Whimbrel

The afternoon of May 2 2014 . Stone Harbor N.J. My morning’s explorations and an oppresive head cold sent me back to my room for a long sleep. Later, still feeling a little under the weather, I opted for a short walk along a level trail leading out into a salt-marsh; it turned out to be a windy, noisy experience that battered my aching head. The wind was harder to take than the noise which came from Clapper Rails, Willets, and Laughing Gulls, all trying to out-shout each other.

I spent quite a bit of time trying to spot Clapper Rails, a fairly common bird in these parts, but it’s so elusive that it both intrigues and frustrates me. It’s a dowdy, mottled greyish-brown chicken-size bird with a nine-inch long decurved bill. Rarely flying far or for long, it struts and stalks around in the salt-marsh grasses, which at this time of year lie largely winter flattened, and where for the most part it refuses to show itself. But you hear them almost constantly. Presumably they greet each other from time to time, but in order to stay in contact they communicate noisily with a loud and odd series of notes that sounds like a rhythmic, almost industrial, scratching. Since the salt-marsh grass is, as I said, largely winter flattened, it is possible at this time of year to catch the odd glimpse of a Clapper Rail. I startled a pair that was skulking beside the path and they quickly flew away, fast and low. Then the movement of another on the other side of a scrubby bush caught my attention and I studied it closely with my binoculars. It was a strange encounter and I was able to inspect it at length, it seemed to know something was wrong, but couldn’t quite figure out what. I saw a few others make a panicked dash across what for them was open ground before disappearing into a patch of standing salt-marsh grass. I would love to have been able to photograph one, but it was hard enough just getting to see one; another day.

Small groups of nearby Least Sandpipers and Brant were instructive studies and also produced some rewarding photo ops. A Green Heron, a protesting Willet and a Greater Yellowlegs also posed nicely, satisfying my notion that we all need lots of photos just in case we ever have to go back and consult our records.

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(This post contains photos of Brant, Green Heron, Least Sandpiper & Willet in a gallery visible only on the website, not if you’re reading this as an email.)

The there were the Whimbrel, my birds of the afternoon. They are a curlew that stands about 18″ high and I have to say that I’m really not sure what it is about Whimbrel that appeals to me, other than I find them stately, an adjective I’d be hard pressed to apply to many other birds. This group was a little wary but tolerated me as I moved slowly out onto a small dock for this and other photos.

Whimbrel and Brant

Whimbrel and Brant