About eight years ago I was birding along Lake Michigan north of
Green Bay. We had started out very early to get rails at a marsh. I
remember it well because I was wearing an Eddie Bauer Premium Goose Down winter
parka, it was Memorial Day weekend and I was freezing my keister off.
Memorial Day weather is very different there than here in St.
the marsh, we headed out to a peninsula into Lake Michigan. After
difficult 30 minute walk through very thick sandbar willow, we arrived at the
point of the peninsula to watch the shorebirds. Shortly we settled on one
that we could not identify. Besides me, was mom, whose existence is for
the purpose of birding, and Ty Baumann, who has managed the Green Bay Wildlife
Refuge for 30 years. They are both much better and far more experienced
birders than me, but all three of us stood there looking at this bird in
I often need the crutch of a bird guide, and they don't, I was the only one
that had carried one out there. I kept going through the shorebird
pictures, but nothing matched that should have been there. Ty finally
asked me if anything matched, and said, "Well, it matches the picture of the
Rufous-Necked Stint, but those are only in Alaska." Dead silence, then he
asked for the book. We watched the bird at close range for about 30
minutes, comparing it to the picture in National G. and concluded it was a
way out, we passed other birders, including one wearing a button pin that read,
"WSO Senior Birder of the Year". We sent them after the
(the other birders also) documented the siting and submitted it, but it was
turned down. Not that the committee provided an alternate possibility,
they just said that a few things weren't mentioned in the documentation that
would have convinced them otherwise.
know it was a R-Necked Stint, so I know they have been using the Central Flyway
for sometime. But this place is in a not over-populated area and not easy
to get to, so I agree that we probably are missing a lot of great
If I remember it correctly (I may not), Tim
Barksdale believed that, when a rare bird is discovered there are
probably many more individuals of the same species around that nobody finds.
By that supposition, the Red-necked Stint that appeared at Lake
Contrary is probably only one of a larger group that went astray, and
there may be 10, 20 or 100 more scattered around the mid-west. By such
reasoning, Seb's idea to look for Red-necked Stint at Cheyenne Bottoms and
Quivira is more than quixotic.
There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence to
support what I will call "the Barksdale hypothesis," although there is no good
way to prove it. For example, when a Black-throated Sparrow turned up near
Skidmore, MO a few years back, another showed up at a feeder in Johnson
County, KS the same winter, and there were other Black-throated Sparrow
records east of their usual southwestern desert habitats. Obviously, whatever
caused Black-throated Sparrows to stray in our direction affected more than
If two Black-throated Sparrows were discovered,
how many more went undiscovered?
Of course, there is nothing to prevent a single
rare bird from wandering far outside its usual range, and Providence
undoubtedly sometimes leads such singles to birders, or vice versa. But the
statistical probabilities would appear to favor the Barksdale hypothesis. Of
the hundreds of thousands of peeps that pass through the Central Flyway, what
percent are ever examined carefully by birders? I'll bet it is far less
than 1%. Of the same hundreds of thousands of small peeps, only a handful
were at Lake Contrary when Larry Lade discovered the Red-necked Stint there.
Did Larry win a birding lottery against Powerball-like odds, or are there
more stints coming through? I suspect there are more coming through.
We birders miss them only because we take too small a sample of the
If we were to enlarge our sample, we would find
more of them.
As for me, it's too hot! I prefer to muse about
the possibilities on line until it cools down. By that time, all
those Red-necked Stints will be gone. Who knows what else I'll be
missing in the interim? If the rest of you stay inside, too, none of us will
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