Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The American Golden Plover controversy

During my time in the Peace I had seen a report of an American Golden Plover at the sewage ponds in Ft. St. John. Now it wasn't exactly a Peace specialty but seeing as I was there I might as well knock that one off early. So I hit up the ponds and saw the bird, albeit briefly. As I was about to get a closer look I was kicked out of the ponds by security.

Now being that it was reported as an American Golden Plover, when I saw the Plover, I naturally assumed that is what it was. Well it turned out not to be as simple as that. The original person who saw the bird sent Russell Cannings photo's of the bird and it showed that it was likely a female Pacific Golden Plover.

This is where the ethics of birding come in to play. Do I count it now as a Pacific? Even though I didn't get a good enough view of the bird to I.D. it myself? No, I couldn't. If this wasn't a Big Year, it really wouldn't matter, but I wanted every bird to count 100 percent. So instead of gaining a Pacific Golden Plover, I was losing an American Golden Plover, and now I had to find both of them again.

As you know I recently found the Pacific, after much searching. It was a major relief, but I still needed the American. American Golden Plover is the more common of the two but it had been giving me grief for a while now. It was either bad timing, bad tides, bad light or all three. Other people seemed to be finding them left and right, but I resolved this would be my week. The tides were going to be high in the late morning giving me enough time before work to put in a good 3 hours of searching.

I arrived early to a very low tide, looking like another miscalculation on my part. Was the tide really going to come in all this way before I had to leave for work? I could only wait and see. I set up my scope and hoped for the best.

The light wasn't doing me any favours either, as it was a clear sky and the sunlight was creating back lighting and casting shadows on the birds. Finding a Golden Plover in a flock of Black-bellies is all about picking out the smaller darker bird, and when they all look dark, it makes it that much harder.

Gradually, the tide began to ebb closer and closer in, bringing the feeding flock of Plovers nearer. They all seemed to be Black-bellied. A couple Red Knots darted in between them, then three Dowitchers entered the fray. I checked the clock and realized I had to be leaving soon.

I scanned from left to right, the same flock of Plovers, back and forth, back and forth with nothing new. Time was winding down for me. I heard an odd Plover call, not like the regular "Pew Wee" the Black-bellies give, and I was certain it had to be a Golden Plover. I looked up from my scope to see two birds jetting down out of the sky onto the mudflats in front of the large flock. Through my scope I could tell they were Americans. Their darker overall plumage and thinner shape combined with the elongated primary projection clinched it. A few moments later, all the birds lifted into the sky off towards the pilings, a Peregrine Falcon in quick pursuit.

The Plover conspiracy was finally put to rest, as was the last of my Big Year baggage.

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