Chasing the Curlew Sandpiper!

You might remember from my recent trip report to see Olympic Marmots in Port Angeles that a Curlew Sandpiper had shown up while we were away in the US. Well this bird showed up on Sept 10th at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta.

You can read all about it HERE.

Well this would be a lifer bird for me and an ABA bird for Ilya and one we had always talked about wanting to get in our home province. So we were a bit sad we missed that bird sighting but it was very brief and sadly only a few people ever got to see the bird at Reifel due to a pesky (I really do love them) Peregrine Falcon.

Well we went out the next day to look for that bird at Reifel with dozens of others but no dice. I kept checking Reifel almost daily and there were good birds there like a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpipers and Red-necked Phalaropes but nothing quite as desirable as a Curlew Sandpiper. Ilya checked Brunswick Point frequently and came up with other good birds like Pacific and American-Golden Plovers, Red Knots and a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. I mean you can't be disappointed when you get to see beautiful birds like that!

Anyways, we had given up all hope of seeing that Curlew Sandpiper it seemed destined to be another "Piping Plover" (you can read about that debacle HERE). 

Until wonderful Mario Lam relocated this bird at Lighthouse Park in Point Roberts, WA. Yes in Point Roberts which is in the United States of America. Where Ilya, John Reynolds, Ken Klimko and I just had been that same morning birding. Point Roberts is a small enclave that lies on the border of Delta Canada. It is accessed via Tsawwassen and for that reason is primarily birded by Canadians.

The official checklist for Metro Vancouver (as per Nature Vancouver) even includes it in the Vancouver area, eBird however does not. Therefore, some BC listers weren't too thrilled it had crossed the state line. It seems all of our shorebirds are dual citizens with Hudwits, Marwits and Barwits and Willets constantly flying back and forth from BC to Semiahmoo Spit in Blaine, WA. To a bird there is no border! I personally could care less where I saw the bird it is a lifer for me and ABA (code 3) bird and it's a bloody CURLEW SANDPIPER! Anyways, so that day we searched for the bird from 6:45am until 4pm (and parts of it in pouring rain and wind) but no luck! Good birds blessed us at Point Bob including Parasitic Jaegers chasing cute Bonaparte's Gulls, a Heermann's Gull, Ruddy Turnstone, Surfbird. Black Turnstones, Caspian Terns, Sanderling, Pacific Loons, Marbled Murrelets and the like. Not a bad day at the Point!

After this we went home. While we were home lounging on the couch licking our wounds, my buddy Mike Klotz texted me and says "Hey Mel, I saw a bird that was really interesting it had a red belly, looked like the Curlew Sandpiper and Roger saw it too you might want to come down for it." I showed Ilya and we just had a gut feeling they had the bird I texted people and let them know possible CUSA at 96th St at 5pm and we quickly put on our shoes and drove fast to 96th St at Boundary Bay. On the way I called Roger via blue tooth in my car. The wind was howling so loud around Roger we couldn't hear a word he said nor could he hear us! We screamed at him "what did you see Roger, do you have the curlew sandpiper?!". He replied " well I saw the white rump, red appearance on the upper surfaces and it was bigger than the Westerns" and we said "ok so you have the Curlew Sandpiper!". Roger said "now, now I'm not prepared to call it a Curlew just yet" and we knew he had it. I said "Roger you have the curlew sandpiper, see you in five mins."

We got to 96th St and the rain was pouring and the howling wind was pushing it sideways. We rushed out with our scopes, bins and cameras and got to the foot. There we saw Wayne Weber sitting comfortably in his warm dry car  (he had apparently spotted a bird with a Dunlin-like posture before the other 2) and poor Rogers soaked to the bone with his scope in hand looking at the shorebirds. None of them had the bird when we arrived. Mike Klotz was down at 104th St looking for a Willet and trying to relocate the bird because at this point no one had confirmed the ID yet of this mysterious red bellied sandpiper. Well about 5 mins later Ilya said "what's that?!! what's that?! That's him I've got it!" We quickly all got on the bird instantly with our scopes it never usually happens that way... it was sitting with a flock of westerns right at 96th St on a log just right there!! we had awesome views of this incredible bird and lifer! I called Mike Klotz I saw him and screamed woohoo! Ilya hugged him... we then let him go look at the bird so he could confirm it haha. We all got fantastic views I texted out to people that the bird was confirmed at 5:30pm the minute Ilya said we had it and we all got looks at it. Quentin who is doing a Vancouver Big Year said he was on his way. We got good pics of this bird as it kept flying and coming right back in with the Western Flock a beautiful Hudwit was virtually ignored because of the star of the show. Andrew Foxall came and got good views of the bird.

I kept on the bird in batting down rain waiting for my friend Quentin. Literally just before he got there, the bird flew at 6:19pm and we desperately tried to relocate it but no luck. I sure was sad that my good friend who came all the way from North Van had just missed this bird. However, he was so grateful I let him know and he said that's birding I wish everyone could have that kind, grateful and beautiful attitude about life. This bird would also have been a lifer for Quentin making him more a rockstar in my eyes for how he handled things.

Anyways, we all left soaked to the bone but very happy that we had worked so hard and was rewarded and I congratulate Roger, Mike and Wayne for spotting an interesting bird that turned out to be the Curlew Sandpiper and I am SOOO eternally grateful to my friend Mike Klotz for not worrying about "being wrong or looking bad" and to just get the word out to me. It is better to risk being wrong than cost a bunch of people a chance at seeing a great bird.

So thank you Mike.

What I admired about this group was that they got out there despite the weather and searched hard for the bird, they didn't just wait for someone else to find it. Patience, persistence and hard work tends to pay off in birding (as it does in every aspect of life). However, in birding it seems to always be accompanied with horrible weather. I remember waiting over 12 hours in the freezing cold snow for a Red-flanked Bluetail in Comox after overnighting after the 2nd ferry trip. I remember doing 3 ferry trips and standing for a full day of being soaked for 10 hours straight while waiting for a Redwing in Victoria. It is these challenges that help you to value what you see when you really work at it. However, who doesn't just love pulling up on a gorgeous sunny day and having a Purple Sandpiper walk at your feet as it did for me in Victoria this year. If they could all be that easy... well if they all could it might be a lot more pleasant but a lot more boring! haha

Before Mike Tabak went on holidays I said to him I think a Curlew Sandpiper would show up... and that I hoped for one... I guess dreams really do come true!

I want to also give a big thanks to Mario Lam for relocating this bird in Point Roberts and igniting a passion in so many to get out there and bird hard. Also, of course a big thanks to Mary Taitt, Anne Murray, Hank Tseng and Julian Skes for originally finding the 12th record of this species in the province. This bird was last seen in the Lower Mainland in 1993.

This bird was a BC Bird for everyone that night except for Wayne Weber.

What an incredible day, one twitch I wont ever forget and one we celebrated after with a warm, hot bowl of Pho!

As of Sept 18th, the bird was not relocated in Canada or the US so boy were we blessed! This was BC bird # 411 for me and #415 for Ilya. It was ABA bird 651 (excluding Hawaii) for myself as well.

My photos are not quite as good as Mario's stunner below but let's see you try to take a photo better than this in pelting sideways rain and wind where you can't see straight,  trying to hold your scope up with one hand and make sure your expensive/camera and lens isn't water damaged with the other! haha

The first time we saw him he was perched right at the foot of 96th St at the Boundary Bay Dyke in Delta. Note the downcurved bill typical of this species - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Curlew Sandpiper showing off its distinctive white rump in Delta, BC. 9/18/17 - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Mario got stunning photographs of this adult Curlew Sandpiper in Point Roberts! If we could all be so lucky! - Photo: Mario Lam


  1. What a great rare find! Great photos too

    1. thanks meghan but the only great photo here is by mario ;)!!

  2. good for you mel. your dedication and perseverance paid off once more you are an example to us all. Nice to see that your friend quentin has a great non-jealous attitude there is too much of that and competitiveness in this hobby. i hope the bird is relocated for more to see but you deserve to see it more than anyone mel. you do so much all in bc, especially in the lower mainland and the kids. your work is mostly thankless but there are those of us out there who appreciate you. since you first came on the scene on that forum we shall not name you were a brilliant star attracting all those from far away you have brought many straying and new birders into this field including children. we are all proud and grateful for you mel, you don't sing your own praises enough. congratulations and great shots in sideways rain i doubt I'd even get a clear shot. mario got an exquisite shot of this rare wader. you do us proud mel and thanks for the many laughs in this crazy anecdote. if you ever went away i'm not sure how the bc/wa birders who rely on you so heavily would make it!

  3. I am happy that I found the bird but I am even more happy that you found the bird. The amount of work you and others put in to find the bird is just incredible and deserve a round of applause.This is only my second year birding and I will try my best to learn from everyone of you in the community. Again, hats off!

  4. I think persistence definitely payed off in this case! It was a lot of fun to read about the excitement everyone felt after seeing it. Congrats to Mario and everyone who saw it at Boundary Bay!

    1. Thanks B glad you could share in the excitement!! I sure hope he is relocated so everyone can share in that experience thanks
      For the kind words!

  5. Like many birders, one of my greatest joys in birding is the chase of a far flung vagrant, especially an Asian species like a Curlew Sandpiper. This is rarely a solo mission. It is great when as a community, we can work together to find and relocate tricky vagrants which seem to never show up in the same place twice. We all owe Mel a big thanks for the work she has done to make BC Bird Alert such a timely comprehensive resource for RBAs in our province. Sometimes, we are not able to reach a stakeout in time before our target vanishes. While the disappointment may sting, we should all strive to follow Quentin's example and act with class and respect. There are no guarantees with twitching, and if there were the pleasure of discovery would be a far more hollow one.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and glad you are appreciative of my work on the bird alert I truly appreciate that! Yes we should all strive to behave like quentin in every major disappointment esp when it comes to birds! Cheers

  6. Congrats on getting the Curlew Sandpiper!! Glad you guys had so much fun in the rain:) When do you think the next CUSA will come around Lol!!

    1. Thanks viktor it was a lifer so meant a lot! i hope the next cusa is here tomorrow!! cheers and thanks again

  7. Mel, wonderful article. You have captured the feeling very well of the disappointment and the elation that us Bird Nerds go through when it comes to these rarities. This backyard lifer was a great find and was a wonderful concerted effort by the group that was there. I was very lucky to be in the company of such great birders. Thank you to Wayne and Roger for the initial spark and to Ilya and Mel for the confirmation and call back to get my record photos. A special thanks to Mel for the hard work you put into the rare bird alert. Looking forward to birding with you all for a long time to come.

    1. Thanks Mike, what a sweet message I will never forget that day and glad we could share it together. here's to many more great birds! see you at the next rarity! ;) glad you appreciate the rba and the work I put into it that means a lot! cheers.


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