At about 9:30 on the morning of August 9, Chicago birder Steve Spitzer headed out to one of his favorite local spots, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. “I saw that the weather was going to be crummy, so I decided to go out and see what landed on the beach. People don’t go out when the weather’s bad, but everyone should go birding when the weather’s crummy,” Steve told me later over the phone.
While he was out there, he was surprised to run into another birder on the beach. Matthew Ligas had seen a post that I had made on the Illinois Birders’ Forum about the possibility of good shorebirds being seen on the Chicago beaches today and tomorrow, and decided to give it a go.
“I noticed a shorebird flying in low along the beach, from the west,” Matthew told me. “I watched the bird fly past and land on the pier.”
“Matt comes over and tells me there’s some kind of bird on the pier, so we both start taking pictures of it,” Steve continued. “I looked at it and didn’t know exactly what it was. The bill was too heavy, and the legs were too short for a Yellowlegs, and at first I thought it was an odd Red Knot. But the bill was too big, so I thought it had to be a strange Willet.”
They looked through their field guides, but both were working with the Sibley Guide to eastern birds, which does not include Wandering Tattler.
Steve got home first and posted his picture of the bird on the Illinois Birders’ Forum at 11:25 am. Shortly after that, Chicago-area birder Adam Sell sent me a text message: “this may sound dumb but look at the id pic that Steve Spitzer put up. Have you ever seen a Willet looking like that?”
I looked at the picture, and my jaw hit the floor. It was a Wandering Tattler!
Steve told me that the bird landed on the pier for only a minute or two, then took off north over the water, but angled back in towards the shoreline.
There are miles of rocks and beaches up and down the lakefront from Montrose, and I’m sure that every Chicago-area birder that’s able will be out there scouring the rocks for the next couple of days.
Wandering Tattler breeds in Alaska, wintering on the Pacific Coast of California and Mexico, as well as Hawaii. During migration it is strictly coastal, with about 15 records away from the Pacific. The most notable of these are Massachusetts (May 1968), Ontario (August 1948, July 1960 and June 1977), Manitoba (June 1981), Texas (April 1992), Arizona (September 1971), and Utah (September 2005). This sighting represents the first record of this species for Illinois.
The weather in Chicago is deteriorating as I type this, with heavy downpours and waterspouts on Lake Michigan expected. Hopefully the bad weather will keep the bird in the area for a day or two. As Steve said, “everyone should go birding when the weather’s crummy”.
Updates on the search for this bird can be found at the Illinois Birders’ Forum.