A rare visitor
by: Mike Lushington  

            I had a spare hour the other day before a scheduled training session with some of my athletes, so I took the opportunity to check out the birding activity at Eel River Bar. It was mild, one of those pauses between those periods of cold and snow that have come so early this year. The ice that had locked in the cove itself had disappeared, although the head pond just on the upstream side of the dam was still covered with sloppy, slushy ice. It was low tide and the mudflats which so often attract all sorts of birds were bare.

            By mid-November, I am beginning to anticipate the arrival of the first of the winter gulls (Iceland and Glaucous gulls from the Arctic) so when I saw a flock of gulls on the flats, I settled in for a leisurely look through my telescope. Gulls are always challenging because each species can display up to a dozen different plumage arrangements and there are often three or four species in a flock like this one. This means one of two things to most birders; ignore them (which is what most people do) or be prepared to examine each bird separately. I like gulls so, whenever I have time like this, I choose the second.

            After half an hour or so, I had worked through the flock to my satisfaction. There were no surprises, although I did spend some time on one bird before finally determining that it was, after all, a Herring Gull in transitional plumage.I decided to take a look through the other birds present. There was a small flock of Dunlins, almost the last of the fall shorebirds to visit our area each year. Black ducks were everywhere, and a few Mallards swam with them. Several young Red-breasted Mergansers had moved into the outflow from the dam, where they were joined by two or three Hooded Mergansers. And that was about it. That is, until I spotted a bird off by itself, swimming and diving in a very quick, jerky fashion, very much unlike the movements of any of the other birds present.

            I swung my scope over to it, looked at it, shook my head, and looked again. A coot, an American coot, to be more accurate. What the heck is he doing here at this time of year? By all rights he (or she, for all I could tell) should be in Florida by now. Instead, here it was - seemingly happy and healthy, feeding industriously and looking for all the world like it belonged here every bit as much as its fellows.

            Once again, I was reminded of words of advice from experienced birders from other places in New Brunswick and beyond: "Try to 'bird' Eel River Bar as often as you can, Mike, because it is one of the best places in the province for strange or unusual sightings." And so it has proven to be this year. Local birders and others have reported American pelicans, Hudsonian godwits, possible egrets (of indeterminate species, although we had a pair of Snowy Egrets a couple of summers ago), a Ruff, Bairds Sandpipers and, most impressively (if it can be conclusively documented), a Black-tailed Godwit. (This last would be only the second ever recorded in the province if it is accepted by the Rare Bird Committee).

            Every time I stop at the Bar I do so with a sense that anything could happen. It really is a remarkable place, one that more and more birders are beginning to recognize.And, once again, it is right here - in our own back yard, so to speak.


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