The main purpose of this blog is to help birders find uncommon birds in their area. As I’ve stated before I believe all birds should appear in an area do appear in that area, they just haven’t been found.
It appears to me people don’t always take the time and effort in their local area, but will drive the extra miles to find known birds in a larger area. For example there’s probably a Northern Saw-whet Owl in your local area but people aren’t looking for them. But they will drive 40 or 50 miles to see birds in another area.
So the goal of this blog is to give hints and processes, especially on habitat which I think is missing in the literature, to find those more difficult to find birds in their area. Now there is nothing wrong with driving those extra miles to see birds and learn their habitats, but the real fun for me is the satisfaction if looking for them in my area. So I will lay out the steps that I use too find uncommon birds, or in many cases not find them. And then discuss each one of the steps in later blogs.
The steps I usual take are:
Check status and distribution charts
Check field guides.
Check Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion.
Check Birds of North America online.
Review all local habitats for a match
A couple of things. These birds are not going to be found in one or two tries so it’s probably going to take Persistence. Thus it is the first and last thing mentioned. Another thing is that since you are a Bushwhacking Birder you have explored as much of your immediate area as possible. You will need to know every habitat so you can match the habitats mentioned in the literature or from previous personal experience.
So after checking the status and distribution charts for an uncommon bird, reading the literature for habitats and clues, and using personal experience, you are now ready to go bushwhacking and find the bird!
The best places to find Buff-breasted Sandpipers and American-Golden Plovers away from the usual shorebirding sites is as the literature states on short grass fields, airport runways, golf courses, etc. The problem with golf courses is that people golf them so the birds don’t hang around long. And the problem with grass airport runways is lack of access.
I find, as the literature states, that the best place to find these species away from shorebirding sites is sod farms. The key thing about sod farms is that they have very short grass and are well irrigated. When you come to a sod farm the first thing you should notice is that there are a lot of Killdeer, Horned Larks, and European Starlings. If you have this combination you should have a good chance to find Buff-breasted Sandpipers and American-Golden Plovers. I have also noticed if you don’t have the combo of Killdeer, larks, and starlings, your chances diminish. So if you don’t live anywhere near a sod farm, and there have been a lot of sod farms close since the recession started, you need to look for another alternative.
Last Sunday, the 8th, there still weren’t many migrant species passing through my area so I decided to switch gears and go looking for plovers and sandpipers at the local athletic fields. The key is not in the athletic fields themselves but well irrigated athletic fields near the country. My experience is that if the fields aren’t near the country they don’t draw birds as well. So I went to the local athletic fields and first noticed a lot of Killdeer on the dry playing fields. And then I noticed Horned Larks which I haven’t been seeing for the last month or so. There were also a lot of European Starlings flying about. As stated earlier from past experience I know having those 3 species is key for finding Buff-breasted Sandpipers and American-Golden Plovers. While scanning the slightly greener, practice soccer field I noticed three American-Golden Plovers fly in and land. Something then flushed all the birds and they flew over a wind fence to the main baseball field.
Walking a hundred yards or so down a path let me scope the field. And on the main baseball field, which is well irrigated, there were 15 American-Golden Plovers. But after searching for 45 minutes no Buff-breasted Sandpipers were found. Darn. I also checked out the main football field but I don’t if it is the bleachers or the painting on the field but for whatever reason there was nothing but a few Killdeer. So if you’re searching for Buff-breasted Sandpipers and American-Golden Plovers this time of year, the key is to check local athletic fields that are well irrigated and near the country.
Note the contrast between the well irrigated baseball field and the rest of the grass.
Update 9/15. The American-Golden Plovers were there on the 12th and 15th. Still no Buff-breasted Sandpipers and time has pretty well run out for this year.