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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Buff-breasted Sandpiper @ Lake St. Clair Metropark

A buff-breasted sandpiper was reported at Lake St. Clair Metropark (by Kevin R. @ report) and I promptly made plans to bird the area over the weekend. Lake St. Clair Metropark does not have the same status in birding circles as Point Mouillee which teems with shorebirds this time of year (both in numbers and species) but the big advantage of Lake St. Clair is that one can get really quite close to the birds and it's certainly much closer for me to drive to.

Buff-breasteds neither breed nor overwinter in the US and therefore are seen only when flying up from the Southern Hemisphere to the Arctic in Spring; or, as in this case, when they are flying South to Argentina in the Fall. They are classified as "Near Threatened" and populations remain in decline. Still, they have recovered from a near extinction experience in the early 1900's. A sad story for a bird that used to number in the millions.

This calidrid favors grassland and is not coastal in its migration. It can be quite confiding -- find a good place to park yourself and let the bird come to you. In my case, it almost came too close to focus.

This handsome "grasspiper" is a cooperative and photogenic subject and I tried to catch it with 2 distinct backgrounds -- against the grass as well as against the sand to highlight its subtle creamish-beige coloration:

I was also fortunate to run into Kevin at the site and his knowledge of the area and experience in the field proved invaluable. Kevin has also posted some very interesting videos of his finds on YouTube (including Whimbrel, Least Bittern, Baird's and more: video). We were also joined by a fellow birder, Gerry, which made for a very enjoyable birding session. Gerry, who was as keen to see the buff-breasted sandpiper as I was, was lucky to spot the bird after a couple of strong disturbing influences. The first caused by a charging child who delighted in terrorizing the gulls and terns on the shore near which the buff-breasted was foraging. And, the second caused by a couple who unleashed their large recreational mammal into the water to play a game of "fetch". Both incidents, while unfortunate, are part of the balancing of activities that the diversity of visitors inflict upon the park. I pondered whether these incidents could offer a teachable moment to the offenders centered around the hallowed adage: "Take only memories; leave only footprints" but decided against it.

Other birds of interest included Caspian Terns [even in the parking lot!], Pectorals, and lots of Least Sandpipers.

A walk through the adjoining woods yielded a few warblers, a yellow-billed cuckoo, herons (green and great blue) and wood duck.

The other target species for the day -- Baird's Sandpiper -- was not sighted. I quizzed Kevin about this sandpiper but despite a repeat attempt, was unable to find the bird. All in all, a very productive excursion to this gem of a park.

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