#384: Long-billed Dowitcher?

Last Sunday, August 12, Peter Dorosh led the Brooklyn Bird Club on a trip to Jamaica Bay where we had a probable Long-billed Dowitcher. Short-billed Dowitchers are relatively common around here at this time of year, but Long-billed are much less so. The problem is that unless the birds are in breeding plumage or calling, they’re virtually indistinguishable. For example, despite the names some Short-billed Dowitchers have longer bills than some Long-billed Dowitchers. Unfortunately at the times of year when the birds come through New York, they are neither calling nor in breeding plumage.

Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper

Sunday we did, however, have one bird on the North End of the East Pond that did not seem to have gone out of breeding plumage yet, and really did look like a Long-billed Dowitcher. However, it was pretty far away, and at that distance the field marks are really questionable, even through a scope. Do you really see the bars instead of dots, or is that just wishful thinking? Unfortunately we didn’t have any serious photographers with us to take pictures. Peter was sure the bird was a Long-billed, but Tom Preston wasn’t and they’re both much better birders than me. I’m afraid I’m going to have to be conservative, and leave this one off my list for now.

What really galls me is that I’m sure at some point more than one of the dowitchers I’ve seen was indeed a Long-billed. They’re just so damn hard to tell apart, though, that you have to go with the more likely species until you can prove otherwise. Some experts think they can tell the two apart in non-breeding plumage based on posture and shape alone, without hearing the birds call. However, other experts disagree.

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