Friday, September 23, 2011

Grasspipers


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The morning dawned foggy. Showers began after breakfast, and by mid-morning, it was pouring. Pouring.

Perfect weather for seeking out grasspipers!

Grasspipers? Sandpipers, yes, you’ve heard of those. But what is a grasspiper?

“Grasspiper” is the affectionate term that birders use to refer to sandpipers and other shorebirds when they are seen in fields, pastures, meadows, golf courses, and other grassy areas, especially when there has been a lot of rain or flooding and there are pools of water, muddy areas, and other watery conditions that attract water-loving birds.

Though we were not as hard hit as other areas, Tropical Storm Irene dumped a lot of water in our area (central Connecticut), and many areas suffered significant flooding. Three weeks after the storm passed through, some of the areas are still wet and muddy, and they attract a nice variety of shorebirds and waterfowl as they pass through on their migratory flights.

Today I stopped by one of these places, a cow pasture that is normally dry and grassy and full of cows. The stream that runs through the pasture flooded its banks during Irene, creating a muddy slough that has remained wet enough for ducks and herons to feed there. Over the past few weeks, I’ve stopped by there several times, and have enjoyed seeing Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal, and Green-winged Teal. Oh, and my first-of-season American Pipit. And a Bald Eagle (third-year).

Today, despite the downpour, I stopped there again, knowing that the rain would have partially filled the slough. And what a bonanza! I saw a greater variety of shorebirds than I’ve ever seen at any inland location: Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, a possible White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Black-Bellied Plover, Killdeer, and, best of all, eight Dowitchers (sp?). Both Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals were there, too, as well as a few Mallards. I saw one bird that might have been an American Golden-plover, but I couldn’t get a good enough look at it. Another bird looked very much like a juvenile Dunlin (goldish back, round shape, Dunlin behavior), but the heavy rain precluded clear looks and soon it was gone. I looked in vain for a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, having seen several of them a few miles up the road just last week. I won’t be able to get back to this great spot until Sunday at the earlies… By then, perhaps a Pintail or Shoveler will have shown up.

Grasspipers!

(By the way, "sp" means "species," not "spelling." There are two species of Dowitcher in our area, and they are hard to tell apart, especially at a distance during a downpour.)

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