Birder's Eye View

Monday, May 18, 2009

A wild Greater Sandplover chase, part 1

Long before sunrise yesterday morning, I was sitting in the back seat of a Grand Cherokee with 3 strange men who I had never met before. I know, it sounds like the beginning of a horror story, but in fact it was quite the opposite.

I was going after the Greater Sandplover with the first and third top birders in the state of Florida -- Wes Biggs and David Goodwin, and a former student of David's, Erik Haney. I honestly have no idea how I happened to fall into such good hands, but these incredible birders took me under their wing (no pun intended!) and on one of the craziest 1-day adventures of my entire life.

For the first hour or two of the ride, I listened to them tell stories of their birding endeavors around the country and beyond, and after a while I and the other passengers dozed off for a bit. By the time we got to the St. John's River, the sun was rising like a huge, pale red orb, through the thick mist that blanketed the landscape as far as the eye could see.

We stopped at a gas station right before Huguenot Memorial Park (the location of the Greater Sandplover) to load up on coffee and snacks for breakfast, and then headed out to find the ABA code 5 bird.

It wasn't hard at all. As we drove across the sandy road, we saw about 40 or so birders lined up on a wide mudflat. Erik was practically ready to jump out of the car while it was still moving, so David pulled over and told us to run out with the scopes while he parked.

With my camera, binoculars, and a big spotting scope over my shoulder, I walked out across the mudflat with Erik to join the other birders. With each step, our feet sunk 3 or 4 inches into the mud, but we made it out and immediately a couple random birders showed me a good spot to set up and pointed out the sandplover.

Disclaimer: These are the worst Greater Sandplover photos you will ever see, thanks to my camera and its distinct inability (or should I say, unwillingness) to take decent photographs at the most inopportune moments. It was the easiest bird I think I've ever found. I had the scope on it in less than 30 seconds, as it stood out brightly from the plovers and turnstones around it. What a fantastic bird! It ran around on long legs, catching fiddler crabs and preening its feathers.

It was so far out I couldn't get any decent pictures but I managed to get a couple where it is at least recognizable.

I just had to take this picture from my position squished in between a mass of birders and spotting scopes. :-) So many people!

Behind the Greater Sandplover, there were a few other species, mostly Gull-billed Terns, as well as Whimbrels, Wilson's Plovers, and Ruddy Turnstones.

Talking with the other birders, we decided to go check out the jetty on the beach to find the Purple Sandpiper that had been reported there, since I've never seen one before.

The jetty was big. Really big. We clambered over it to the other side and met two young women who described where they had seen the Purple Sandpiper. Just as they were explaining, someone pointed behind us. "There it is!"

Binoculars up, I caught a glimpse of the Purple Sandpiper flying with two other sandpipers over the jetty and out of sight. I climbed up the rocks to get a better view, but they had disappeared.

Other birders were just arriving, but there was no way to tell where it had gone. We were the last ones to see it.

-End part 1. To be continued.-


  • Hey cool! Glad you saw the've got a pic of a couple of my birding buddies from GA whowent that day...too funny. I went later before the bird left. See pics here...


    By Anonymous Anonymous, At June 3, 2009 at 8:48 PM  

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