Sunday, 15 May 2011

Shorebirds Bonanza

After a night of constant rain, we awoke to find Victoria grey, and still under attack from persistent precipitation.
By late morning I'd decided that while songbirds were likely going to be hard to find today, I could at least go out and see what watery aves were to be had. I used my new-found knowledge of the area's top spots and chose to explore Panama Flats a little bit more than I had when I was out with Ian last week.
I started off scanning, in the pouring rain, from the vantage point off Carey Road. Again, the place was alive with literally hundreds of hirundines. Among the numerous tree, violet-green and barn swallows were several cliff and handful of northern rough-winged swallows.
Out on the water I could see 5 northern shoveler, 8 gadwall, 4 green-winged teal, 6 bufflehead and 2 pintail, as well as several mallard.

Dunlin & long-billed dowitcher
Toward the back of the flooded fields were groups of dowitchers, all those I could tentatively ID looked like long-billed. I counted a total of 52. A single dunlin and other smaller peeps were just about visible through the falling rain.
After a while I decided to head round and check out access from the other side.
Parking up on Roy Road, I soon found an access point and walked in through some promising looking mixed habitat, until I found myself on the western edge of the waterlogged area.
The rain was easing off slightly and visibility was considerably better from this side.
I could even be sure about the identity of at least some of the dowitchers now as they could be heard from time to time. All those that called were long-billed dowitchers.
I could also see the smaller calidrids too, and there were 5 least and 10 western sandpipers feeding alongside the dowitchers and the lone breeding plumage dunlin.
A sudden deterioration in the weather at least brought a couple of Vaux's swift down and they briefly joined the hawking swallows over the water.

A Wilson's snipe was feeding on a grassy spit, surrounded by several American pipits (pic). At least 3 spotted sandpiper were also present, but sadly no solitary sandpiper - my 'target' bird of the day...
A common yellowthroat was singing in some waterside vegetation and a female appeared alongside a ditch at the southern edge of the pools.
I was quite surprised to see a late female common goldeneye; she didn't hang around to long and flew off north. 

Pectoral sandpiper (left) & western sandpiper
On my return back up the pool edge I noticed another wader out in the water that had suddenly 'appeared'. Through bins it appeared largish and pale, with a distinct breast and yellowish legs... a pec? I got my scope on it - yep, a pectoral sandpiper. Close by, another dunlin had joined the first. Had these two birds arrived together in the last downpour or had they been hiding somewhere?
Unfortunately the crappy weather prevented me from getting any decent shots, but the pic here should at least confirm its identity!
I found a few of these last spring, up island at Holden Creek (including a couple of males in breeding plumage), but I'm aware that they are pretty scarce down here at this time of year.

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