On August 3rd, a few birders from the Augusta Bird Club (Allen Larner, Elaine Carwile, and Penny Warren) found an odd godwit mixed in with the Marbled Godwits and Willets in Swan Cove (map) at Chincoteague NWR. Based on the looks they had, they thought it was likely a Black-tailed Godwit – a rare species for the US, although there had been one hanging out at Chincoteague earlier this year. The following evening another birder, Ernie Miller, was able to get photos of the bird showing that it had a white rump, white underwings, and most importantly a barred tail – all features pointing towards the bird actually being a female Bar-tailed Godwit of the European subspecies Limosa lapponica lapponica! On the morning of the 5th, Audrey Whitlock was able to study the godwit more and confirmed it was certainly a Bar-tailed, making it the 3rd record for Virginia. The previous two records were of single birds along the Chincoteague causeway (Queen Anne Sound) on December 28th, 1973 and September 5th-15th, 1991 (Virginia’s Birdlife, 4th Edition).
Having been away for the weekend, I was very excited to get up to the refuge myself and have a look at the bird, especially once I heard it was likely a Bar-tailed. At 12:30pm on the 5th, I pulled into the parking area for the Tom’s Cove Visitor Center and began searching for the bird. Tom Johnson had already been there for a little while but hadn’t seen the bird yet. It was low tide and most of the Marbled Godwits and Willets were spread out around Tom’s Cove. As the day went on and the tide rose, shorebirds began moving over into Swan Cove. By 3:00pm, many Marbled Godwits and Willets had gathered in Swan Cove and Tim Schreckengost picked out the Bar-tailed Godwit foraging across the cove, about 250m away! Over the next few hours the bird slowly made its way closer to us but was never very cooperative for photos and hardly ever closer than 70m, except for a few minutes when it was foraging near the Beach 1 parking area which is when I was able to get the two distant photos shown below. Mike Burchett was also able to get a few nice photos, which show the bird’s wings nicely. Good luck to anyone that chases this great bird!