Friday, January 8, 2010

Bird finding: Rock Sandpiper

A Rock Sandpiper poses for photos on a barnacle-encrusted jetty rock at Tillamook's Barview Jetty. Photo 17 January 2009 by Greg Gillson.
One highly sought after bird on the Oregon coast is Rock Sandpiper. "Is it too early to see one?" is a question I hear from many fall pelagic participants.

Rock Sandpipers have been recorded as early as late August. The latest departure date has been mid May. So, no, it's not too early in August or September. It's just not likely. Most birds are found along the Oregon coast from late October into March.

Habitat requirements are fairly stringent and not always safely birded. This slate-colored bird works the rocky intertidal zone, blending in with its habitat inches above the crashing surf.

On the central Oregon coast is perhaps one of the more reliable places to find this bird, just 10 miles south of Newport at Seal Rock State Wayside. The best place to try is 1/4 mile south of the park entrance at a pullout overlooking some large rocks at the end of the beach.

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This area is best at high tide, when the rocks farther offshore are submerged and the birds are forced closer to shore. It is possible for the agile to clamber down the rocks to the beach, but this is not recommended--especially if the rocks are wet.

Another place to look is on the north coast at Barview Jetty, the north jetty of Tillamook Bay. Drive through Barview Jetty Park (no fee needed). The jetty at low tide is sometimes navigable for a ways. Again, the footing on wet rocks is treacherous. Sneaker waves could sweep across the jetty at any time. If seas are particularly rough, the birds may actually be up the bay slightly, near the Coast Guard tower. The bird photographed above was located as indicated on the map below.

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There are two strategies to use to see these birds. First, they often loosely associate with flocks of Surfbirds and Black Turnstones. Watch for them to all fly out occasionally as they are wont to do. Then look for the smaller Dunlin-like bird flying out with them.

Secondly, scan along with the incoming waves. These birds feed right along the waterline and the waves often flush them a few feet up the jetty rocks before the wave passes and they scurry down again.

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