limnodromus (marsh runner) scolopaceus (snipe)
Friday, October 9, 1998 — 7:50 am
Du Page, County, Illinois — Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Finally. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never paid much attention to this bird. I was aware that it existed, but I never looked for it and never happened upon it. Until last fall. I spotted a large, long-billed shorebird on a mud flat in Baker’s Lake one day on lunch. Back at work, I did some thinking and decided it was probably a dowitcher. That evening, I did some studying and discovered that Short-billed Dowitchers came through much earlier in the fall, making this bird likely a Long-billed. I got up early the next morning and stopped before work, but the bird was gone.
This fall I was ready. About two weeks ago, I found four dowitchers on a mud flat at Baker’s Lake again. They were almost certainly Long-bills. But they were just too far out for me to see whether the back and wing feathers had internal markings. I went back four times, hoping for better lighting or a closer mud flat. They were there every time. My last trip was yesterday. They were closer, and I thought they looked dark, but I couldn’t tell and I didn’t want to assume.
But by then I had a backup plan. All week, the Fermilab internet site has been reporting them. They were still there yesterday afternoon. It was time. I took the day off work. I left home at 6:20 and got to Fermilab around 7:30. I parked on the north end of Lake Law and walked the path around the lake to the mud flats at the south end. Fog was thick over the water but burning off quickly. At the south end of the lake, a mud flat of about three acres had been exposed. Several channels of water split the flats into sections. I set up my scope just inside the reed border on the edge of the mud. I immediately saw three dowitchers about 40 yards away. They were wading in two or three inches of water, probing the bottom with their long, long bills. The feathers on their backs and wings had very thin rust edges and no internal markings. They were Long-billed Dowitchers. Their breasts were gray with just a hint of warm tones. I briefly saw the tail of one of the birds. The black and white lines were about equal in width.
After five minutes or so, they took off and joined four others that were wading in another channel about 70 yards away. They walked around, probing in the mud and occasionally preening a little bit. Three of them walked out of the water onto the mud for a minute or so. One took off and flew west out of sight. A few minutes later, the other six flew off low over the water and disappeared up the lake. As they flew, they made a chattering call that is hard to describe. It had a long “E” sound and I finally decided to describe it as “dweet.”