The past several weeks we’ve experienced an unusually frequent series of storms 
with easterly winds and rain. Birding them has been interesting: we’ve watched 
the age distribution of Lesser Black-backed Gulls shift from older to younger 
from one storm to the next (full adults were 20/36 at RMSP on 13 April but 0/24 
on 26 April); we’ve picked up some oddities (a very early Common Tern on 13 
April, a Black-legged Kittiwake on 21 April, and a Black-headed Gull on the 
24th); but mostly we’ve been enjoying an interesting start to the spring 
shorebird migration.

Since Pat and I began birding together in April 1999, our overall pattern of 
coverage has been fairly uniform; even this year, while restricting ourselves 
mostly to southwestern Suffolk County rather than ranging more widely from 
Staten Island to Rhode Island, we feel that we’ve obtained a good feel for the 
tempo and mode of the migration. One thing we’ve noticed over the years is a 
pattern of correlation among some of the scarcer migrant shorebirds. Our first 
spring together, 1999, is a good case in point: one or both of us recorded 
American Golden-Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Ruff, and 
Red-necked Phalarope; Whimbrels were found in better than usual numbers by 
others. Furthermore, it was a good spring for Lesser yellowlegs—a more numerous 
species but one that shares habitat preferences with most of the species just 
named and like them is much more numerous in fall than spring.

Apart from Lesser Yellowlegs, these species are scarce enough in spring that 
Pat and I tend to detect them during ca. 30-50% of springs, in the course of 
our habitual field work (Ruff in 6/20 springs through 2019, with hope remaining 
in 2020). Their apparent co-occurrence in “good springs” and mutual absence in 
“bad springs” has been a topic of discussion: assuming it’s genuine and not an 
artifact of small samples, is it driven by year to year variation in habitat 
conditions or by variation in weather and migration dynamics? April 2020 has 
been a very good spring for this cohort so far, and probably my best ever for 
Lesser Yellowlegs (a conservative estimate of 50 at Captree Island on 24 April 
is an exceptional number for spring on LI).

In discussing this with Doug Gochfeld the other day, he noted that all of these 
species undertake long flights northward and even northeastward over our 
region, making them prone to grounding by easterly storms. I agree with this 
interpretation, and note further that other rare-in-spring shorebird species, 
whose spring migrations from southeastern north America are oriented sharply 
westward rather than northward, have been absent this year: Black-necked Stilt, 
American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Western Willet, Long-billed Dowitcher, Western 
Sandpiper, and Wilson’s Phalarope.

Shai Mitra
Bay Shore


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