterward, my sense was that the bird was thin/long-winged, but I didn't write this down, nor double-check it while watching the bird, so I can't be sure that the impression isn't due to my brain filling in details.  Needless to say there are no photographs.

So, not very satisfactory, but it may be worth double-checking any  large shorebirds in the Guilford/Madison area (and points east) a little more carefully than usual for the next couple of days.

Other birds of interest seen or heard from the boat ramp: glossy ibis (16), black vulture (1), clapper rail (1), greater yellowlegs (2), short-billed dowitcher (1), least sandpiper (5), purple martin (3+), seaside sparrow (1-2).

Chris Elphick

Storrs, CT

elphick at sbcglobal.net

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