Broad-billed Sandpiper, Limicola falcinellus

Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Saturday 29th August 1998
Notes by Angus Wilson


Circumstances Bill Benner reported seeing a possible Broad-billed Sandpiper from the north-eastern end of the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Refuge (hereafter JBNWR) on Thursday 27th August 1998. Bill and others discovered the bird again on Friday afternoon, this time on the West Pond and were able to confirm his original identification as a Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus. A truly outstanding discovery!

On Saturday morning (8/29/98), a large number of local birders assembled at the refuge and spread out to search the scattered shorebird flock for the bird. At ~9:40 a.m., after checking the shorebirds gathered on the south shore of the west pond, we (Angus Wilson, Andy Guthrie, Doug Futuyma, Gail Benson and Tom Burke) began to make our way to the north end of the East Pond. As we left the refuge parking lot, we heard from John Fritz (via 2-way radio) that the bird had been relocated by Sy Schiff and Seth Ausubel on the north side of the West Pond. We rushed (or to be exact, ran) to spot where a small crowd including Bob Kurtz and Andy Baldelli had already assembled. We watched the sandpiper through telescopes for approximately 1.5 hr. Satisfied, we then checked the shorebirds on the East Pond for several hours, before returning to study the bird again on the same stretch of shoreline but in better light.

Detailed description [Adapted from notes and sketches prepared in the field with the bird in view. Published material had been reviewed the night before and some of the more subtle specific details were purposefully sought out.]

Shape and structure Small calidrid sandpiper. Slightly larger than a (female?) Western Sandpiper that was often in the same field of view. Longer body due to greater primary length. Clearly smaller than White-rumped Sandpiper, three of which were also in view at times. Short-legged appearance contrasting with elongated body due to long primaries. Tail generally held higher than head as it picked along mud (hence giving a slightly hunched appearance).

Head Pattern Broad white supercilium, with thinner lateral crown stripe. The two stripes emerged from a pale area at the base of the bill and almost met again at the back of the head. The head pattern appeared symmetrical. The supercilia were prevented from meeting above the bill by a solid dark strip running from the upper base of the bill onto the crown. Ear coverts smudged dark. Dark eye line running through lore to base of bill. Throat dull gray and relatively unmarked.

Breast Pattern Weak collar formed by diffuse spotting sometimes running into weak streaks.

Flanks Six or more diffuse brown spots visible on flanks below folded wing. Faint thin flecks on flanks below primaries. Buff wash to flank at base of folded wing.

Back Feathering Mantle feathers solid dark centers with gray fringes.

Tertials Slight buff tone to edges of pale fringes of tertials.

Primaries Dark (black) with narrow white edging. When folded, projected beyond tail. Also at least 5 primaries were visible beyond tertials (thus long primary projection).

Marginal Coverts Dark with very little pale edging. Thus formed a dark (black) patch at leading edge of folded wing. Reminiscent of Sanderling.

Underwing Seen very briefly a couple of times as the bird landed after flying and once when it raised its wing to stretch. Clean white matching belly by separated by buffy flank patch.

Upperwing Rarely seen well. Seen during short flights, the wings appeared noticeably long and dark in comparison to accompanying Semi-palmed Sandpipers. Strong white wing bar.

Tail Rarely seen well. Broad dark bar running down center of white rump patch (i.e.upper tail coverts).

Bare Parts Legs appeared dull or dark gray, sometimes with a lighter brownish cast. Bill slightly longer than Western Sandpiper, essentially straight until drooping noticeably for the last 25% of its length. Bill less deep at tip. Thus resembling Dunlin. When viewed head on, the proximal half of the bill appeared to broaden compared to the more distal half. Bill dark black except for a paler (dull green?) wedge on the lower mandible extending from just beyond the facial feathers to ~1/3 length of bill.

Call Heard to call three times (whilst watching through telescope). Single rolling pprrrrtt note.

Behavior Fed through most of the two observation sessions, pausing to roost briefly at a round 4-4:15 p.m. Mostly fed by picking at surface of wet mud but occasionally adopted a probing technique resembling Dunlin. Relatively aggressive maintaining a well-defined feeding territory on the wet mud of the shoreline. Would displace Semi-palmated Sandpipers that approached too close. Typically raised it head, stretching is neck and spreading crown feathers before lunging at the trespasser. Sometimes became nervous. Not clear if this was in response to the sometimes noisy crowd of excited birders or other perceived threats. When flushed returned swiftly to its feeding territory and resumed picking over surface.


Copyright © 1998 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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