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Long-billed Dowitcher - May 1, 2012

Long-billed Dowitcher at Bald Knob, Allegheny County
Around 3:50pm on May 1, I arrived at the main pond on Bald Knob Road to check, of course, for shorebirds. There had been a fairly good west or southwest wind for most of the day so I was hoping some new birds had dropped in. I couldn't have been there for more than a minute or two when I heard off to my south (away from the pond) a high-pitched kip! ... kip! It took a few moments for it to register, since it's something I don't often hear here in Pennsylvania, but I quickly realized it was a dowitcher... giving a single high-pitched note in flight. Long-billed! A frantic search for the source of the call ensued, and I shortly observed the bird flying low along the western side of the pond, still calling and coming for a landing. At this point I could see that it was definitely a dowitcher, and a richly orange-red one at that. Unfortunately, it landed directly next to a Killdeer, which, apparently in defense of its four recently fledged young, immediately chased the dowitcher off. The bird took flight again, this time giving a rapid series of calls, and flew off to the east.
I scambled out of the car and assembled the camera, and then looked again to the east. Forturnately, I could still see the bird very distantly, so I tracked it for what seemed like ages before I realized it was actually returning to the pond. As it approached, I could again hear it giving a high, single kip! note. It made one circle of the pond (this time allowing a few pictures), but did not stop, and eventually flew off to the northeast. The bird was visible and audible around the pond just twice for about 30 seconds each time, and then it was gone. Had I been there five minutes later, I would have missed it. Sometimes, birding is 90% luck and 10% dumb luck.
The two pictures below represent the best of the 12 frames I actually captured. The bird was actually not heavily marked, but the side of the breast does have the appearance of dark and light bars, and there are extensive dark markings on the neck (as opposed to hendersoni Short-billed which tends to have a brighter, cleaner neck). Note also (especially in the second picture which shows this well) that the underparts color is quite even all the way to the tail. The lesser coverts on the underwing are contrastingly white (generally indicitave of Long-billed), and the bill, while not overly long, appears to lack the distinctive "kink" often visible in Short-billed. All of these characters can be difficult to distinguish between Short-billed and Long-billed, but the flight calls of dowitchers are the definitive way (and often the only way) to identify them to species, and given this, there is no doubt that this bird was a Long-billed.
This represents the second record for Allegheny County and the first spring record.

Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x TC III, 1/2000 sec. at f/11 (manual), ISO 800, handheld

Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x TC III, 1/2000 sec. at f/11 (manual), ISO 800, handheld

Unless explicitly indicated otherwise in the photo caption, all photos on this website were taken by and are 2003-2013 by Geoff Malosh. Unauthorized usage of these photographs for any purpose is strictly forbidden. If you are interested in using any photo for publication or if you are interested in obtaining a print, contact me at pomarine -AT- earthlink -DOT- net.