All of us who are interested in rare birds owe a debt of gratitude to Craig Holt, who found the Black-tailed Gull back on November 16th. Since then, hundreds of people have seen this beautiful bird, and I'd bet it was a life bird - not just a state bird - for nearly all of them. Craig's find has made its way into the media numerous times, including the first (HERE) and second (HERE) largest circulation Ohio papers, and of course the Ashtabula Star Beacon. All of this attention has surely piqued nonbirders' curiosity about birds, and that can only be a good thing.
Major thanks also go to Jen Brumfield, who has diligently kept the birding community aware of the Black-tailed Gull's every movement. The bird blinks, Jen reports it :-) She even created a mapping system of the Ashtabula lakefront to help people better navigate to the best viewing spots. Also, props to Jerry Talkington, who is a lakefront legend and an extraordinary birder, who has been a major asset to birders on the scene. Jerry is great about helping everyone find the gull, and other interesting birds in the area.
Conneaut Harbor, and headed out to the sands of the impoundment. Upon arrival, we saw this curious little knot of birders, seemingly looking at their feet. Aha! I knew this weird behavior could pretty much mean but one thing!
Note the extraordinary rotundness of the bird. I imagine a healthy Purple Sandpiper is a little blubber cart, the insulating fat helping it to deal with the frigid temperatures and hostile climates that these small beasts must endure.
Barney the Dinosaur, they'll be mildly disappointed. Purple Sandpipers are a beautiful shade of smooth slate on the breast and head, and the tone is quite stunning in good light. Seen very well, a purplish sheen glints from the back feathers. The bright yellowish-orange bill base and feet and legs create a faintly jarring contrast to the soft tones of the plumage.
Map courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Make no mistake, these Purple Sandpipers are tough customers. They breed in the highest reaches of the Arctic, some 1,800 miles or more north of Conneaut, Ohio. Unlike many of their long-billed shorebird brethren, the purples don't peregrinate to the balmy climes of the southern U.S., the Caribbean, or Central or South America. These plump little toughs ride out the winter in the northern Atlantic maritime region along with Common Eiders and Harlequin Ducks. Chances are this Conneaut bird will soon end up in a place like Barnegat Light, New Jersey.
Click on the photo, and you'll see the new framework of an observation tower that the city is erecting. Conneaut's leaders know that the harbor is a big draw for birders and nature enthusiasts, and they are taking steps to accommodate people with such interests. But in this same photo, you'll see a pickup truck. Were you there, you couldn't have missed it as the idiot behind the wheel spun high speed donuts through the sand, scattering all of the gulls and other birds and disrupting everyone who was on the flats for legitimate purposes. Such motorized mayhem is quite common here. Not exactly the sort of thing that one wants to observe from the new lookout tower.
It would be great if the port authority would close off the sand flats to motorized vehicles, and permit birds and people their peace.
I'll leave you with a short video of the Purple Sandpiper putting on a show for its admirers.