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Friday, April 15, 2011

Shorebirds at Fairbrook “Wetlands”

American Bittern
Image Credit: T. Grey

Yesterday evening, I led a field trip into the Scotia Barrens to look for woodcocks and hopefully catch a glimpse of their flight display. I met up with the group about 45 minutes prior to our designated time to head into the barrens. We met at the gravel lot at the intersection of Whitehall & Tadpole Roads (map), near the Fairbrook Methodist Church. With all the rain we had this early spring, the corn field adjacent to the church has been converted into temporary wetland.

There were quite a surprising number of shorebirds present (see list below). Most surprising to me where the 8 Pectoral Sandpipers. We usually get 1 or 2 in the county every year, but to have that many at one time was exciting.

Killdeer (1)
Solitary Sandpiper (1)
Greater Yellowlegs (2)
Pectoral Sandpiper (8)
Wilson's Snipe (21)

The Wilson’s Snipe were also quite interesting. Several were perfoming a ground display wherein they were observed fanning their tails and acting aggressively toward other snipe.

Wilson’s Snipe ground display
Image Credit: Jessica Yarnell

The highlight at the wetland was undoubtedly the American Bittern. The bittern was initially spotted early that morning by hawkwatcher Steve Kolbe. That evening, it strutted out right into the center of the corn field were the shorebirds were feeding. It was by far the best view I have ever had of a American Bittern in the ~30 years I have been birding. It must have been the tasty fare that lured him out in the open. While watching the shorebirds feed, some of them were pulling out night crawlers that were easily 10-12 inches in length.

We eventually did make our way into the barrens. We set up a stake-out at the gun range. Several skeet-shooters were present when we arrived, but they departed just as it was getting dark. Not long after they left, the woodcock started calling. Molly Heath called our attention to several calling Whip-poor-wills.

We had a few woodcock flying around, but not were observed doing a flight display. Perhaps the gunners had them a bit spooked. There was also a vocal Brown Thrasher that seemed to call every time the woodcocks started “penting”. Nevertheless, it was quite an enjoyable evening.

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