I got together with Mike Beck Monday, and it appears that the ASM "Electronic Newsletter," of which I have been named Editor,  is finally going to happen. However, a lot of work needs to be done before the first issue appears on the ASM web site. In the meantime, I have been writing parts of it. One feature we're planning is a "Bird of the Month." Thinking that the first issue would be August, 2003, I chose Buff-breasted Sandpiper as August Bird of the Month and wrote it up. Now, I am concerned that August may be over, or nearly over, before its "Bird of the Month" makes it to cyberspace.  Therefore, I am pasting it below, lest most of the 2003 Buff-breasted Sandpipers be gone before anyone gets to read about them. 

Bird of the Month - Buff-breasted Sandpiper

In 1965, I went to the Hagar motel in Rockport, Texas to meet its famous proprietress, Connie Hagar. The woman, who had almost single-handedly made the central Texas coast a birding Mecca, was then in her eighties. Near blindness from diabetes-induced retinal hemorrhages limited her birding activities to short auto trips and telling stories. We drove to some of her old haunts. She showed me one spot where she found Texas' first Sooty Shearwater and another where she saw one of its last Eskimo Curlews. Then she told a story on Roger Tory Peterson. Apparently, Peterson made the pilgrimage to the Hagar Motel and confessed that he had never seen a Buff-breasted Sandpiper. "Call me when you have one, and I'll fly down from Old Lyme, Connecticut and add it to my life list," Peterson reportedly told her. "A while later, I called him; he flew down, and I showed him 1500!" was the rest of the story.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers are like that. For some people they are very rare and difficult. For others in Kansas and western Missouri, through which they migrate, spring and fall, they are regular and relatively easy to find. I have seen flocks of up to 75 in Missouri and heard reports of up to 350 in Kansas. But you usually see half a dozen or less. August is the easiest month to find one in Missouri. That is why it is our bird of the month.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers are Starling-sized shorebirds. They look somewhat like small Upland Sandpipers, with which they sometimes associate on sod farms and in other short, dry, grassy environments. They have yellow legs and relatively short, black bills. As their name suggests, their underparts are predominantly buff-colored and plain, as are their faces. The only similarly-plumaged shore bird is the much larger juvenile Ruff. Buff-breasted Sandpipers are most often confused with Pectoral and Baird's Sandpipers. Both sometimes forage in the distant drier areas of evaporating lake beds, where I look for Buffies. Pectorals are slightly larger, and Baird's slightly smaller. But either can look like a Buffy when you are trying to spot one far away. Black leg color and a lightly streaked breast distinguishes Baird's. A sharply-defined streaked breast sets Pectorals apart.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers are one of the longest migrants, breeding on Arctic islands above the Canadian mainland and wintering on the Argentine Pampas. They are unusual in that, like Ruffs and Greater Prairie Chickens, they court on leks.

Many people miss Buff-breasted Sandpipers when they come through because they assume that, as shorebirds, they will feed on wet mud or in shallow water. Although they evidently eat marine invertebrates on their arctic breeding grounds, and I have occasionally seen them close to water here, I usually find them on the driest portions of lake beds or even on short, green lake shore foliage. If you don't have a sod farm nearby, scan the driest part of the shoreline in August. Sooner or later, you will see one or more Buff-breasted Sandpipers.

Bob Fisher
Independence, Missouri

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