Bird #362 — Buff-breasted Sandpiper

tryngites (from trynga, a sandpiper, and ites, like) subruficollis (from subrufus, somewhat reddish, and collum, neck)

Friday, August 21, 1998 — 4:00 pm

Oneida County, Wisconsin – Rainbow Flowage

I had been birding since early morning, first at Powell Marsh and then at Rainbow Flowage.  I had a fantastic day.  When I got home at 2:00 and told my wife about all I’d seen, she wanted to go back with me.  So we went back to the flowage.  The water level was low and a huge mud flat was exposed along the open part of the lake.  The flat was covered with clouds of gnats and flocks of birds, including thousands of shorebirds. (See American Golden-Plover for details.)  A pair of Sandhill Cranes flew through the area from time to time, trumpeting loudly.  An Osprey dove unsuccessfully for a fish not far out in the lake.  We had a great view as it almost disappeared under the surface for a few seconds.  Loons were calling in the distance.  An adult Bald Eagle sat in a tree about 250 yards away.

I pointed out the various shorebirds to my wife, and she got looks through the scope.  The birds were more active than they had been earlier.  Individuals and flocks were flying back and forth, calling, landing, taking off again, often returning to the same area they had just left.

I saw one flock fly past between us and the open part of the lake.  It landed on the sand about ten feet from the water.  I looked through my binoculars and immediately knew I’d found something new.  I said, “Incredible.  I can’t believe it.   They’re Buff-breasted Sandpipers.”  I wasn’t very familiar with this bird.  I can’t remember ever studying it much, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to see it.  But I knew what it was immediately.

My wife was carrying my National Geographic guide, and I checked all the marks.  I saw every one.  From throat to mid-belly, they were a rich buff color.  From mid-belly to the tail, they were a paler buffy-white.  Their backs were scaled- looking with dark brown feathers with buffy edges.  The face was plain buff with a white eye ring around the large-looking dark eye.  The cap was streaked in dotted-line black streaks.  The body was plump, the rather long legs were greenish-yellow.  The neck was long looking, probably because the head was small.  They had a rather pigeon-like look.  The bill was black and not long for a sandpiper.

They scattered on the sand, walking slowly and picking.  I never saw one wade.  From time to time, the flock took off and flew to another nearby area.  In flight, I could easily see their unmarked backs and white underwings.  At one point, two or three of them landed on a mud bar in the center of a puddle, not more than 15 yards from where we stood.  I had a chance to study them closely and thought they were very pretty birds. They were still in the area when we had our fill of sun, sweat and birds and left.

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