Chasing Birds: Anchorage’s Terek Sandpiper

WC isn’t a “chaser,” birder jargon for someone who drops everything to go see a rare bird somewhere. Truly hardcore birders will leave New York and fly to Alaska to see a rare bird. It’s the life list thing.

But if WC is in a community, and a rare bird is seen there, well, WC will go have a look. It doesn’t always work out well. WC was the first birder not to see the Great Spotted Woodpecker in Willow a few years ago, when the bird left an hour before WC got there and was never seen again. WC didn’t actually chase that bird; he had to be in Wasilla anyway, and the woodpecker simply tipped the balance to drive instead of flying and renting a car. And WC was in Anchorage anyway last winter when the Dusky Thrush was reported, so it was natural enough and not chasing at all to drive around the area it was last seen and, naturally, not find the bird.

But WC and Mrs. WC drove down to Anchorage this past weekend for conservation events there and in Homer. So when the Terek Sandpiper was reported at the mouth of Fish Creek, well, it was only slightly out of the way so we headed over to have a look. And missed it; the bird had flown off towards Earthquake Park just 15 minutes earlier. Then we had a call from a friend at Earthquake Park who was actually looking at the bird, so we headed out to where Northern Lights Boulevard turns into dirt ruts and, after wandering around in the catastrophic topography of Earthquake Park for a while, we emerged on the Coastal Trail and with help from some friends, found the bird.

Terek Sandpiper, Earthquake Park, Anchorage, June 2015

Terek Sandpiper, Earthquake Park, Anchorage, June 2015

Note the upturned bill, the yellowish legs and the strong black line above the wing, all classic field marks of the Terek Sandpiper.

We got good views but not good photos. The bird stayed near the edge of the shore and was very spooky. It’s bad birding to approach a rare bird that others want to see and risk driving it away. So what you see here is a lot of telephoto (a total of 700mm) and a heavy crop of the image, about 30% of the original image. It was a long ways from WC to the bird.

A life bird – the first time a birder sees a species – gets harder as a birder gets more species. So it was especially nice to get a lifer on a pretty rare Eurasian vagrant.

There was a crowd of birders out looking for this little guy, by the way. WC hopes the folks at the Alaska Department of Fish & Game took notice; birding is big business, and Alaska could do a whole lot better job marketing its great birds to the rest of the world.