Bird #211 — Western Sandpiper

calidris (speckled water bird) mauri (given in 1838 by Charles Bonaparte for his friend Ernesto Mauri)

Monday, August 10, 1981 — 8:00 am

Waukegan, Illinois — Waukegan Public Beach — Lake Michigan

About half a mile north of the swimming beach, a small creek comes out of the dunes, crosses the beach and empties into the lake.  The edges of this creek were sprinkled with sandpipers, including Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers and three Western Sandpipers.  I spent a lot of time looking at the various peeps, and I sincerely felt I was seeing three species.  At one point, I had all three in my scope at one time. They were foraging in the sand in and along the creek, picking at the mud, splashing in the water and preening.  Occasionally, one would fly up or down the creek past where I stood.  I got within four feet.

After this sighting, I went years without seeing another Western Sandpiper.  As I got better at birding, I realized Peterson’s Field Guide doesn’t give enough information for separating these birds.  I began to doubt that I’d seen one.  And then Birding magazine ran an identification article, and I studied it intently.  It said, among other things, that Westerns may actually outnumber Semipalmateds in this area in the fall.  Perhaps I did see a Western in 1981.

Anyway, in August 1990 I saw several in the slough at Bode and Barrington Roads in Poplar Creek Forest Preserve.  I studied the article one evening and went out the next day at lunch.  I got a chance to directly compare several Westerns with several Semipalmateds, and I went back three or four days in a row to make sure.

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