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SPECIES SPOTLIGHT: Finding a Bar-tailed Godwit in Monterey!

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Oct 10, 2021 | by Alex Lamoreaux

Visiting Monterey each September on our California: Central Coast trip is a major highlight of my year, and when our group birded the shorebird hotspots in that region this past September we were not disappointed. During an afternoon visit to Moss Landing we enjoyed thousands of shorebirds close up including 180 Marbled Godwits, 6 Whimbrel, 8 Long-billed Curlew, Black Turnstone, Red Knot, both dowitchers, and many others. These shorebirds are excellent to see, but none of us were prepared for what we’d find next! As we were leaving the site, we made one last stop to look at a rather close Long-billed Curlew and I glanced to the left and was shocked to spot a very rare juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit close to the road!

Bar-tailed (right) and Marbled Godwits foraging at Moss Landing. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

The Bar-tailed stood out from the surrounding Marbleds by its slightly smaller build and shorter/thinner legs, and its plumage lacked the warm, orangey tones of Marbleds. The neatly patterned black-and-white mantle and cold-toned plumage stood out among the more plain and orange-washed Marbleds. Its gray cap, white supercilium, and thin black eyeline stood out against its unmarked neck and body. There was a light-buff wash throughout its neck, breast, and flanks. About 60% of the bill was a bright pink color. Even the bird’s namesake black-barred tail was seen well!

Bar-tailed (right) and Marbled Godwits flying by at Moss Landing. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

This is the 3rd Monterey County record! Steve Bailey found the 1st record (also a juvenile) in September 1988, and Don Roberson & Rita Carratello found the 2nd record (also a juvenile) in September 1994. This confirms a very solid pattern of juveniles straying to the central coast in September! This bird was assumed to be the Siberian ssp based on range and the barring on its rump. These large shorebirds have a scattered breeding range across the Arctic Circle, and then undergo an infamously long and dangerous migration to shorelines of the eastern hemisphere, but this juvenile bird must have gotten caught up with some Marbled Godwits and slipped off track a bit! It just goes to show that you never know what might turn up in Monterey!

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