Bird #401 — Curlew Sandpiper

calidris (speckled water bird) ferruginea (rusty red)

Monday, June 11, 2001 — 3:35 pm

Great Lakes, Illinois — Naval Training Center — Lake Michigan

When I turned on my computer at work this morning, I had a message that a Curlew Sandpiper was discovered yesterday at Great Lakes Naval Training Center. That was frustrating. If I had known about it yesterday, I would have gone to see it. And so I worked. And as the day went on, reports kept coming in. 9:00 a.m. The Curlew Sandpiper is still there. 11:30 a.m. The Curlew Sandpiper is still there. 1:00 p.m. The Curlew Sandpiper is still there. I couldn’t take it any more.

I left at 2:05 and got to Great Lakes at 3:15. I had to stop in the office and show my driver’s license, insurance card and registration to get a visitor’s pass. I knew all I needed to know to get in because I was there, for my first time ever, about three weeks ago. I also knew how to get to where I needed to go to see the bird. There’s a harbor on the base created by two rock breakwaters. Inside the harbor, along the north breakwater, a sand spit has formed. The end of the spit is separated from the rest by a channel of very shallow water and an electric fence. The fence is in place to protect nesting Common Terns, but it also creates a haven for other terns, gulls and shorebirds. The center of the island is covered with low, scrubby vegetation but the edges are flat sand.

Two other birders were there when I arrived. I asked them if the Curlew Sandpiper was still there. One of them said, “Yes — wait, there it goes.” But then he immediately said, “Just kidding. Wouldn’t that be an awful thing to do to someone?” He had the bird in his scope, and he let me look at it in case it flew off before I could get mine set up.

This was an easy one. It was out in the open and distinctly different. It was walking about, constantly moving, on the sand about 60 yards from where I stood behind the electric fence. After about five minutes, it flew toward me, landing on a point of sand about 40 yards away. It waded out into the water and foraged around belly-deep, probing below the surface with its bill.

I began looking around the area. I heard one of the other birders say, “Where’s the bird?” We finally found it a lot closer to us, right on the other side of the water channel, about 25 yards away. It was walking rapidly along the sand, picking occasionally. Then it flew off to the west and landed on the sand at the other side of the island. I wandered up that way and got to a point where I was separated from it by only 15 feet, on the other side of the channel. I watched it for another five minutes. It moved about quickly, picking at the sand at times and running along the water’s edge at other times. It was still there when I left at 4:10.

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