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Friday, October 26, 2012

Wood Sandpiper - Marsh Meadows Wildlife Preserve, Jamestown, RI - Oct/15/2012

The sandpiper did not think he was in Africa anymore.

After the billows of winds had picked him up and carried him, his inner compass had not been quite sure what to think. He had known there was water below him, an endless expanse of sickening blue, land had appeared after days at sea, the water seemed calmer and the winds gusts were less forceful, he had put down in a marsh surrounded by roads, cars and noise, apart for some cormorants and egrets he had remained alone, with the one nagging thought that he had no clue to his whereabouts. He was quite sure he was now completely lost. 

The birders didn't think he was in Africa either. After his initial discovery, he had, in minutes, seemingly become a celebrity. 

The bird was, as with most things still in early life, unsure of what to think of this new popularity. He suspected he enjoyed the attention but wasn't certain, mainly because he didn't have a clue why he was suddenly so liked. 

The birders knew the answer to this question, to them the answer was simple, this bird did not belong here. He was in fact the first Wood Sandpiper ever in recorded history to enjoy the delights of fresh Rhode Island seafood.

Once the sandpiper was informed of the rareness of himself, he was quite willing to be enjoyed by all. 
My mothers favorite feature of chasing a rarity is not the watching of the bird, but the antics of the mass of birders.

I must admit that the beauty of this quaint little shorebird exceeded my expectations.
On the fifteenth of October, two days after it had been discovered by RI birder Carlos Pedro (the discoverer of an equally confused, first state record Little Stint earlier in the year) we finally had the time to make the 45 minute drive from our house in the center of East Providence down to Jamestown's Marsh Meadows Wildlife Preserve. 

Our arrival at first seemed ill-timed and although there were twenty or so birders along North Road, which cuts directly through the marsh, the bird had remained hidden all morning. We were now faced with three options: the first was to wait with the other birders on the road. The second was to go for a short walk along the rocks at Beavertail State Park and hope that the birders had turned up something when we passed back along the road on the way home. The third plan involved us driving to the other side of the marsh and trying our luck on the sanctuary trails that abutted the marsh and which gave great views of the wetland. 
A birder observes the first Wood Sandpiper ever discovered in New England.

This third plan was soon agreed upon by us and in no time at all we were walking down the wooded trails of the refuge. The first loop we made of the trails turned up nothing unusual, other then the terrifyingly exciting sight of all twenty birders who had just minutes before been chatting quietly with one another as they scanned the marsh with their thousand dollar optics, now dashing along the far side of the swampy terrain. Needless to say we freaked out and sprinted away as fast as we could while being weighed down by binoculars and cameras and in my case a scope. Thus began a harrowing 20 minute sprint. First we tried running down the grassy verge of highway which goes past the entrance to the trail we were on and was in the general direction the birders had been running to. When we finally decided that the marsh and highway were not in fact connected at any crossable point we turned around and sprinted equally as fast back to the trail head and circled another loop of the wooded trail. This time we tried to find away across the marsh to the birders who had now stopped running and were instead happily observing something.

The first observation platform which was more of a bench really, seemed not to have any safe route to the marsh as did the second. The third was surrounded on all sides by phragmites but here it appeared that others likewise minded had cut through the tall grasses and made it safely to the marsh. We followed this rough trail until we reached the point where the phragmites was replaced by by a lower, native grass. Here the trail seemed more defined and we had no trouble walking the short distance to the birders and the Wood Sandpiper. 

Needless to say the bird was there and it was beautiful. We watched it for at least 45 minutes while our mother (who had steadfastly refused to walk through the muck and mire) grew slowly more impatient for our return. The only disappointment of the day was the loss of my notebook which now has been laid to rest somewhere in a deep puddle in the marsh.   

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