Wednesday, February 15, 2012

ID Mystery

So, let's talk about the rest of our day on Friday.  After a quick lunch we headed over the ($6) bridge to Sanibel Island so that Connie could do some shelling and shopping.  We went to the beach after buying souvenirs to thank our amazing friends who were watching our ancient, disoriented, finicky cat.  The beach was packed with people who were all leaving due to the increasing clouds. 

It was pretty amazing to see all of the birds mingling with the sunbathers.  Royal, Sandwich and Forster's terns; Willets, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlins, Short-billed Dowitchers and a Red Knot; Pelicans and Cormorants - all basically going about their own business and unimpressed by the hundred or so people stepping around them to collect shells or depart the beach.  I mean it, stepping around and over the birds.  Here are some shots but please keep reading because I need your help with the next section.

See what I mean about the birds and people being so close?  Here is a Red Knot and a guy with a beach chair about 6 feet away.

 Royal Tern - one of about 100 preening on this part of the beach.

 Sandwich Tern - lots of these southern birds on the beach too.  Check out the yellow tip on the bill.  This particular bird hacked something up right in front of me - gross.

After Sanibel, we stopped by Bunche Beach for a quick shorebird scan.  Connie got her dream by letting me out of the car and burning rubber to the outlet stores out on the main drag.  I passed 2 women with binoculars who asked me if I "was here to see the curlew".  I casually said "Of coouurse" as if I knew there was a Long-billed Curlew on the beach. The women pointed me toward another couple with a spotting scope who graciously let me look at the bird.  They said that it must be 5:15 because they were told that the bird lands on the beach every day at 5:15.  It was certainly 5:15. 

The couple left and I noticed a guy with a metal detector walking really close to the bird and the bird wasn't leaving, so I moved in for a closer look and photographs.  Wow, a curlew on the east coast.  I have only seen them in California.  I took a dozen photos that came out pretty good considering the terrible lighting. The trouble is that I don't think this is a Long-billed Curlew.  The name implies that it has a really long bill.  While this bird has a long bill, it isn't REALLY long. It's more of a Whimbrel kind of long.  I think this is a Whimbrel.  Still a good bird, but not as rare as a curlew.

 Whimbrel or Long-billed Curlew?

This is a cropped photo which shows a nice warm brown color with marbled pattern on the wing and back.  The Sibley guide states this marbled pattern "like Marbled Godwits" as a field mark for the Long-billed Curlew.  But still that short bill. . . and although I did not get any shots of the bird's head, it appears to have some pattern and possibly a central stripe which is the field mark of the Whimbrel.  Marbled Godwits in the distant background, Short-billed Dowitcher in the near background (I think) and Least Sandpipers in the foreground all indicate the relative size of this bird.  Long-billed Curlew size states 23". Whimbrel size states 17.5".  Godwits state 18".  While the bird never got that close to the Godwits, it did appear a bit larger than them. 

So, you see the conundrum? What do you think?  Write a comment and give us your opinion. 
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