Pectoral Sandpiper, Governors Island

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Pectoral Sandpiper (by Cathy Weiner)

 

On Sunday, September 30, a night of heavy migration had me birding Randall’s Island at dawn, where I found the first Nelson’s Sparrow of the year for Manhattan, and then Central Park, where there was not much of note.

I figured I was done with birding for the day, but then late in the afternoon, at 4:17 p.m., Cathy Weiner posted an alert with photos of a large shorebird at the Governors Island maintenance puddles. I quickly DMed her to say that it was a likely Pectoral Sandpiper, and that she should try to get more photos. It did not occur to me to try to chase it, as I recalled that the last ferry was at 4:15 p.m., so I would have no way to get to the island. Or so I thought.

Fifteen minutes later, after hearing that Ms. Weiner was still on the bird, I remembered that on weekends the ferry runs later. A quick check showed that I might still make it on the last ferry of the day, at 5:30 p.m. I gathered my stuff and set off for the subway.

I caught a train right away, but it was just a local. To go all the way to Bowling Green, the stop nearest waterfront on the Lexington Line, I would need the 4 train seven minutes behind it.

I reached the local’s last stop at City Hall, and since all trains were running local on the weekend, the 4 still had not caught up. It was 5:12, and I knew I could run to the Governors Island Ferry building in ten minutes if needed, as I had done this before. So I started running at an easy pace.

The stoplights and crowded streets were not favorable, but I still easily made it to the ferry boarding area by 5:24. Relief! I boarded the ferry, and with Weiner on her way to the puddles, I figured that my plans would work out.

And they did. I ran to the puddles and saw Weiner waiting for me there at 5:46. She had just viewed the Pectoral Sandpiper, and I got on it quickly. It was distant, at the far end of the largest puddle, and I could not approach closer because the area was fenced off. But I got good, diagnostic views, and that was all I needed.

Cathy Weiner’s find was historic — only the third all-time eBird record of Pectoral Sandpiper for Manhattan, and the first since October 2014 (a bird I reported on the first day of its appearance at Muscota Marsh in September 2014).  It was the first time this species had been recorded on Governors Island.

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Pectoral Sandpiper, Muscota Marsh

The first Pectoral Sandpiper ever recorded on eBird in Manhattan was seen very early on the morning on September 1 of this year on Randall’s Island by eBird project leader Marshall Iliff, who had no idea at the time that he had set a record.  The species is seen nearly every day at Jamaica Bay, and it also occurs occasionally in the New Jersey Meadowlands marshes. Iliff’s bird, which he reported quickly, stayed in view only a short time on the NE shore before flying off. I saw no compelling reason to chase, but I did run the island later that evening, finding nothing.

The incident started me thinking about Pectoral Sandpiper, though. So it was with some excitement that I read an eBird report yesterday afternoon of a single Pectoral Sandpiper seen at Inwood’s Muscota Marsh among a small flock of Semipalmated Sandpipers and a single Least. The description of the bird and the presence of the more common peeps on the list made me confident that the observer really had seen a Pectoral. I was not thrilled about the timing, however. The bird likely was seen just before noon, a little more than an hour before low tide, but I did not receive the report until after 3 p.m. and did not read it until 3:30. There would be little if any mud left by the time I arrived, and the shorebird flock might have dispersed or even left the area. But I still had a chance, and I had to try the chase.

I was out the door by 3:50 and I ran to the 86th Street stop on the west side to catch the local, which would take me to the A train at 125th. There were no delays, and I entered Inwood Hill Park by 4:25 p.m. The main bay was entirely flooded and I saw no shorebirds nearby, so I continued on to Muscota. The eastern bay had a small patch of mud where I saw the flock of Semipalmated Sandpipers. After a couple minutes the flock was startled and flew back to the the rocks of Muscota, just a few feet off shore. I scanned the group carefully, but all appeared to be Semis.

So I searched nearby shorelines, returning to Inwood Hill’s marsh and all around the area. I did not see any other shorebirds. Then I came back to Muscota and waited. By 5:10 I was getting ready to leave, but I wanted to get another view of the sandpipers from a different angle, thinking that one or more could be hiding between rocks. So I stationed myself across the little bay, west of Muscota. Suddenly a larger shorebird flew at the flock and then landed on the rocks east of it. As it perched, I could see it was the Pectoral Sandpiper: much larger than the Semis, and with the color and patterning of a Least Sandpiper, except for a bill that was lighter-colored at the base.

I issued an NYNYBIRD text alert on it at 5:18, watched it more, then decided to move in closer. On the way over I saw a juvenile Lincoln’s Sparrow. But I did not re-find the Pectoral, which might have flown or might just have been hidden by rocks. I needed to head out, and did not spend any more time looking. Other observers responded to my alert and were able to see the bird in the same spot later in the evening.

The Pectoral Sandpiper was my 195th species of 2014 and my 243rd lifetime in Manhattan.