Monday, August 24, 2009

Whimbrel in Hatfield

Ruby-throated Hummingbird- One of four hummers coming to our feeders.

I spent the morning and early afternoon looking for shorebirds from Northfield south to Hatfield. I started off the morning at the same location as Saturday- the Turf Farm in Northfield. This farm has played host to some pretty impressive fallouts of shorebirds over the years. However, Saturday was not going to be one of those days... it was pretty quite with just two Least Sandpipers, a Solitary Sandpiper and about a dozen Killdeer. I was hoping that the bands of thunder storms that have been moving through our area would knock down a few birds as they made their way to the coast. So Sunday morning I decided to give it another try and headed back up to Northfield. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Jeff Johnstone, Mark Lynch and Sheila Carroll. They had been watching hundreds of Tree and Bank Swallows along a power line, a few Barns and a single Cliff Swallow added a little class to the motley bunch.

After a while we headed down the road to the Turf Farm (Jeff had already stopped by earlier with little success) to see if anything had put in. Jeff first got on a small flock of Least Sandpipers and then quickly announced that there was a Baird's Sandpiper in with the group. Mark just got on it when the flock flew slightly and came down more into the open- All of a sudden, there were Two!
Now a Baird’s Sandpiper anywhere in the state is good, but more than one is even sweeter. Besides the Least Sandpipers we picked out a Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper. Encouraged with our little win fall, Mark, Sheila and I headed south to the recently plowed fields of the Old Pilgrim Airport.

The Pilgrim Airport was once a grass strip airport, an old hanger sets well off the road and is now used to store farm equipment. Today the fields are used for growing various crops, and if plowed under at the right time- can lead to a shorebird bonanza. However, this day would only yield a decent number of Killdeer (57) and one Least Sandpiper. Mark and Sheila had to depart at this point and start to head back to Worcester.

I made my way down River Road- stopping briefly at the Brad Street Marsh, (3 Wood Ducks) and then proceeded down to the large potato fields near Cowbridge Road. I was immediately encouraged to see several large pools recently created by the heavy rains. A quick scan produced two Juvenile Greater Yellowlegs, not a bad start I thought. After I got the scope set up, the first bird that came into focus wasn’t a Greater Yellowlegs, but a Whimbrel!! Whimbrel’s are extremely scarce inland; in fact this one was only the third one I’ve seen in the valley in over thirty years of birding . I then made a number of phone calls to get the word out, after that I photographed the Whimbrel for the next thirty minutes. After about forty five minutes I decided to see what else I could find in this vast potato field. I drove down Cowbridge Road to get away from possibly flushing the Whimbrel.

I walked quite a way out into the muddy field trying to get the best vantage point on the other puddles created by the recent storms. About half way out a group of Least Sandpipers went up and settled down not to far from me. A quick scan found the Least’s plus a Semipalmated Sandpiper and another Baird’s Sandpiper! Another few minutes went by and I found myself searching the sky for an American Golden-Plover that was consistently calling- after a few moments I located the Plover and watched it land out in the field-only to never be seen again. Another nice surprise with the Golden Plover was a White-rumped Sandpiper. The White-rumped is not a bird one checks off their list each year out here in the valley, but like the Plover the White-rumped just disappeared into the potato field abyss. Another bird I heard was the Semipalmated Plover, but I was never able to see this bird.

Later in the Afternoon I received a call from Tom Gagnon, Tom called to report that not only he, but Bob Bieda and Harvey Allen had relocated the Whimbrel and found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper! Tom also reported that they had 8 Semipalmated Plovers (where were they?) And shorebird numbers were now up to 80 individuals. Like me, they were having some trouble relocating some of the birds once they landed… The Potato Field Abyss is real.
Not a bad day when you can come away with 10 plus species of shorebirds in the Connecticut River Valley.

As an extra…I’ve added an email that Peter Vickery posted on the Maine List serve about a story of a whimbrel named Hope. The email explains a tracking and monitoring program of Whimbrel’s. Hope you enjoy it!



Date: August 17, 2009 7:59:42 AM EDT
Subject: Fwd: Satellite-Tagged Whimbrel on 3,000+ mile flight

Begin forwarded message:
From: "Charles Duncan" <>
Date: August 15, 2009 10:18:10 AM EDT
To: "Jewel Suchecki" <>, <>
Cc: <>
Subject: FW: Satellite-Tagged Whimbrel on 3,000+ mile flight

Dear Julie and Eric--

I think the story below from Mike Wilson will interest Maine birders! It concerns a Whimbrel that Passed over our coast recently in her non-stop flight toward her wintering grounds.

All the best,

--Charles Duncan
Director, Shorebird Recovery Project

Flight of Hope
(Williamsburg, VA)---Hope, a whimbrel carrying a satellite transmitter,
is far out to sea flying south over the Atlantic toward her wintering
grounds in South America. The bird had been staging (building up energy
reserves in preparation for a migratory flight) on Southampton Island in the
Northern reach of Hudson Bay since 15 July before leaving on a non-stop flight
South on 10 August. The bird flew south over Hudson Bay, crossed the interior
Of Canada and New England to emerge from the coast of Maine and out over
The open ocean. Flying more than 1,600 kilometers (1000 miles) out over the
ocean and east of Bermuda, Hope then turned south and is now moving
toward the Caribbean. She has already flown non-stop for more than 5,100
kilometers (3,200 miles) but is still 400 kilometers (250 miles) from
the nearest land in the Virgin Islands. So far, Hope has been on the wing
for 4 days with an average flight speed of 60 kilometers/hour (37 miles/hour).

Hope was originally captured and fitted with a satellite transmitter
On 19 May, 2009 while staging on the Delmarva Peninsula of Virginia. She
Left Virginia on 26 May and flew to the western shore of James Bay in Canada.
She staged on James Bay for 3 weeks before flying to the MacKenzie River
near Alaska and then on to the Beaufort Sea where she staged for more
than 2 weeks before flying back to Hudson Bay. Hope has traveled more than
13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) since late May.

Hope is one of several birds that have been fitted with state of the
Art 9.5-gram, satellite transmitters in a collaborative effort by the Center
For Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary - Virginia
Commonwealth University and the Virginia Chapter of the Nature
Conservancy to discover migratory routes that connect breeding and winter areas and
To identify en route migratory staging areas that are critical to the
conservation of this declining species. Updated tracking maps may be viewed online.


The whimbrel is a large, holarctic, highly migratory shorebird. The
North American race includes two disjunct breeding populations both of
Which winter primarily in Central and South America. The western population
breeds in Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada. The eastern
population breeds south and west of Hudson Bay in Manitoba and Ontario.
Both populations are of high conservation concern due to dramatic
Declines in recent decades.

Satellite tracking represents only one aspect of a broader,
Integrated investigation of whimbrel migration. During the past 2 years, the
Center for Conservation in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service has used conventional transmitters to examine
Stop over duration, conducted aerial surveys to estimate seasonal
Numbers collected feather samples to locate summer and winter areas through
stable-isotope analysis, and has initiated a whimbrel watch program.
Continued research is planned to further link populations across
staging, breeding, and wintering areas and to determine the ecological
requirements of whimbrels staging along the peninsula.

Media Contacts: Bryan Watts, Executive Director, Center for Conservation
Biology, College of William and Mary & Virginia Commonwealth University,
Williamsburg, VA. Phone 757-221-2247, email
Barry Truit, Chief Conservation Scientist, The Nature Conservancy,
Virginia Coast Reserve Program. Phone 757-442-3049, email

Here's an update on Hope, the Whimbrel, forwarded from the WaterbirdsNetwork list serve.

Exciting stuff!!
All the best,--Charles Duncan, DirectorShorebird Recovery ProjectFlight of Hope

(Williamsburg, VA)---Hope, a whimbrel carrying a satellitetransmitter, has been observed foraging on Great Pond in the U.S. VirginIslands. Great Pond is a Birdlife International Important Bird Area onthe island of St. Croix known for White-crowned Pigeons, Green-throatedCaribs, and Antillean Crested Hummingbirds. site is a large pond fringed with black mangroves. Lisa Yntema hasmonitored the site for 5 years. She observed and photographed Hope on 20 August. Hope made landfall on St. Croix on the evening of 14 August aftercompleting an extraordinary 100 hour, 5,720 kilometer (3,500 mile) flight out overthe open ocean. She left South Hampton Island in upper Hudson Bay on 10August, flying south over Hudson Bay, crossed the interior or Canada and NewEngland to emerge from the coast of Maine and out over the open Atlantic. Sheflew east beyond Bermuda before turning south and down to St. Croix. We expect Hope to stage for a period of 2-3 weeks before making her way down tothe coast of South America for the winter.

Whimbrel- Hatfield, MA 8/23/09.