Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica
San Gregorio State Beach,
San Mateo County, California
Photos © 1997 Dan Singer. All rights reserved.
Dan ran back for his camera. We decided to try to get closer to the bird, which was associating with a few Marbled Godwits and Willets along the beach. This required wading through the pond. When we arrived, some people walked past and flushed the godwits, which then flew about a quarter mile north up the beach. We followed and eventually Dan was taking photos at very close range. After about 30 minutes the birds flushed again to the north about another quarter mile where they remained until we left.
The following is based on notes while watching the bird and just after the bird flew north:
An obvious godwit, with long straight bill, pink at the base and slightly upturned near the tip. The bird was slightly smaller than adjacent Marbled Godwits, with a paler face, and underparts and larger pale-buff spots on the upperparts. The blue-gray legs were decidedly shorter than Marbled Godwit with the difference most apparent in the tibia and the neck was also clearly shorter than adjacent Marbled Godwits.
The head pattern was much more distinct than on Marbled Godwit. The Bar-tailed had a broad whitish supercilium meeting across the forehead, setting off a gray-brown cap. A dark line through the eye bordered the supercilium from below.
The underparts were paler buff than on Marbled Godwit becoming almost whitish on the belly and undertail coverts. The undertail coverts were very long reaching almost all the way to the tip of the tail. The breast and sides were warm buff, and that color extended laterally around the flanks to the tips of the undertail coverts, where the color was much paler. The foreneck and breast were lightly streaked with brown, and some bolder dark bars appeared along the flanks.
The upperparts were a darker brown than on Marbled Godwit, with larger, paler notches in the tertials, coverts, and scapulars. The center of the back was dark brown. In general, the upperpart pattern more closely resembled the pattern of nearby Whimbrel, than adjacent Marbled Godwit.
The primary projection was quite long, and the primaries extended beyond the tail with the tips often crossing each other. At least three black primaries were visible beyond the folded tertials, however the bird often held its wing slightly drooped so that more primaries were visible just below the folded wing. Some of these showed very narrow whitish fringes to the black primary tips.
The tail was more boldly barred than Marbled Godwit. The tips of the rectrices were noticeably pointed and there was a narrow dark subterminal bar with a white bar just anterior to it. Then the bars got progressively narrower with more buff showing toward the base of the tail, especially in flight. I believe this may have been caused by a buff suffusion on the lateral rectrices which was not visible while viewing the folded tail from above.
In flight, it was possible to see the whitish rump, but it was extensively barred with brown. The grayish-white underwings were likewise prominently barred. These markings are characteristic of the Alaska and eastern Siberian breeding race L. l. Bauri. A faint wing-stripe was also evident in flight.
There are about 20 previous accepted Bar-tailed Godwit records for California of which I have seen six: one at Bolinas Lagoon in 1973, one at Pescadero Marsh in 1989, one in Albany in 1991, one at Abbott’s Lagoon in 1992, one at Palo Alto Baylands in 1994, and another at Abbott’s Lagoon in 1995. All of these were in fall and all were juveniles except for the one in Albany, and the 1995 Abbott’s Lagoon bird which were adults.
380 Talbot Avenue #206
Pacifica, CA 94044