Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Red-Necked Stint

There are thousands of tiny sandpipers on the beach and sandbars at Milford Point. All of them are one species, semipalmated sandpipers, and virtually identical, except somehow someone with mind-boggling powers of concentration (in this case a birder named Nick Bonomo) looks long and hard enough to determine that one of them is a bit different. In fact it turns out to be a red-necked stint, a sandpiper from Siberia that almost never shows up on the east coast.

Five minutes after the report came in, it went out on the “Ct Bird Report” e-mail list:

7/16 - Milford, Milford Point -- adult RED-NECKED STINT in worn alternate plumage.

The bird was first found around 2:45pm, seen on the bar to the right with many Semipalmated Sandpipers. The tide covered the bar after that, driving away all the birds. It was relocated - after 5:00 PM if memory serves - on the back (east) side of the large bar on the left, where it was seen by many more birders and seen quite well at times. It was still present just before 8pm, but not continously seen.

The Semipalmated flock is now over 1000 birds.


The report triggered a memory of 1983, when a little stint showed up at Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge (it had first been misidentified as a rufous-necked stint, which I think was the old name for red-necked stint, but was later proved to be a little stint). I was just starting to be interested in birds, so I drove down at dawn one July day and wandered around with a throng of birders hoping to see it. We were apparently a day late, because no one saw it again, which left a lot of people disappointed, although not me particularly because I saw two dozen birds I had never seen before – birds with names themselves were a delight: black skimmer and ruddy turnstone, greater yellowlegs, stilt sandpiper and pectoral sandpiper, and short-billed and long-billed dowitchers, which were my favorites because, until I got home and looked the name up, I thought were “dowagers” and I wondered what could possibly be the etymology of that.

The other day I asked my friends at Audubon Connecticut about stints and their rarity. Here’s what Patrick Comins, Audubon Connecticut’s director of bird conservation, responded:

They are pretty rare, but it seems that with more people out looking in July, which is when they are most likely, and more people knowing how to pick one out, that they are more regular on the east coast than was once thought. It seems like there has been at least one report somewhere on the coast every couple of years. This is the third one that I remember hearing about in CT in the last few years. Of course, it is still a pretty hard ID, so not all of the reports we hear about are really stints. The ones in CT in recent years are pretty well documented though and Nick Bonomo is pretty careful about his ID, so this one is probably legit. I still have never seen one.

And then a few minutes later he added:

From what I have been able to glean about accepted records, as of 2004, Delaware had 4 Red-necked Stint Records and Mass has seven, most of which have been in recent years. California has the most records for the lower 48 with 9, so it is still a big deal. I do think that with more people looking and more people knowing how to pick them out that there will be more records than in the past.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Nuthatch said...

You know, I think shorebirds are lovely, but it's a special crowd that picks through the flocks for rarities (it's the same people who do the same with gulls). I've never developed a talent for it. Partly because, I guess, the place for shorebirds around here is a diked dredging disposal area. Ugh.

9:51 PM  

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