They Came

Sandpipers and others on the North Basin

“Almost no birds,” I mused with the extreme low tide laid out before me. A gull here and there. There should have been scores of birds taking advantage of the freshly exposed mud. I walked north along the east side of the park, wondering what kept the birds away. And then they came. First, a trio of Black Oystercatchers flew in, giving their peeping calls, then going silent. Next came a flock of about a dozen Marbled Godwits and started feeding. While I was watching them, a sizeable flock of small sandpipers flew over and settled just beyond the Oystercatchers. I’m guessing they were Sanderlings, but might have been Least Sandpipers. They foraged in their machine-gun fashion for a few minutes, then took off again. It’s a thrill watching them as they turn. Going one way they look dark; the other way, showing their bellies, they’re white. Eventually they took off toward broader plains of mud on the south side. There, moments later, I spotted a different flock of slightly larger birds, in much greater number. They had settled on the mud, and as if on a signal, all took off and cruised back and forth in a tight body held together by some mysterious magnetism. I followed their aerial gyrations, fascinated. These birds were dark above and below. I never got close enough to take an educated guess what they might have been. By the size and color, maybe European Starlings, but would Starlings settle on the mud, even briefly? My chances of getting closer to this flock vanished as a red Coast Guard chopper, maybe the same one that crash-landed in the park a few years ago (“Injured Coast Guard Bird Hauled Away Safe,” May 21 2017), barged in from the north and passed low and loud over the water. The mudflats once again lay before me, birdless.

Sandpiper flock turning, showing white bellies
The low tide — minus 1.1 — seen from the Schoolhouse Creek outfall

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