Thursday, August 15, 2019

Post #163 - I found some banded birds.....

I've written about banded birds previously (Post #118, September 28, 2017), but I was fortunate to find two tagged shorebirds on Long Island (NY) last week, a coincidence I will use as fodder for another entry on the topic. Before I jump into those examples, I want to quickly rewind to March of last year (2018). I was photographing at the Foster City shell bar when a flock of ~150 Marbled Godwits landed at water's edge. Scanning the group, I found a bird sporting a small leg flag. I snapped a few record shots of the subject and reported it to this website when I returned home that evening. It was an easy process, and three days later I received a certificate of appreciation for my report.

Marbled Godwit 4Y

The certificate indicates Godwit 4Y was at least a year old when he was banded in Bristol Bay, Alaska, his likely breeding ground, in June of 2008. While it's pure conjecture without sightings/data from the intervening years, it's fun to think he might have made the journey between Alaska and California 20 times in the decade since he was banded. More advanced GPS devices now permit researchers to track birds in real time, but there will always be something wondrous in imagining what a leg-banded bird does in-between sightings.

OK, let's return to this past week on Long Island. I was photographing American Oystercatchers at Nickerson Beach in Nassau County when this banded Sanderling wandered straight into my viewfinder. He's shown investigating a san flea shell an oystercatcher discarded 10 seconds prior.

Post-breeding Sanderling KCP on Long Island

The accompanying certificate reveals the bird banded in Cape May, New Jersey in May of 2016. While the bird probably nests in the Arctic and migrates to/through the mid-Atlantic each fall/winter/spring, additional sightings are necessary to piece together its individual history. The certificate does not indicate if mine is the first sighting of this bird, but it would be really interesting to know that and the locations/dates of previous reports, if they exist. This bird seems to frequent a heavily-birded stretch of the eastern seaboard, so it's very possible someone reported him before I did. I doubt that information is publicly accessible, but someone might know something I don't.

Certificate for banded Sanderling (Banderling) KCP

My other find, a Ruddy Turnstone, came from Jones Beach, just across the inlet from Nickerson. I was scanning a salt marsh from a fishing pier when this guy came walking down the railing in search of bait scraps. I was in birding mode and without my camera my that mid-morning point (light was too harsh), so I jogged the 200 yards back to the car, grabbed my rig, and returned to document my find. He'd dropped onto the pier deck in my absence, so I laid down on the wood planks to get a clear shot of his flag.

Ruddy Turnstone 812 at Jones Beach

Like the Sanderling, the turnstone was also banded in the mid-Atlantic, specifically in Delaware in 2017. We have no clue of his life history, but I can't help but wonder if he migrates through Reed's Beach on the Delaware Bay each year. Tens of thousands of shorebirds stop there to feed on horseshoe crab eggs, so it seems totally possible he could be among them. Who knows - maybe someone has reported him from there in the past?!?!

Speculation aside, finding banded birds - and specifically highly migratory examples - is a rare and satisfying occurrence, one on par with finding a rarity as far as I'm concerned. GPS tags will eventually render leg bands a technology of the past, but I'll keep looking for banded birds until then. It's a good feeling to know my casual birding might help some underpaid and overworked researcher.

If anyone cares, here is my small collection of banded birds and certificates.

That's it for now. I have some really cool photos from Long Island, so please stay tuned for those in a future post. Here's a preview showing a Ruddy Turnstone in much nicer early morning light. You gotta get low if you want your shorebird images to have impact!

Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX2
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

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