Monday, June 20, 2011

Chasing a First State Record and the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect

Last Thursday, I decided to head down to Goose Pond FWA to look for a Neotropic Cormorant that had been reported from the property. I started out at Beehunter Marsh but wasn't finding very many interesting things. I made a quick stop to pick up a day pass and just then my phone rang. It was Lee Sterrenburg, the Goose Pond guru, letting me know that he and the property manager had just refound the cormorant. As I hurried over to Main Pool West, I noticed a heron overhead and slammed on my brakes. I'm glad I did as it turned out to be a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!

I got over to the right parking area but was not having any luck finding the bird. Lee called back and told me that it had moved to another area so I headed over that way. The second that I walked up on the dike, I saw the bird! It was diving a lot and kept getting behind cattails but I was able to get great scope views and take a few pictures!

Neotropic Cormorant

Neotropic Cormorant in Flight

I spent the next few hours finding and trying to photograph all of the nesting species that are Goose Pond specialties. I found everything I was looking for but the photography did not go as well. I did manage a couple of nice Dickcissel shots.

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

In the mid afternoon, I met up with Amy and Noah Kearns. Our main objective was to find the Neotropic Cormorant again since they had not seen it yet. It had changed locations since the morning so it took some hunting. we finally caught up with the bird near the Tern Island, which worked out great since we needed to check the island for Black-necked Stilt nests anyway. Amy works for the DNR and we were checking on the island for them. The Neotropic Cormorant was perched a long way from us but we were able to wade out towards the bird and get pretty good scope views.

We weren't really sure what to do from here and I almost decided to just head home but Amy suggested checking GP10N for shorebirds. We made the .7 mile hike out to the area with mudflats and started looking for birds. At first, there was very little to look at. We were about to hike back to the cars when Amy spotted a group of five shorebirds. Three of them were Dunlin, one was a Semipalmated Sandpiper, and the third was a mystery to us at first. We made a lot of observations about field marks including, its slightly larger size when compared to to the Dunlin, a long decurved black bill, black legs, a light gray back with a slightly rufous head and breast, and an upright posture that was somewhat Stilt Sandpiper like. We really were unsure of what we were looking at so Noah ran back to the car for a book while I attempted to take a couple of pictures through my scope with my cell phone.

On his way back, Noah had flipped through the book and found a bird that looked quite similar. The bird was a Curlew Sandpiper. We read up on the bird in the field guide and figured out what other field marks we needed to confirm, the main one being a clean white tail. The bird finally flew after a few more minutes and I was able to confirm the white tail. Amy was able to observe the tail while the bird preened and then Noah saw the tail while the bird was in flight later!

Everything that we observed confirmed this bird to be a basic plumaged Curlew Sandpiper. Since we found this individual, I have looked through hundreds of photos and have found several that help me to be even more confident in our identification. I was also surprised to find a July record of an individual in basic plumage from Michigan just a few years ago. We will be submitting this observation to the Indiana Bird Records Committee as it is only the second state record of this species!

We talked about this being a a great example of the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect and decided that from now on in Indiana, whenever we find a rarity while looking for a previously reported rarity, it should be known as the Goose Pond Effect as this seems to happen over and over again here!
-Rob

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