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Curlew Sandpiper - A Rare Visitor

The Curlew Sandpiper, a Eurasian species, is a rare migrant along the Atlantic coast and a casual species elsewhere in North America according to eBird and the ABA (American Birding Association) coding for the ABA Checklist Area. For those unfamiliar with these terms, the ABA defines a rare species as one that occurs in very low numbers, but annually in the ABA Checklist Area. Casual species are not recorded annually in the ABA Checklist Area, but with six or more total records - including three or more in the past 30 years - reflecting some pattern of occurrence. So you can imagine my excitement while visiting Magee Marsh in Ohio during The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival when I found out that a Curlew Sandpiper has been seen and photographed by several birders at a shorebird habitat in Lucas, Ohio. Lucas is less than an hour’s drive from where I was staying so on the morning of May 13 I headed out to the location with the hope of getting a glimpse of the Curlew Sandpiper, which was in stunning breeding plumage according to reports. Upon my arrival at the scene (as you can imagine I wasn’t the only one there), it did not take long to spot this distinctive bird among the hundreds of other shorebirds there through my spotting scope at 60x zoom. Once I spent a few minutes observing the shorebird, being a bird photographer I naturally set up my camera and 800mm lens with my 1.4x teleconverter to grab a few record ID shots. I realized that none of the photos I made from this distance would likely be destined for National Geographic; however, I still felt getting something was better than getting nothing at all. Several minutes later, many shorebirds, including the Curlew Sandpiper, took flight and moved closer to one end of the mud flats. I grabbed my gear and relocated around the corner to get somewhat better looks at the Curlew Sandpiper. As the views through the scope improved, so did my photos, although the direction light was not exceptional and the fairly strong winds blowing didn’t make things any easier. Having a sturdy tripod with winds blowing strongly as they were that morning was an absolute necessity for limiting camera shake.


1/1600, f/8, ISO 1250, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm +1.4x tc

Above, a Curlew Sandpiper provides great looks to all the birders present. It flew closer to where I was standing and now provided much better looks for me than when I observed it earlier that morning. At 8.5 inches, it is about the same size as a Dunlin or Stilt Sandpiper. The bill is finer-tipped and more evenly decurved compared with Dunlin’s. It is also more elegant than Dunlin, with longer wings, legs and neck. The rich brick-red head and underparts stood out and made this welcome visitor easy to pick out from among the many shorebirds present. 


1/2000, f/8, ISO 2000, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm +1.4x tc

I’ve included a few photos of the Curlew Sandpiper with other shorebirds to provide comparisons. Above a Short-billed Dowitcher (top left) feeds while a Curlew Sandpiper wades in shallow water.


1/2000, f/8, ISO 2000, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm +1.4x tc

Above and to the right of a Curlew Sandpiper is a Greater Yellowlegs preening. 


1/1000, f/8, ISO 800, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm +1.4x tc


At one point mid-morning I captured the Curlew Sandpiper flapping its wings, which is shown in the photo above.


1/1000, f/8, ISO 640, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm +1.4x tc


I managed to make an image of the Curlew Sandpiper in flight as the shorebirds moved closer to where I was standing. Other species shown above include Dunlin and Lesser Yellowlegs.


1/1600, f/8, ISO 1000, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm +1.4x tc


The Curlew Sandpiper (Right) and Lesser Yellowlegs (Center) provide a good relative size comparison.


1/1600, f/8, ISO 1600, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm +1.4x tc


Almost forgottten in the excitement of seeing the Curlew Sandpiper was a female Wilson's Phalarope, pictured in flight in the above photo together with Dunlin and Lesser Yellowlegs. Below is a portrait of a female Wilson's Phalarope in breeding plumage, which provided an added bonus to the day, as if seeing a Curlew Sandpiper was not enougn.


1/1600, f/8, ISO 1250, Canon 1D X, Canon 800mm +1.4x tc


New Gallery Photos Added                       Gallery

Curlew Sandpiper                                       Sandpipers, Phalaropes and Allies - Part 2

Wilson's Phalarope                                     Sandpipers, Phalaropes and Allies - Part 2


Happy Birding,



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