Shorebird success — finally!

After Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Killdeer, the easiest shorebird to observe in Manhattan has been the Semipalmated Sandpiper. The first two are regularly seen in Central Park, with Solitary much harder to find in many years, such as this one.¬†Killdeer occasionally puts in a spring showing on the Great Lawn or northern ball fields, but it can be had almost year-round at Randall’s Island. Semipalmated Sandpiper usually requires an early-August visit to one of the saltmarshes in Inwood, where flocks of a hundred or more sometimes show up.

As you may have read in my previous blog post, these large flocks did not appear this year, and I had mostly given up on getting the Semipalmated Sandpiper along with another less common shorebird, the Least Sandpiper. A Least was noted once this spring on the Central Park Reservoir. It has also sometimes visited the northeast shore of Randall’s Island, where I had it in June 2013.

After several misses, I decided not to go to Inwood again unless I was reasonably sure of adding a new year bird. On August 19th there was a morning eBird report of Least Sandpiper on Spuyten Duyvil Creek at Inwood Hill Park. I hesitated chasing it, missing low tide, and then ended up going in the afternoon and finding a single Least Sandpiper on the rocky eastern shore of the bay.

Two days ago, on the morning of August 26th, an eBird report of nearly 20 Semipalmated Sandpipers at Muscota Marsh (adjacent to Spuyten Duyvil Creek) called me to action again. This time I could plan to arrive near the 4:15 p.m. low tide.

I immediately saw a small flock of what appeared to be a dozen mostly Least Sandpipers feeding on the eastern side of Spuyten Duyvil Creek. It was hard to tell at distance whether or not any Semipalmated were mixed in — the sun’s glare increased viewing difficulty. But nearly an hour later, after I searched other parts of the area, the flock came almost right up to the eastern shore. I was able to view markings distinctly and picked out two birds with distinctly gray coloring — Semipalmated Sandpipers, at last.


Striking out on shorebirds

Many birders have noted greatly decreased shorebird numbers and species variety this year at Jamaica Bay in Queens, one of the nation’s premier fall shorebirding locations.

The best spot in Manhattan for fall shorebirding has long been Sherman Creek in Swindler Cove Park, which the Parks Department now appears to be calling Sherman Creek Park. Sherman Creek offers a 10+ acre saltmarsh on the Harlem River, and is located on the east end of Inwood.

In the two previous years early August has brought flocks of up to 200 Semipalmated Sandpipers to Sherman Creek along with single-digit numbers of Least Sandpipers. Many of these birds would also appear on the Inwood Hill Park saltmarsh at Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

I chased the first report of a Semipalmated Plover on August 1. I got it, but found nothing else of interest. (Solitary Sandpipers and Spotted Sandpipers were around, but these birds are seen regularly during spring migration in Central Park and I had already counted them there.)

I made two more trips to Inwood in the following week and was not able to add any new species. There were single-bird reports of Least Sandpiper at Inwood Hill and Semipalmated Sandpiper at Sherman Creek; I chased the former without success and was not able to chase the latter. It can take me an hour to reach Sherman Creek when there is a wait for the A train, so I cannot justify going there too often.

The northeast shore of Randall’s Island also has a saltmarsh, but a very small one relative to those in Inwood, and one that has not been productive for fall shorebirds. I visited there a couple times in prior weeks, with Killdeer being the only interesting shorebird present (as it is for much of the year there, even into winter).

I had very successful winter and spring seasons, and I finished July with 186 birds for the year. This is ten birds better than my best previous total for that date (2013), and seventeen better than my big year of 2012. Part of it was getting some birds in the spring that I would expect to get in the fall, such as Eastern Bluebird, Clay-colored Sparrow, and American Tree Sparrow.

I am happy to get whatever I can this year, but I will not go to extraordinary lengths to do it. By monitoring New York Harbor in the early morning I probably could have had Black Skimmer. By staking out Governor’s Island or taking a trip to Liberty Island, I might have had Forster’s Tern.

Had social plans not interfered, I also certainly *would* have had the American Avocet that appeared late on July 15 near the Dyckman Street pier on the Hudson River. That certainly is my most regrettable miss of the year so far, as it would have been a life bird.