Friday, May 9, 2014

An Incredible and Unexpected Lifer and Rarity

While I was bored at work and was sitting at my office desk, I was looking at Facebook.  In the group, Arizona Birding, Flagstaff birder, Jason Wilder, posted photographs of a very interesting sandpiper he found 40 miles north of Flagstaff.  When I saw the picture, it really looked interesting to me also.  From the start, I thought it looked like a Pectoral or a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.  However, it didn't strike me as a Pectoral, and I thought, "wow, this is probably something very good".  As I read FB comments, sure enough, experts had already buzzed in and confirmed the sighting as a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.  Sharp-tailed Sandpipers are an Asian shorebird, and Arizona has had 4 previous records, all from my home county, Maricopa.  A Sharpie was even found last year at a sludge pond by Mark Ochs near Gila Bend.  In North America, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers are rare but annual fall transients along the northwest coast area and Alaska.  They are very rare inland, and Arizona is an extreme case for it being very rare.  But the bird is a fall bird, and for spring migrants, that is extremely rare and hasn't ever been heard of.

It's was on the afternoon of May 7th, and I was planning to do a Maricopa County Big Day on the 8th.  Yes, another Big Day!  Magill Weber was going to join me for most of the Big Day, and we had planned on going after that task unless, something very rare showed up.  I got a text from Magill right away asking if I'd wanna see the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper instead.  My answer was yes, but I also said, "Shorebirds are one day stays a lot, should we go now?!"  I was about to get out of work, and before I knew it, Magill picked me up from work and we were on our way.

Magill and I went very unprepared to chase this bird.  It was found north of Flagstaff, which is a cold area.  And at the estimated time of a 6:15 P.M. arrival to the location of where the bird was found, it would be very cold.  As we checked the weather, it showed rain covering the Flagstaff area.  We weren't dressed for cold weather, and we also weren't prepared for birding.  In a rush, Magill picked me up from work, so I couldn't get my binoculars, scope, or camera.  Magill brought her scope, camera, and binoculars and we planned to just share them.  A Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is an emergency, and we had no time to lose!  Magill then realized that she forgot her memory card to her camera, so hopes weren't too high for getting the photograph we wanted of the mega Arizona rarity.  The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was found at a place called Rimmy Jim Tank, which is 40 miles north of Flagstaff.  Scenery around the pond is almost nothing, and it is a desolate area.  Several dirt roads led into the tank, and there were trees planted around the pond.  And we didn't have warm clothing at all, and it was windy and very cold.  It was even snowing some in Flagstaff as we drove on through.

When we got to the pond at the tank, we got very lucky and walked up to the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper sitting along the shore.  It flew around some, but on several occasions during the 30 cold minutes we watched it, it was very close and obliging.  Without any camera equipment, we decided to stick Magill's camera phone up to her scope to take a few pictures.  We took turns taking pictures, and we made the best out of what we had.  What a cool bird the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is.  I love shorebirds, and it has been a great week for seeing them.

The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was a great bird to see, and was worth the six hour drive.  It was of course a life bird for me, and a special one indeed!  In the last week, I've gotten two lifers, both of them with Magill.  As we drove home, the Maricopa Big Day plans still stood.  Who knows if I'll ever see another Sharp-tailed Sandpiper again in Arizona,.  This may be one of those once-in-a-lifetime birds in a region, and is only the 5th potential state record.  For such an odd location at such an odd time of year, you have to love the unexpected and awesome surprises in birding when they happen!  Thanks Magill for a fun trip, and to Jason Wilder for an awesome discovery!

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