Monday, June 29, 2020

A "drop everything" chase - Terek Sand in Rhode Island!

The weather on Long Island Sound was looking good yesterday, save for some PM thunderstorms that were likely to pop up. A friend of mine had been eager to get on the Sound for some fishing, so we took advantage of the opportunity to get out there. We traveled eastward about 20 miles from New Haven to the best local Black Sea Bass grounds, and sure enough the fishing was hot. We boated five species (Black Sea Bass, Porgy, Northern Sea Robin, Striped Sea Robin, and Smooth Dogfish), saving some for a future dinner.

Mid-morning we received word that there might be a TEREK SANDPIPER at Napatree Point in Rhode Island, right near the CT state line. Napatree Point is a long sand spit that separates Little Narragansett Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. While waiting for confirmation, we weighed our options. My fishing pal was keen on chasing down such a mega rare shorebird. We were only about 35 miles from Napatree, so rather than boating back west to New Haven and then driving east to Rhode Island, we would chase by boat. Having been to Napatree once or twice before, I knew that it was possible to beach a boat near the lagoon where the bird was reportedly seen. We had a plan. All we had to do was wait on a final ID.

Later in the morning we heard that the ID was confirmed, and the bird was still there: Jan St. Jean had found a Terek Sandpiper, a first for Rhode Island and one of just a handful of Lower 48 US records.

And we were off!

Our route from fishing grounds to Napatree Point

The ride took us about an hour and a quarter, but we got bad news just as we approached the point...the sandpiper had flown from its feeding area on the rising tide, presumably to roost somewhere. By the time we safely anchored the boat on the bay side of the point (which took some creativity, as you really need two anchors to pull that maneuver and we only had one!), it hadn't been seen for at least an hour. There was a crowd at the lagoon, and a few birders had begun to scour the rest of the point without success. It was not looking good!

Overlooking the lagoon where birders were searching for the vagrant shorebird

If not hiding somewhere on Napatree, it seemed that its next most likely location would be Sandy Point, an overgrown island sandbar about 3/4 mile to the north, the western tip of which lies in Connecticut. Locals confirmed that Napatree shorebirds sometimes do go over there to roost. Sandy Point, which again is an island and not a "point" of land, is only accessible by boat. Having the boat as our mode of transport was looking rather fortuitous. We decided to give it a shot.

The blue star marks the lagoon where the sandpiper was originally found, and the yellow star marks the eastern end of Sandy Point (RI)

Here you can see the state line drawn in

The plan was to slowly cruise the shoreline in search of the sandpiper, which was possible because we could get reasonably close to shore with the boat in a few feet of water and a sandy bottom below. We started at the eastern end of Sandy Point and didn't have to look for more than five minutes before we spotted the Terek. Thrilled and borderline shocked at how easy that was, I phoned friends back on Napatree to let them know. As we were trying to decide how to safely shuttle people over to see the bird in the age of COVID-19, we noticed two beach walkers approaching the bird. Sure enough they spooked it, and it flew while calling not far in front of the boat, though quite backlit. A somewhat liquid, rapid yellowlegs-like "too-too-too."

Terek Sandpiper creeping along the shore of Sandy Point (RI)

on its way back to the mass of patiently waiting birders at Napatree...

The sandpiper flew directly back towards Napatree, and we again alerted the folks back there. They were eventually able to relocate it briefly a few times, mostly in flight by the sounds of it.

With the bird under our belt and scattered storms bearing down on the region, it was time for us to head back towards New Haven Harbor. About halfway home we were on a course to intersect a thunderstorm, so we were forced into Pilots Point Marina in Westbrook, CT. We enjoyed a bite on the deck at Liv's Place while the storm passed and made it back to dock safely in New Haven at 9:15pm, with just a bit of twilight left. It had been a long and adventurous day on the water rewarded with a mega rare shorebird and plenty of fresh fish. 

It's really hard to beat summer on the New England coast.

Skies beginning to darken over land...

Dinner overlooking salt marsh while waiting for the storm to pass

Ready to depart Westbrook for the final leg of the journey home


 - Nick

5 comments: