Date: 9/4/17 12:08 pm From: <phawk254...> Subject: [MASSBIRD] 14 Golden Plover at Winthrop Beach
This morning Julie and I birded Winthrop Beach hoping for some flocks of shorebirds with some spice thrown in; knots, turnstones, Buff-breasted, Bairds. No such luck. Flocks of several dozen almost entirely juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers, and 1-2 dozen Semipalmated Plovers, mainly juvenile. The spice was two really young-looking juvenile Spotted Sandpipers who reminded me of what Wilt Chamberlain must have looked like as a high school basketball player. ALL LEGS. Two juvenile Sanderlings were nice, and 1-2 juvenile Piping Plover. I LOVE photographing sandpipers in the wrack, including especially juvenile Leasts and Semis, along with the much less common birds. The Semipal Sands were working downwind in the wrack, scooting like young voles over and through the drying, fly-ridden seaweed, making it very hard to see them, much less follow them through a $%#@&%(*&++ Electronic View Finder (EVF) on my Nikon P900 megazoom. (I have a lot of nice photos of wrack-strewn rocks.)
Suddenly I spotted a flock of larger shorebirds coming in off the ocean. They worked south to north up Winthrop Beach, whirled, at the north end of the prime swimming area, swept the beach going south, wheeled once again and worked back up the beach, where they whirled around and flew towards me and sat down maybe 30 yards away. Couldn't be Black-bellied Plover, because they had dark rumps, virtually no wing stripe, and no dark armpits. What could they be but knots??? But they looked long-winged, and not chunky, and were darkish underneath. You likely wouldn't have 14 Red Knots in breeding plumage now . And they didn't look like knots, anyway. WTF are they?
They sat down and I got my scope on them. A juvenile Golden Plover! A second juvenile Golden Plover. I yispered (yelled a whisper) to Julie, maybe 30 yards up the beach from me, mouthing "Golden Plover." Somehow she heard me in the breeze. She thought she had a Golden juvenile, but when she started to compare them to the adults molting from breeding plumage, she began to question her belief that the golden plover was a Golden Plover because its head and bill were no smaller than those of the adults she saw. I knew none of these birds were Black-bellied Plover because of what I had clearly seen well in flight. Although I had two juvenile Golden Plover, what were these other birds. 12 adult birds in fairly early molt from alternate plumage. 14 Goldens. CLOSE! Over the next two hours, I photographed them as much as I could see them. Most of the time they stood or lay in the wrack where the adults were incredibly camouflaged. I could find them in the binos, but through my low-r! es EVF I had to triangulate their location from nearby larger or lighter rocks, or a disintegrating Bud Light can thoughtfully placed on the beach to help orient astigmatic photographers of shorebirds struggling with a weak EVF (or to give young Piping Plover the sense that they had compatriots on the beach with them).
This was around 9:45-10:00, about half an hour before high tide. Fortunately, the beach was not heavily populated. Two beach walkers walked the wrack line, flushing the plovers, who wheeled again several times before settling closer to me. Then, miracle of miracles, several beach walkers saw my signals to move inland from the wrack line as they approached me. THANK YOU, beach walkers, for responding positively, moving up to the clean sand. I thanked them individually and offered to show them the birds in my scope. Several looked. I called Soheil Zendeh to see if he was in the area, and Mark Resendes, who lives nearby.
Something flushed the birds and they landed even closer to me, a 6'4" megalith planted in sand, supported by a tripod, and scanning with one moderately sized, elongated black eye. This time the most we could make out were 9, 7 adults and 2 kids. Julie was higher on the beach with a better overview and could make out only 8. Most were standing, facing into the wind, which was at my back. When your eye left one, it melted back into the wrack and you had to find it all over again. With my 83X megazoom on full optical, i would line it up with a bird and then try to refind it in the EVF. Weaving back and forth until I saw a distinctive silhouette, or that beautiful white outline of the neck. It often took four or five scans before I discovered a bird in the EVF.
Sebastian Jones and a friend arrived, alerted by Soheil, and another pair of birders, including one photographer. Based on likelihood, I assumed that all the goldens were likely American Gold Plover, but that was by no means certain. Looking at several photos, 2-3 primaries extended beyond the tail on the juveniles, suggesting they were American. I have yet to look at most of the other 500 photos I took this morning to confirm what each adult was, but I am assuming that most if not all were American.
A gorgeous, incredibly gawdy juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher had appeared during the Ploverpalooza, and as much as I love and wanted to photograph this gorgeous kid, I continued to snap the plovers. Suddenly, the Darth Vader of the beach appeared, stooping and hovering over the north end of the beach before it curves back in toward the seawall. Where the Sanderlings and the Piping Plover had been. A large, dark, juvenile Peregrine. Almost certainly a female. Two days earlier we had seen two juvenile Peregrines over at the Key, playing with each other like siblings of the opposite sex of bipedal species, with the female cackling like a chicken, and the faster, smaller male strafing the young female, like a fighter harassing a bomber in training drills. This morning the plovers quickly lifted into the air, heading south by southwest, into the wind and away from the falcon. Nine plovers at first. Then two from elsewhere on the beach joined them. 11 in all. Three others had to h! ave separated from the group earlier, as I had had amply opportunity to count 14 time and again before they had first landed.
Intriguingly, most of the Semipalmated Sandpipers had remained on the beach, scouring the wrack for food, as were thousands of flying insects on which some of the sandpipers fed. And the young dowitcher remained, curling up on the wrack beneath a lip of seaweed that sheltered it from the wind. But apparently aware that it was alone, it kept one eye open constantly, even though its incredible bill was buried into its dorsal plumage. Thank god I got decent photos of this gorgeous kid, whose gold and brass tertials and delicately barred tail were as beautiful as I've ever seen on the species.
By this time I was acutely aware that I had had three cups of coffee this morning. There were some other nice birds, several Laughing Gulls in breeding plumage. A few Bonaparte's. Nine Oystercatchers that we could see on the breakwaters. And the thought of a restroom, that seemed increasingly important. I was also exhausted. This was the most Golden Plover I have ever seen in one day on the Atlantic Ocean, and I was as close as I have ever been. I had never in my wildest dreams expected something like this this morning. I love shorebirds.