20 August 2015

The rarest fall shorb so far

Fall is progressing nicely so far.  Not only are we past the halfway mark for this years guiding season, but with the passing of August 16, we’re now less than 2 months from departure.  But before I get too carried away thinking about all of that, we need to focus on what we hope will be the most exciting two months of birding on St. Paul this year.

That brings me to the subject.  Indeed, we stumbled on the rarest fall shorebird of the season so far.  Keep in mind that we’ve already had loads of RED-NECKED STINTS, some RUFFS, and even a Code 4 LITTLE STINT.  So what’s the rarity?  Well, you aren’t going to like it…

We were scoping Saucer Pond when we saw this peep running around.  Even from a distance, something didn’t click about it.  We got a little closer and I managed to snap some crappy digiscoped pictures.  It shows a peep with… -drum roll-…. webbing between the middle and outer toes on its left foot:
Now, before you suggest that it’s mud or something (which is an actual issue to be cognizant of), you can see the webbing ALSO on its right foot in this photo:
Ok, so what if it has webbing?  Well, that eliminates either Red-necked or Little stint leaving us with Western or Semipalmated sandpiper.  Well, this bird was actually running around with an actual Western Sandpiper and it was clear beyond a doubt that it wasn’t one of those…. leaving us with the ID of Semipalmated Sandpiper.  I told you you weren’t going to like it!

Take a look though, it really does make sense.  The bird was ever-so-slightly smaller than the WESA, it had a much shorter bill, and it had a super dark cap (something that really jumped out compared to the RNSTs we’ve been seeing):
Additionally, it doesn’t look particularly long winged (which would favor a stint) and the wing coverts aren’t solid black as a Little Stint would show; they have dark anchor-shaped coverts instead:
Anyway, so yes, a fall SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER here is rare, as in less than 10 records all time.  So in fact, we just had a fall peep rarer than any of the 4 stints including my nemesis of Temminck’s.  Oh well, you take what you can get.  And then you try to ID what you take!

Staying on the theme of shorebirds, yesterday a hike to Tsmanna didn’t yield much of note other than this entirely crazy-looking leucistic RUDDY TURNSTONE:
Have you ever seen a partially leucistic or albino shorebird before?  We were thinking about that question and honestly, I’m not sure I have.

Switching gears, did you know that St. Paul Island is void of rodents?  It’s true, we have no rats, voles, mice, or even lemmings.  However, we do have a small shrew (shrews aren't rodents!).  Either way, sometimes birds fill niches that are open to them.  For example, we have a tiny dark brown species that scurries around the cliffs and rocky areas.  They spend the winter here as well instead of migrating away in the fall and because of all that isolation, they’ve actually evolved into their own distinct and endemic subspecies.  We’re talking, of course, about the PACIFIC WREN.  This year has been kind on the wrens and they've been findable in a multitude of locations, a stark contrast of the situation last year.  And yes, they do scurry around a little bit like rodents.  Here are two patrolling the shadows of the Reef Seal Blind:
When they pop up in nice light though, it IS possible to tell what they are:

Speaking of Reef though (it’s a peninsula that extends south off the island), here’s a panoramic view looking south towards its tip:
Flipping around, here’s a view from the same point looking north towards town:
Signs of fall migration, even for passerines, are starting to show.  Ash and I walked the crab pots (for the first time in who knows how long) and immediately found an early GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH skulking about: 
Thinking back, this was the first time I had seen this species in crab pots (but I can't say it's a surprise).  I would have much rather it had been a Dark-sided or Asian Brown flycatcher but here I go again, complaining.  This is the 2nd GCTH we’ve had on the island this year, the first one was a one-day-wonder I photographed at Hutch Hill back on June 15:
Lastly, another very welcome sign of fall was this NORTHERN WHEATEAR that was along SW Road near the Antone Wall turnoff:  
This is our first wheatear of the fall with presumably many more to come.  In looking at records from last year, I had NOWH on 6 days during the fall season and all within the month of August.