The Power of Purpose
While I am undoubtedly a fan of wandering, sometimes it just makes sense to leverage the power of purpose. Honestly, who has time to just meander through the woods looking up at the canopy in the vain hope that something interesting will cross your field of vision? I don’t and doubt you do either. That’s why seeking out birds where you know they’re likely to appear is such a seductive proposition.
Case in point, my keen sense of phenology signaled that the time had come to seek out two sandpiper species that favor fresh water, Solitary and Spotted. Fortunately, I know just the place to find these charmers; Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers may be the most reliable location for such sandpipers in the entire NYC Metro area, and close to the Bronx to boot. When I dropped in, though, I didn’t run straight to my secret sandpiper spot. This park has been pretty good for Canada Warbler in the past so I figured I’d shake the trees for some Wilsonia canadensis. Lo and behold, a bright male flew right on to my year list.
Plenty more warbler species made the scene amidst the calls of catbirds and complaints of chipmunks. However, as I circumnavigated the ponds, my eyes were fixed on the muddy banks for sandpipers. Inexplicably, the shore was pretty quiet with nary a Green Heron or night heron in sight. My quarry couldn’t evade me for long though; as I arrived at the appointed place, a sparse peninsula of sand protruding well into the pond, both birds appeared amidst a scattering of Least Sandpipers and Canada Geese.
These sandpipers tend to turn up together but are easy to distinguish. The Solitary Sandpiper looks a bit like a yellowlegs without the, well, yellow legs. Greenish gams, a bold white eye ring, and delightful dappling distinguish this species.
Spotted Sandpipers are, as one would expect, decorated with dots along the expanse of its white breast, at least during breeding season. A brilliant tangerine bill is another mark that fades as the days get shorter but that jerky tail bobbing gait gives this bird away every time.
Mission accomplished, I moved on to plot which avians to observe next. But before I got out of there, I chanced upon a bodacious Bay-breasted Warbler in a tall oak. When a bird that handsome gives up great looks, wandering off track is worth it.