The summer of 2011 is shaping up to be a fabulous season of shorebirds in California. The season was kicked off with the appearance of the Lesser Sand-Plover in Orange County, CA, a cooperative bird that stayed a total of 8 days in late June, delighting many observers.
July has been even better with the appearance of two Little Stints, both in northern California. On the 23rd, Kimball Garrett discovered another one at Piute Ponds on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base in northern LA County. On the same day, a Wilson’s Plover was found at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve in Carpinteria, unfortunately in a restricted area where only a limited few could get access. The Little Stint was too good to pass up, so a group of us got up before dawn the next day and made the trek north, arriving on the site by 7:15. The bird was re-found within minutes of our arrival and we began watching this rather reddish adult shortly after. After about an hour of digiscoping pictures and video, one of the observers got a phone call saying that Guy McCaskie had found an adult Curlew Sandpiper on the salt basin at Imperial Beach, south of San Diego. You could look at the birders around you and just see the wheels turning as they all began calculating time and distance, or perhaps gauging spousal approval.
For us, it was a no-brainer: we were going! Even with a stop or two along the way, we made it to the site just a bit before noon. We pulled together the cameras, scopes, tripods and binoculars and made the ¼-mile trek out to the site. As we arrived, we could tell something was off from the assembled crowd of birders. Strange and angry mutterings like “!*^$&% Peregrine Falcon!!” and worried bits of encouragement like “It’s got to be here somewhere!” suggested the nature of the problem. With over 20 birders searching, no one found the bird for at least an hour. At that point, we decided to break for lunch and come back later, so we drove off in search of fast food. As it turned out, the food wasn’t fast enough: it had just been delivered to the table when the phone rang. The bird was back! Unlike the stint, this wasn’t a life bird for either of us, so we opted to hurriedly finish our sandwiches before charging back out there. Apparently everyone had heard. The crowd of birders had more than doubled, and the mood was ebullient. The bird itself was calmly feeding on the near edge of the water, evidently oblivious to the mob of admirers mere yards away. It put on quite a show, feeding and preening and occasionally lifting its wings.
Since then, two more great shorebirds have shown up, although both are way further north again. On the 26th, a Red-necked Stint was reported in Coos County Oregon, and on August 5th, a Wood Sandpiper was found by Ryan Merrill at Samish Flats, WA. For those of you on the left coast, you might want to hit any marsh, lake, bay or beach with any kind of suitable habitat. And for those of you from more distant locales, you might want to check your opportunities for standby flights. Who knows what could show up in a year like this!