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Rare avian visitors worth noting

Lesser Sand-Plover
Imran Shah
Lesser Sand-Plover

You may remember the famous Craigville Beach Mountain Plover of a few weeks ago, which represented just the second record for Massachusetts. Shortly after that bird disappeared, tiny but ornithologically potent Rhode Island said, “Nice bird, but I’ll raise your Mountain Plover with a Lesser Sand-Plover!” Someone had indeed just found the second Rhode Island record for this even more far-flung plover of high Asian mountains. Rhode Island is no slouch in the rare bird game - places like the Charlestown Breachway, Napatree Point, and Block Island have produced many a rarity that sent Massachusetts birders speeding down I-95. This Lesser Sand-Plover wasn’t just any rare bird, it was one of the few species Rhode Island birders could say “ha ha – we have one and you don’t”, as none had ever been seen in Massachusetts. Until Monday.

That’s when long-time Mashpee birder Mary Keleher, godmother of all the Cape’s Purple Martin colonies and finder of many rare birds, was checking on her Purple Martins at New Seabury Country Club. She decided to pop over and check the beach, not expecting much – that beach doesn’t attract many shorebirds relative to the vaunted flats of Monomoy or Nauset – but one odd little bird caught her eye. She knew immediately what it was, having studied Lesser Sand-Plovers in preparation for chasing the Rhode Island bird, but still didn’t quite believe it. She got word out, and several others saw this lost waif before it flew off somewhere. No one saw it again that afternoon or first thing the next morning, leaving some to despair, but it was back by 10:30 Tuesday morning, rewarding those that took a chance.

By now I’m sure you’re asking, is this the Tibetan or Siberian form of the recently split Lesser Sand-plover superspecies group? I have rarely been so confused in researching an out-of-place bird. In the bird books of my youth, this was the Mongolian Plover. The cruel, dead-eyed taxonomists of International Ornithologists Union recently decided to split the species into Siberian Sand Plover and Tibetan Sand Plover, but we still just call them Lesser Sand-Plover. I wonder what they call themselves?

Meanwhile, the plover is not the only significant bird news this week - in the “Tri-Village Area” of Marstons Mills, Cotuit, and Osterville, there is a Swallow-tailed Kite invasion underway, with several sightings in recent days, often in different villages on the same day. This is at least the second year in a row with Swallow-tailed Kites, who don’t breed much north of Georgia, summering on the Upper Cape. So look up now and again if you’re driving around this area, these lovely hawks are hard to miss.

A few days ago, an American Avocet in Falmouth had been the marquee bird, but it’s all but forgotten in the wake of sand-plover fever. But if you find yourself near Woodneck Beach, keep an eye out for an elegantly leggy, black and white shorebird with its bill bent up, kind of like it ran into a wall.

If you want to go searching for the sand-plover, start at South Cape Beach and walk east until you see happy birders all looking in the same direction. Now that Massachusetts has a Sand-Plover of our own, what will Rhode Island come up next with in this interstate rare bird arms race? Who knows, maybe someday you’ll be telling your grandchildren where you were when you first learned of the famous Chinstrap Penguin of Charlestown Breachway.

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.