THE DAY I FOUND A CURLEW SANDPIPER

Yesterday, I was telling Kevin Louth over the phone that I was feeling very sad and was missing my mom so was going to go for a bike ride and see what shorebirds I could find at Boundary Bay. I was hoping to see the Buff-breasted Sandpiper that Kevin and Mike Toochin had found and The Hudsonian Godwit that Rob Lyske had found. So I put my scope on my backpack and took out my new bike that my dad gave me for my birthday and parked at 112th St and biked down the dyke. It was a beautiful day and it was nice to have the wind on my face. I have been missing my mom more than ever this week and feeling the pain of physical heartbreak and wished she was with me. It has been 8 months but feels like yesterday when I lost her. This summer I lead a bird walk at Colony Farm for youth at the Crossroads Hospice Society who lost close family members. One of the teens in the group told me about her mom she also lost to cancer. Her mom was a Veterinarian and an amazing woman. I was inspired by this young woman’s resilience. She told me it had been 4 years and it still hurt inside every day but each day is a little better than yesterday. She too expressed the physical pain and dread it was for her to get out of bed every morning. It lasted a  couple of years for her... the dragging yourself out of bed. 

So that day I tried to focus on all the beauty life still has to offer and the family, friends and people who truly love me. They keep me going. Just as I went around the pumphouse I ran into Moose and her husband Bob. Moose had just found a Tennessee Warbler in her yard that very morning and I congratulated her. Moose has a magical yard. I am convinced she lives on a rare bird flyaway. Let me just list some of the rarities she has had: Cassin's Finch, Calliope Hummingbird, Tennessee Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lesser Goldfinch, Eastern Phoebe, Mountain Chickadee, Western Kingbird, Clay-coloured Sparrow and more!

Anyways, after a nice chat with Moose I went on towards 104th St on my bike. The tide was very far out and I didn't see many shorebirds at all but lots of ducks and some geese. I saw a few Baird's, Westerns and Leasts scattered about. As I passed the painted wooden Giraffe I decided to stop and tie my shoe and put my bike down and the moment I got off my bike at 1:30pm to tie that shoe I looked on the seaweed in front of me and bam I saw a Curlew Sandpiper (CUSA). The moral of the story is to always tie your shoes! 

I kept looking at the bird in disbelief! I didn't reach for my camera, I was just so shocked and then I snapped back into reality and immediately got my camera out and started taking pics. He did a wing stretch and showed off his diagnostic white rump separating him from a Dunlin. He did one call which was neat to hear. He was a juvenile and I immediately posted it on the RBA website and called Kevin. I also texted a few friends like Bridget in San Diego who just found a rare BTNW on her first trip to AZ!, Ryan in WA (who made me promise to send it down to him) and Cole in ONT and Liron because it was one we had bet since the initial young birders group I'd find. I saw Yousif scoping at 104th and called him to run down to me and he got on the bird right away and I felt a bit overwhelmed with happiness and the magic of the moment and tears came in my eyes.  I am not a superstitious person but I believe my mom sent that bird to me. I never bike from 112th St and usually start at 104th and I usually would go out at a better tide and why did I stop at that exact spot?? Kevin told me he believes it is my mum that sent it to me too. It was just hanging out with a small group of Baird's Sandpipers. My friends on the island like Ian Cruikshank and friends in the interior like Chris Charlesworth, Craig Sandvig and Kalin O'cana texted to congratulate me. Other friends like Brian Stech, John Reynolds, Blair Bernson and Alex in HI and many others in BC and in AB sent me congratulations notes which was so kind. Ilya left work to come see mine as he had found an adult the year before at Brunswick. Local birders started to come out and I showed them the bird. This is the 3rd I've seen in BC and the 17th record for the province. I still remember the first one I saw in BC which was my lifer. I ended up seeing hundreds in Thailand but that day in 2017 was special. 

Today was extremely special and I immediately felt uplifted. This juv was tame, sleeping often and staying close to the dyke. The lighting was poor for pics but it was great views. It was really sweet to see friends like Rob Lyske and Quentin Brown get the bird because they have dipped on the bird several times, especially for poor Quentin who missed it by 5 mins in the past twice (in 2017 and 2021) and who was out of town in 2020 when that one John found stayed a long time at Reifel!

Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in Delta - Photos: Melissa Hafting

After many birders were on the bird and I had fun playing with Krissi Martin's cute kids Jacob and Haley,  I decided to keep shorebirding to look for the American Golden-Plover that Yousif had seen earlier in the day at 104th St. I found it quickly in close to the dyke and admired it and then I saw 2 Red Knots and the juvenile Ruddy Turnstone that Ilya and I found a few weeks prior. I didn't see the Buff-breasted immediately, after going all the way down to 96th. I came back at about 5 pm and was scoping as a flock of Black-bellieds were out on the mud at 104th St. I was hoping for the Hudsonian Godwit but didn't see it. Mike and Sharon Toochin were with me and we heard a Sapsucker calling from the willow at the foot of 104th St. It is a strange location for a sapsucker here. I have never had one at Boundary Bay before. We immediately thought this is a very good chance it is a Red-naped Sapsucker because of the time of year and location. They migrate through Van in early Sept. We could not get on the bird but saw a Cooper's Hawk try and attack something and then flew off. It probably got the sapsucker, as we never heard it do its mew call again.... It is not the first potentially rare sapsucker that has got away on me.

Juvenile American Golden-Plover in Delta - Photos: Melissa Hafting

About 15 mins later I spotted the juv Buff-breasted Sandpiper out on the mud. It is such a beautiful sandpiper with their dove-like heads and big black eyes. I had predicted we would get a Buff-breasted Sandpiper after the young birder trip because the numbers were so high over 100 some nights. Tonight I had 88. One day I'd like to go up to the high arctic to see these birds doing their lek display. They are the only North American shorebird to do this lek dance and display akin to Greater Sage-Grouse. Check out a video of their display below:

Baird's Sandpipers tend to bring rarities with them, BBSA, RUFF and now a CUSA! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Delta - Photos: Melissa Hafting

The Curlew Sandpiper stayed until 5:45pm with many happy birders looking at him. It was nice to see how many got lifers that night too! Unfortunately, as I was scoping at 104th St, I saw the Peregrine Falcon coming close to the dyke flying towards 112th St and the Toochins and I said I am worried that is going to flush the CUSA. Almost immediately after I got a message from Jo-Anne, Quentin and Richard that the CUSA picked up and flew towards 112th St. One of the young birders Daniel Poon had come out with his dad and missed it by 5 mins :( and everyone was searching down there but sadly couldn't relocate it. Daniel did get some nice shots of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper though as a nice consolation prize!

As Quentin and I were the last to leave that night (after I spent 6.5 hours at the bay); I showed him 2 beautiful Great Horned Owls. He said his wife Tina would have loved to see that and I said my mom loved Owls too ...and she would of loved to see it and I imagined showing it to her. It was a perfect ending to a beautiful day and I got to carry my mom and love for her in my heart on this beautiful day too.

*Update - I was able to relocate the bird at 2:30pm on Sept 4 and many birders got to see it (in the same general area) I found it 2 days prior, which was nice.*

Curlew Sandpiper in Delta - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Comments

  1. Wow! A wonderful find! Thanks for sharing it with so many :)
    Jon p

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jon! So glad you and your brother and friend got to see it! Nice seeing you guys again too!

      Delete
  2. I Love you Melissa. This is a great post and you are an elegant writer. Yes I believe mom sent you that bird but you also have the talent and skill to pick out such a tough bird to ID. Well done and congratulations. Good things also come to kind people.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Congrats Mel! You made many happy on Friday it was nice to meet you. Thank you for waiting for all of us and helping us get on the bird. Roger Foxall said that was so nice of you as not everyone cares enough to do that. You are a birder that inspires me as a fellow woman. I am a newbie and just want to thank you for always helping me as an eBird reviewer too I have learnt a lot. These photos are beautiful congrats on the MEGA find and for all you do for the young birders and the birding community in BC. I really don't know how you do it all. I am really happy it was you who found the bird and thanks for being honest with your grief. It is a subject that shouldn't be taboo and your strength shines through. Your mom must have been an amazing woman and this Curlew shows too she's still looking down on you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Britt. It was really nice to meet you too and that's very kind of Roger. He actually told me that in person the next day. I'm really touched by your kindness.

      Delete
    2. ps forgot to say regarding Grief.. yes I don't believe it is anything to be ashamed of it is what I feel and it is normal and healthy. We really need to normalize grief more in society....and yes my mom was amazing. I will never stop missing her. Life will never be the same without her and I will sadly never be the same again. Part of me died when she left.

      Delete
  4. Congrats on the MEGA find! Amazing you could pick out that bird among all the others!

    ReplyDelete
  5. What a wonderful time spent birding! And yes - I think your Mom was right there with you! What a great experience! Thank you for sharing your love of birds with us all! You're inspirational!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Kate so much for your kindness you are a great support and friend. I really hope you are right that my mom was there with me:)

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Dowitcher Identification

STINT IDENTIFICATION

Hawk Identification Tips from every angle (Sharpie vs Cooper and Red-tailed Subspecies)

*UPDATED* The First Ever Black Birders Week May 31-June 5th

*Updated - The most famous Red-tailed Hawk is eating fish on the ground just like a Bald Eagle!