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My Life’s Birds: #363

December 30, 2009
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May 2, 1995 – Greene Co, Mo – When I was a kid, before the age of in-car entertainment systems and ipod interfaces, my dad came up with a pretty ingenious way to distract me and pass time on our annual trips to Kansas to visit my grandparents.  As we drove through the Flint Hills, a region of rolling tall grass prairie in the eastern part of the state, he’d tell me to look out for Upland Sandpipers perched atop fenceposts.  I can’t recall ever actually seeing one over the years, to the point that the bird took on a near mythical status for me, even though I knew that they were there.  The treeless expanse of cattle grazing pastures were, and still are, kind of perfect for what is one of the most bizarre shorebirds in North America.

Because of that I had always associated Uppies with Kansas, but as it turns out, they’re not so unusual for western Missouri at the right time of the year.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t still come as something of a surprise when a half dozen or so of them popped their heads up from the tall grass in a pasture on our annual Big Day.  We were making the necessary run through Palmetto looking for lingering shorebirds along with the Bobolinks and Dickcissels we usually could pick up there.  The Uppies weren’t even on our radar, but they filled our binoculars just the same.

In all the times I made the drive to Kansas, I’ve never seen an Upland Sandpiper there.  The reason is unclear, but it’s likely it has something to do with the fact that so many of those trip occurred in mid-summer, when the Kansas heat can melt the tarmac and keeps the same species of grassland birds in the relative shelter of the tall grasses.  But even now, on those incredibly rare occasions I find myself on a Kansas highway anymore, I’ll still be on the lookout for Upland Sandpiper.  You can never seen enough of them.

photo from wikipedia

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2 Comments
  1. December 30, 2009 2:21 pm

    I agree. Awesome bird. With the demise of grasslands in NJ, there are only 2 places I know of where they breed and they’re both private. I got my life Uppie at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, site of the Hindenburg disaster. It’s now managed very well for grassland birds. A friend of mine photographed a migrant at a favorite birding spot in my county last fall. I would have loved to have seen that.

  2. Nate permalink*
    December 30, 2009 7:47 pm

    @Patrick- Here in Carolina they are rare migrants, but there are a couple sod farms out east that get them regularly in the fall. I just need to find the time to make a run.

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