The Killdeer shown in this print was photographed near an electrical substation on Water Street:


Below, a field recording posted to the bird audio archive site Xeno-Canto:

When I signed up for MassAudubon’s annual Bird-a-thon event this year — a fundraiser in which teams try to log as many species as possible within a 24-hour period — I was counting on the numerous warbler species on the move during the spring migration to help boost my numbers.

In the end I fell a few species short of the 50 I’d hoped to find in areas walkable from the city’s downtown neighborhoods, but there were still plenty of surprises along the way.

I spent the hour just after dawn on Water Street, scouring an empty canal bed for spring migrants. Water Street is this section of the city’s last road before the river, the access point for the mills that run from the South Hadley Falls bridge to the Willimansett Bridge, which connects the city to Chicopee.

At the place where a group of high-tension lines leap across the river, there’s a large substation of transformers and other electrical infrastructure. When I reached this spot, I heard an unfamiliar call that was loud and getting louder.

The bird that landed nearly at my feet looked hopelessly out of place. It had all the features of a shore bird that should be running around at the edge of the ocean on Cape Cod.

I was half right. The Killdeer is a plover, but it’s a shorebird that has no particular affinity for the shore.

Killdeer are technically grassland birds. They’re common on golf courses, but most large open spaces will do — and they don’t necessarily discriminate between athletic fields and parking lots. Some have been documented nesting on flat gravel roofs.

Reading the description later, I was less surprised that I’d seen one in the city than I was surprised I hadn’t seen one sooner.

When I set out that morning, the Killdeer wasn’t on my list of birds to try to find downtown. But each new bird you log in a city is further proof of what’s possible, and a reminder that the biggest limitations are only the time and effort you devote to your search — and the expectations that sometimes blind you to what’s actually out there.

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