Marbled Godwit and Little Blue Heron at Mecox Inlet - 22 Aug 2010

Wet and windy conditions can often provide exciting birding. Yesterday's storm front seemed to shake things up nicely and gave the first real taste of fall. A nice variety of shorebirds and terns were recorded at Mecox Inlet yesterday morning by various observers. Andy Guthrie (visiting from Rochester) and I witnessed a MARBLED GODWIT literally drop out of the sky onto the sand flat. It spent less than an hour probing the wet sand and gulping down edible items before taking to the wing again and heading east. Other shorebirds and terns came and went as we watched. Our tally of WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS grew from 4 when we arrived to a respectable 29, partly through our move to a better viewing spot and partly perhaps through new arrivals. Likewise, after we'd been watching for about 2.5 hours a flock of 17 LESSER YELLOWLEGS and 5 STILT SANDPIPERS (2 ads and 3 juvs.) suddenly came into view. Among the peep, Andy picked out an adult WESTERN SANDPIPER. In all, we found 15 species of shorebird but missed some expected species like 'Western' Willet, 'Eastern' Willet (yes, I consider them distinct species) and American Oystercatcher. More than 40 FORSTER'S TERNS including several fairly fresh juveniles were on the flat or feeding over the bay. Two BLACK TERNS appeared out of nowhere, sat for a bit and then vanished - probably moving out over the ocean. It was surprising we did not find any Royal Terns given that there are good numbers of these down at Moriches Inlet. Large number of BLACK TERNS continue at Napeague Harbor but the strong winds precluded a careful count on Sunday afternoon.

A surprise was a juvenile LITTLE BLUE HERON that whizzed over the pond headed west without stopping. This is always a tricky identification because of the similarity to juvenile Snowy Egret which are common in the area at this time of year. Subtle differences in structure are important and the base of the bill and loral feathers tend to be more gray/blue on LBH whereas SE tends to be greeny-yellow. In our case, we both picked up on the slightly different way the bird carried itself in flight (I initially thought it might be a Cattle Egret) and more importantly we could see the bluish tips of the primary feathers as it passed - a great field mark if you can get it.

The wind and rain made songbird observations difficult but these were undoubtedly on the move also. A continuous ribbon of Tree Swallows and Red-winged Blackbirds, with a few Bank Swallows mixed in, streamed westwards along the dune line for much of the morning.

The heavy rain will no doubt fill Mecox rather quickly. Sag Pond was brimming on Sunday and might open with the excess water if the town doesn't do so first. Reports on the state of these and other saltwater ponds (e.g. Georgica, Oyster) would be appreciated. Any areas where water has collected (e.g. flooded farm fields) could be productive for migrant shorebirds. This is definitely the time to look for 'grasspipers' including American Golden-Plover and Buff-breasted Sandpiper which pause for breath on the east coast before making a non-stop transoceanic flight to southern South America.

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