Birdwatchers from across the Midwest flock to Scio Township for spotted redshank

Associated Press • Nov 12, 2018 at 10:00 AM

SCIO TOWNSHIP – A rare bird sighting just west of Ann Arbor has lured hundreds of bird watchers from all over the Midwest to Scio Township to view it and take photographs.

Since Nov. 2, a spotted redshank, nicknamed the "spotshank" by the birding community, has been frequenting the ponds at the corner of Scio Church and Parker roads. Word of the rare shorebird was shared through the American Birding Association Rare Bird Alert, a Facebook group where people report bird sightings.

The spotshank was observed among a group of shorebirds common to Michigan, including killdeer and greater yellowlegs, said Ann Arbor resident and seasoned birder Dan Ezekiel.

"It was an unusual, but very cool sight to see," Ezekiel said. "People came from all over to see this bird, so it was like a fun gathering for the birding community. At one point I'd say there were about 100 people out there with binoculars and cameras."

Chicago ornithologist Sullivan Gibson, who regularly hosts bird tours on Saint Paul Island in Alaska, drove four hours from Illinois to catch a glimpse of the spotshank.

In his 10 years of bird watching, Gibson had yet to see a spotted redshank until last weekend.

"This particular bird is a Eurasian shorebird, so it's extremely rare to see one on this continent, let alone all the way out in Michigan," Gibson said. "It's a bird we can get sometimes on Saint Paul Island, since Alaska is closer to that hemisphere, but I still haven't spotted one out there yet.

"Ironically enough, one turns up in Ann Arbor while I'm back home in Chicago. A fellow birder friend made the trip with me, but it was definitely a sight I would have ventured out to see alone if I had to."

During summer plumage, spotted redshanks are almost entirely black, Gibson said. In the winter, the birds have gray backs and white underneath their bellies and wings.

This is second record sighting of a spotted redshank in Michigan and one of only a handful of recent records in North America, according to the American Birding Association. Previous sightings of the species in Michigan were recorded in 1976 in Monroe County.

The last few North American records of spotted redshank occurred once in 2013 in Indiana, in Alaska and Washington in 2014, and most recently in 2015 in Washington D.C., according to the ABA.

"It's impossible to tell what direction this bird came from and how it ended up on the wrong continent," Gibson said. "Changes in weather patterns could be a factor, but it also could be as simple as the bird just isn't wired right in the head. Either way, it's a very unique experience for birders in North America to come across one."

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