Fantastic rarities and other shorebird highlights, fall migration in full swing on St. Paul Island

At the end of last week, Saturday to be exact, Claudia and I found one of the shorebird highlights of the season so far. We started birding by mid-morning along Salt Lagoon, seeing the usual masses of Rock Sandpipers, many Western Sandpipers and the odd Gray-tailed and Wandering tattlers. Continuing to Pumphouse Lake, we started the loop with high hopes. Pumphouse Lake has been the shorebird mecca on St. Paul Island for the past few weeks with low water levels creating a nice mix of exposed mudflats, sandbars, and small pools fringed by vegetation, in other words something for everybody and good shorebird diversity has been constant on the lake.


Juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpipers are starting to show up in numbers, this one is doing a pretty good Sharp-tailed Grouse impression Photo Stephan Lorenz

We flushed one of the expected Pectoral Sandpipers, which have been gracing the lake for some time. Moments late another shorebird flushed from the high grass right in front us, a lanky, pale bird about the size of a Lesser Yellowleg with a white rump and back. I yelled “Marsh Sandpiper” and something along the lines of “only the second record for the Pribilofs” and probably a few other things I don’t remember…, but this is roughly what we saw:


The Marsh Sandpiper in flight on St. Paul Island Photo Stephan Lorenz

The bird dropped back into taller grass along the edge of the lake and I could barely make out the top of its head. It tucked in behind a grass tussock out of the strong wind with its bill hidden underneath its wing. I carefully set up the scope and snapped a few photos showing a glint of white amidst the green grass. I moved the scope a bit to get a better angle and the bird raised its head, it was definitely a Marsh Sandpiper. Before I could get a better picture the bird flew, completing a large circle around the lake, calling once or twice. It landed again out of view on the far side of the lake, but then flew again. We stood still not wanting to disturb it, but it did another two circles about the lake before heading towards Cup and Saucer ponds. We waited to make sure everyone who wanted to see it had time to arrive and then found it again settled on the muddy margin of Saucer Pond. The Marsh Sandpiper has so far stayed 5 days and we hope it continues, in the meantime it has offered much better photo opportunities.


Marsh Sandpiper, 2nd Pribilof record and 11th record for ABA area, nicely settled into Pumphouse Lake Photo Stephan Lorenz


Marsh Sandpiper on St. Paul Island Photo Stephan Lorenz

The weather system that likely brought the Marsh Sandpiper also dropped a Ruff, several juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, another Wood Sandpiper for the season, and added to the counts of Long-billed Dowitchers and Western Sandpipers on Monday 8/14. Add to that continuing Little and Red-necked Stints, plus Gray-tailed Tattlers and it was a good vagrant shorebird week indeed.


Ruff with juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Photo Stephan Lorenz


A plump juvenile Red-necked Stint fattening up for migration Photo Stephan Lorenz


This rather drab and somewhat confusing Little Stint has been on Pumphouse Lake for several days Photo Stephan Lorenz


Wandering Tattler numbers are increasing daily Photo Stephan Lorenz


Red Knots are a fairly uncommon migrant in the Pribilofs, but the number has increased to three, one adult and two juveniles Photo Stephan Lorenz


Long-billed Dowitchers are becoming regular, here a juvenile Photo Stephan Lorenz

On Tuesday 8/15 I walked out onto the mudflats of Salt Lagoon at low tide. This area has been teeming with shorebirds, mainly hundreds of Rock Sandpipers and many Ruddy Turnstones, but also both tattlers and “record-breaking” numbers of Western Sandpipers. The odd stint also makes appearances. I walked along the channel and then out onto the largest expanse of mud when I heard a Common Ringed Plover calling. This species is a surprisingly scarce migrant in the Pribilofs and this was only the 7th local record. Of course I wanted to see the bird and eventually tracked down 2 plovers, occasionally hearing the Common Ringed Plover calling. After sorting through the two birds the Common Ringed Plover was fairly obvious by its slightly longer bill, dark “lores” extending to gape and lower mandible, darker face pattern with a more rounded mask, longer wings, and lack of webbing between the two inner toes, side by side with the Semipalmated it offered a great comparison.


In direct comparison to the Semiplamated Plover (right) the Common Ringed Plover is slightly longer billed, longer winged, more rounded face mask, more extensive dark lores Photo Stephan Lorenz


Common Ringed Plover has a longer white wing stripe Photo Stephan Lorenz


Look, no webbing between two inner toes Common Ringed Plover Photo Stephan Lorenz


Common Ringed Plover on St. Paul Island, note dark lores extend to gape and lower mandible Photo Stephan Lorenz

Today the island hosted two Ruffs with a male in Tonki wetland and a female (Reeve) on Salt Lagoon.

Other odds and ends have included returning King Eiders and the first songbird migrants with multiple Savanna Sparrows, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and a very cooperative Red-throated Pipit during the last two days and yes our single resident Bald Eagles flapped over Salt Lagoon carrying a young Black-legged Kittiwake (no photo though). Enjoy a few more photos until next time. Good birding, Stephan.


Savanna Sparrows are regular migrants on St. Paul Island Photo Stephan Lorenz


juvenile Red-throated Pipit, this is a trans-beringian migrant and fairly common on St. Paul island during the fall Photo Stephan Lorenz


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