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My Life’s Birds: #323

July 29, 2009
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August 16, 1994 – Stockton Lake, Mo – Novice birders can perhaps be forgiven for thinking those traditionally difficult groups of birds, your sparrows, your sandpipers, your flycatchers, are wholly impenetrable, a code destined to stay impossible to crack. The differences between the individual species appear so subtle that pinning them to genus, let along species, seems to be a fool’s errand. We all start this way and, of course, with time things gets clearer. What at first seem to be shorebird shaped blurs come into sharp in a few turns of the old focus knob of experience, though how long that takes is as variable as the tertials on any first year peep.

I’d like to think I came along quickly on shorebirds, that I got the basics down and moved from there. Such ideas are probably wishful thinking on my part, as this group of birds can give even experienced birders fits. Even so, dad and I were heading into the crucible, to be forged into shorebirders on the hot fires of the wide open mudflats of central Kansas. A place, if you didn’t know, that lies right smack in the middle of the central flyway, which in mid-August is an interstate highway for lots and lots of migrating birds. Lots of variably plumaged, confusingly worn, migrating birds. And we were also going to visit my grandma.

But on the way, a swing by that old stomping ground of Aldrich, where the dry summer had turned the mucky wet flats previously covered in peeps, into hard dry mud covered with short green grass. Incidentally, such cover is perfect for Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and we found a dozen or so of these beauties strutting through the verdant grass shoots, an great moment for us beyond the simple excitement of a lifer as Buffies are exceptionally elegant birds besides and thankfully fairly easy to recognize. It was the first of what he hoped to be a real shorebird haul on this trip. Assuming of course, we could even figure out what we were looking at. Trial by fire, indeed.

BBSA by jerryoldenettel via flickr

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5 Comments
  1. dAwN permalink
    July 29, 2009 9:54 am

    First..I am amazed at these memories from years ago, when you do your life bird series..i am lucky if I can remember what I saw yesterday!:)

    You write beautifully..I could imagine in my mind what type of area you found these in.

    What a Beautiful bird!

  2. Nate permalink
    July 29, 2009 10:30 am

    @Dawn- Thanks! Some experiences I remember better than others. This one is one I still have a pretty good memory off, at least of the bird itself. It helps that they're so striking!

  3. Greg permalink
    July 29, 2009 8:18 pm

    Perhaps your memory is seared in your brain because we have never seen them since! At least I haven't! Going out there this week to try again. Just how many years has it been?

  4. Nate permalink
    July 29, 2009 8:21 pm

    @dad- Nope, I saw two on the Jordan Lake mudflats in September of 2007.

    I even wrote about it here…

    http://thedrinkingbird.blogspot.com/2007/09/who-likes-wood-storks.html

  5. Jochen permalink
    July 30, 2009 5:39 am

    Buffies are amongst the nicest of the strange short birds, don't you think? Actually I never saw them in North America and my only encounter was of a vagrant on the German Baltic sea coast.
    There you go.

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