My Rare Upland Sandpiper Sighting in Utah

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Upland Sandpiper in Box Elder County, UtahUpland Sandpiper in Box Elder County, Utah – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural

Yesterday I read an email my friend Al sent me about the birds migrating through Florida right now and it mentioned Upland Sandpipers that are currently being found there. I felt a bit wistful because I have wanted to see that species and always missed them when they were in Florida and also because they are rare here in Utah. I had no idea that later in the morning that I would find an Upland Sandpiper while on my way to Golden Spike National Historic Area.

We stopped to take images of a Golden Eagle that was perched on a power pole next to the road that goes to Golden Spike if you go left or Locomotive Springs if you go straight. I’ve been photo-blocked when it comes to Golden Eagles and they continue to be a nemesis bird for me so I hoped to get lift off and flight images of it.

And then I heard a chattering bird call I didn’t recognize so I started looking around to locate the bird that was making the sound and I found it high on the power pole that was right next to where we had parked along the road.

Side view of Upland Sandpiper rarity in UtahSide view of Upland Sandpiper rarity in Utah – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural

So I looked at it through my lens and my heart skipped a beat, well not really, it began to race. I had what I believed to be an Upland Sandpiper in my viewfinder! I took a burst of images of it immediately because I thought it would fly away if the eagle even moved.

Suddenly the Golden Eagle, my nemesis, didn’t matter any more.

I wanted to report it to the bird list serve so other people could possibly find it so I wanted to be sure that I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. I took several images of the bird as it called and raised its wings then I grabbed my copy of Sibley’s Guide to Western Birds and looked at the page with Upland Sandpipers and the page with Buff-breasted Sandpipers, two species I knew looked similar, both of which are rare here in Utah. Comparing them reaffirmed my ID but I wanted to be even more certain so I looked Upland Sandpiper up on my phone using my iBird Pro app and again it appeared that my ID was correct.

The Upland Sandpiper was chattering all the time and I suspect that it was doing that because of the close proximity of the Golden Eagle. A car had come up behind us and before it got close we moved backwards away from the sandpiper and I took that opportunity to look up the calls of Upland Sandpipers on my app and decided to listen very quickly to the chattering call recording and as soon as I hit play I could tell the sound was exactly the same and even though we had moved away from the bird the sandpiper on the pole reacted to the sound. I have to be clear here, I didn’t use playback to attract the bird, just to confirm that the chattering calls were the same. I shut off the playback, took a cell phone shot of my camera LCD with the sandpiper showing and composed a quick email to send to the Utah Bird list serve. I clicked send and took more images of the sandpiper after we moved back to where we were closer.  I have to say my hands were shaking as I typed out the email and I probably could have said more but I wanted more images of the bird.

Upland Sandpiper with raised wingsUpland Sandpiper with raised wings – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 400, +1.0 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural

After the Golden Eagle flew off we decided to leave the sandpiper and head to the visitor center at the Golden Spike National Historic Area to let the rangers there know about this rare bird in case they wanted to see it or tell the visitors there about it. By the time we drove back to where the Upland Sandpiper had been the Golden Eagle had come back and landed on another power pole and the sandpiper was gone. We made the trip twice through that area looking at every fence post and the tops of the sagebrush and even with my sharp eyes I could not relocate it.

As a bird photographer I have to say that I wish the bird had been in better light, on a prettier perch and at eye level but I am still happy with the images I took.

I was still buzzing about the find on the way home. I reported it to eBird and to the records committee. I hope they accept the record.

I got to see and photograph a rare Upland Sandpiper in Utah well out of its normal migration route and range, what a day. What a find!

You just never know what you’ll find when you are out in the field.

Life is good.


PS: At the time of this posting no one else has reported seeing the Upland Sandpiper, it may have been a one day wonder.


  1. Joan September 1, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I love the simple yet very beautiful designs in the plumage of your sandpiper. Mia, if you could comment on the migration of birds traveling south and going through tough tropical storm/hurricane type weather like what Florida and the gulf region is having presently. Do migrating birds instinctively just know to detour their route or simply find shelter to wait out strong winds and rains before traveling on to their destinations? I’m just very curious how these migrating birds cope with all mother nature puts in their paths. Thank you Mia for your shared knowledge and daily images, always a wondrous and beautiful image to begin my day.

  2. Linda Chowns September 1, 2016 at 3:50 pm


  3. Elephant's Child September 1, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    I am so impressed with the magic your eagle eyes spot and share.

  4. Patty Chadwick September 1, 2016 at 9:10 am

    Good morning, Eagle Eyes! That is quite a coup! Not only a rare find but a beautiful one! Congratulations!!!

  5. pennypinchadventure Tim Traver September 1, 2016 at 6:59 am

    My favorite bird! What a treat finding these spectacular images in my inbox this morning. We’ve seen massive reductions of numbers of upland sandpipers over the past fifty years in New England as grassland habitat has been diminished and farming with it. But there are small distinct populations and you can still find them in a few places including the farmlands of the Lake Champlain Basin. in western Vermont. Thanks for these great looks!

  6. Bob McPherson September 1, 2016 at 6:41 am

    Beautiful images, Mia. Your excitement is readily apparent.

  7. Neil Rossmiller September 1, 2016 at 6:36 am

    Congratulations, Mia! I can only imagine you excitement. I bet it will be part of your travel chatter today as well.

  8. Marlene Snyder September 1, 2016 at 5:48 am

    Beautiful images, and I’m caught up in your excitement! Really great to be able to share in this with you. Thanks.

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