Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

October 7th, 2019: Searching for vagrant shorebirds in Delta

I was happy to get out with my friend Mel again today! We planned to do some Delta birding. At this time of year, that means shorebirds! And we were hoping for a vagrant or two.

We started out at Brunswick Point. Mel reminded me it’s worth checking for Tropical Kingbird this time of year (we’ve had one show up there a few times in the past). We didn’t have any luck with the “tyrant.” But we saw a decent mix of passerines and distant ducks on a short walk (eBird list). I’m looking forward to the return of Short-eared Owl too: a reliable bird at Brunswick in the winter.

Then we headed out to 96 Street at Boundary Bay to look for the Bar-tailed Godwit, Marbled Godwit, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that had been reported recently. On the way, we found a mixed flock of a few hundred primarily Brewer’s Blackbirds. We stopped briefly, but couldn’t find any Rusty Blackbirds (a good bird out here) mixed in.

Sadly, I had misjudged the height of the tide today at Boundary Bay, so it was already very nearly at the dyke. Regardless, there were large numbers of Black-bellied Plover congregating just out of the water and we saw a lot of shorebirds. It’s always fun scanning across shorebird flocks, especially with the thousands that take a break at Boundary Bay along their long journeys. It was incredibly windy today though, so the shaking scope and cold hands made it a little less ideal.

Masses of birds in the wind at high tide at 96 Street at Boundary Bay (Marbled Godwit is at the extreme top right)
Masses of birds in the wind at high tide at 96 Street at Boundary Bay (Marbled Godwit is at the extreme top right)

Still, we picked through at least 1500 Black-bellied Plover and around 50 Sanderling and Dunlin to find 2 Pacific Golden-Plover, 2 Marbled Godwit, 1 (late) Baird’s Sandpiper, and a smattering of Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.

Normally, it’s less fun when you’re carefully looking through thousands of birds for a slightly different one and a Peregrine Falcon tears through the flock. But today, when a falcon showed up, it flushed the shorebirds up and gave me my first sighting of the (rare) Willet that’s been in the area! The wide white slash through the wings (and larger size) make it stand out in the crowd of Black-bellied Plover, especially in flight (eBird list).

Shortly after that, we were treated to a brief but clear look at the underside of the reported Bar-tailed Godwit before it landed somewhere in the long grasses and we couldn’t relocate it. Even in the terrible light, we observed light undersides, paler bill base, and the telltale godwit shape and flight style. I’ve only seen a Bar-tailed Godwit twice before: once in Vancouver a few years ago, and once in South Africa. A truly stunning bird (of which I obtained no photo…sorry!).

A flock of Long-billed Dowitcher in Reifel's middle west field
A flock of Long-billed Dowitcher in Reifel’s middle west field

We weren’t done yet though. At around 3:30 we jetted off to the Reifel Sanctuary to get in before they closed the entry gate at 4PM. We just made it and traipsed over to the west fields to pour over some dowitchers and, we hoped, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (an Asian bird) pushed into the flooded fields by the high tide.

Long-billed Dowitcher at Reifel
Long-billed Dowitcher at Reifel
I like the random arrangement of these dowticher
I like the random arrangement of these dowticher

At Reifel we turned up 350 Long-billed Dowitcher–with a lone Dunlin mixed in–and many Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. It’s nice see the ducks arriving in earnest now with individual and species numbers climbing rapidly now that fall is here. We saw quite a nice mix of birds there for a quick walk late on a cold afternoon, but no Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (eBird list).

Canada Goose and Greater Yellowlegs in Reifel's southwest pond
Canada Goose and Greater Yellowlegs in Reifel’s southwest pond
Already noticeably losing light at Reifel a little before 5PM: it must be fall
Already noticeably losing light at Reifel a little before 5PM: it must be fall…

With Reifel closing, back we went to Boundary Bay, this time to 104 for the beginning of the falling tide before it got dark. It was still really windy, but the birds were nice and close. The Willet was at 104 now, along with numerous Black-bellied Plover, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Sanderling, Short-billed Dowitcher. And, sure enough, two juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (eBird list). Yes!

A truly incredibly photograph of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper among larger Black-bellied Plover (I hasten to add: in high wind, through a shaky scope)
A truly incredibly photograph of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper among larger Black-bellied Plover from today (I hasten to add: in high wind, through a shaky scope)

This is the only time of year when these somewhat regular vagrants turn up in the Vancouver area. I’m always thrilled to see these beautiful, Asian heralds of fall. The juveniles’ pale peach breast and red cap are visually stunning. These features combined with streaking along the vent and lack of streaking on the breast clearly distinguish them from Pectoral Sandpipers (which are common here).

Here's a nicer one of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper from another year
Here’s a nicer one of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper from another year
Find the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper!
Find the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper!

So let’s see: a Willet, Bar-tailed Godwit, and two Sharp-tailed Sandpipers with a good friend. That’s an excellent birding day!

The sun sets at Boundary Bay on a great day of birding
The sun sets at Boundary Bay on a great day of birding

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Great post Jim that was a really fun day together with so many great birds on a really windy day! Hahah

    I dig those pretty SPTS as well!

    Looking forward to our next outing!

    1. Ha! Yes indeed. Me too!

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