Lesser Yellowlegs, Governors Island

I had my first Greater Yellowlegs in April 2013 at Sherman Creek. Since then I have had the species at least once every year — three times in 2017. Given that the Eastern population of Lesser Yellowlegs is somewhat larger than that of Greater, and that New York City shorebirding hotspots in other boroughs record relatively similar numbers of these birds, it is a mystery why Lesser Yellowlegs is so rarely observed in New York County (Manhattan).

Prior to yesterday, there had been only two eBird reports of Lesser Yellowlegs in Manhattan since 2010 — an unchaseable flyover in April 2010, and an appearance on the mud flats of Inwood Hill Park in July 2016 that was entered a couple hours too late to chase before the tide rose.

Yesterday, August 24, the fenced-in puddles on the southeast side of Governors Island, which have been hosting a variety of common shorebirds since spring, finally produced a rarity. After 3 p.m. Gabriel Willow of NYC Audubon found a Lesser Yellowlegs feeding among a mixed flock of shorebirds that included Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, a singleĀ Solitary Sandpiper, and Killdeer.

With the last ferry to Governors Island leaving on weekdays at 4:15 p.m., I could not do a same-day chase.

Today I took the first ferry of the morning, at 10, hoping that the Lesser Yellowlegs did not join in what was a large overnight flight. To my delight it and all the other species mentioned above were still present.

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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 isĀ 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.