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Whimbrel Walkabout
THURSDAY, AUGUST 14, 2008


The past few days I've been doing some intense Whimbrel hunting. Whimbrel is a large shorebird with a long, curved bill used for eating fiddler crabs. This time of year there are a few birds that come through New York...unfortunately, they don't stay long, and they are often seen as a fly-by or for a short time feeding in grasses or mud flats. In past years they have been seen in Shinnecock Inlet or Cow Meadow, or a few other spots on Long Island. I'd been working these spots over pretty regularly, with no luck. Then today I exchanged emails with Karen Fung, who mentioned that two Whimbrels were seen a couple of days ago on the North Fork of Long Island, in a spot called Cedar Beach. I didn't have a full day to work with today, but I figured what the heck and went into full-on chase mode. This means checking checking all the prime spots thoroughly but quickly and then moving on. I hit Cow Meadow first on the way out East, and at lunch I checked the Ponquogue Bridge at Shinnecock for its low-tide mud flats. No luck. I had just enough time to hit Cedar Beach before turning around, so I googlemapped my way there and started looking. At first it seemed like a regular, stony beach: not a lot of shorebird habitat. But as I walked my way around I found an inlet where there was a goodly supply of marsh grass and some little islands with flats. And there, on one of those islands, was a whimbrel. I just saw it briefly before it went behind some reeds, but I was able to change my vantage point and get some good (if distant) looks as it went back and forth, picking at fiddler crabs. Again, if I hadn't checked that spot at just that moment, I wouldn't have had that initial glimpse, and I might not have seen that bird at all. Luck and timing are a birder's best friend! On our way back to the car, Monkey seemed especially interested in some of the grasses by the shore. I figured he'd found a crab, but when I looked more closely I saw that he had found hundreds of them. There were crabs everywhere, scurrying along the shoreline and throughout the reeds. No wonder the Whimbrel was hanging out here...it's a fiddler crab buffet!