Note: most of the linked text and images for this file have been move off-line to conserve space on this server. 
The majority of the information regarding the Bristle-thighed Curlew fallout of 1998 can be found in

Mlodinow, S, S.Feldstein and B.Tweit. 1999. The Bristle-thighed Curlew landfall of 1998: Climate factors and notes on identification. W. Birds 30:133-155.

Patterson, M. 1998. The Great Curlew Fallout. Field Notes 52:150-155.

Knee Deep in Bristle-thighed Curlews

Beginning with a bird seen on May 6,1998, the Oregon/Washington Coast has been invaded by one of the rarest of North American shorebirds, Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis) . Not much is known about this species. The size of the population is believed to be small. The breeding range is restricted to western Alaska. Record of its occurance in North America outside its breeding range is documented by one unequivocally accepted report from Grant Bay, British Columbia in May, 1969 and six other records that many find inconclusive. Of these, the record for Bandon, OR was rejected by the Oregon Birds Records Committee, then accepted on reconsideration though the accompanying photos were not considered to be sufficient to confirm the record.

Past Records

May 30-31, 1969 Grant Bay, British Columbia
May 18, 1980 Leadbetter Point, WA
May 1, 1982 Leadbetter Point, WA
May 13-14, 1983 Blackie Spit, Boundary Bay, British Columbia
Sep 1, 1982 Tofino, British Columbia
Sep 11, 1986 Sidney Spit, Victoria, British Columbia
Sep 16, 1981 Bandon, OR

Current Sightings

As of this writing, a phenomenal number of curlews have been seen along the Pacific Coast this spring. The first of these reports was of a single bird on May 6 South of Bandon, OR. On May 8, 2 birds were seen at Ocean Shores, WA. Then Saturday, May 9, 2 birds were found at the South Jetty of the Columbia River (SJCR). These two were still being seen May 14. A single bird was found north of Ocean Shores on May 12 and relocated the next day. And finally a single bird was seen at Newport, OR on May 13. By the second week of the GREAT CURLEW FALLOUT bird were found in California at Crescent City and Point Reyes. These are the first records ever for that state. Something curious is going on.

1 bird at Floras Lake near New River, OR - May 6-20(?), 1998
2 birds at Ocean Shores, WA - May 8, 1998
2 birds at South Jetty, Columbia River, OR May 9-20, 1998
1 bird near Ocean Shores, WA - May 12-23, 1998
2 birds Newport, OR - May 13-14, 1998
1 bird Battery Point near Crescent City, CA - May 14-16, 1998
5 birds migrating N in flock SJCR, OR - May 14, 1998
1 bird Point Reyes, CA - May 16-21, 1998
1 bird Bandon Marsh, OR - May 22-23, 1998
Click on map for larger image


El Nino.

No, really, the warm waters in the Pacific brought on by El Nino have created a weird flow of air, pushing east through the central Pacific right at the South Coast of Oregon. This is a fairly typical El Nino phenomenon. Pacific Golden-plover, a regular fall migrant rarely seen in the spring along the Pacific Coast, has been seen in unusually high numbers this spring. It has a very similar spring route over the Pacific Ocean. We believe the air flow pattern is driving these birds on to the coast. Westerly winds over the last week are keeping them grounded. 5 of the 7 records previous to this year were in El Nino years...

Below are links to the NOAA GOES9 weather satellite images for the week leading up to the arrival of the first birds seen on the New River. A very large cyclonic event effectively sat for a week off the Oregon Coast drawing air from Hawaii. This was followed by a rapid change to westerly/northwesterly flow. In a "normal" spring, we would expect these low pressure events to be much farther north, and the air flow to be more or less southerly. It's very probable that Bristle-thighed Curlews also expect them farther north.

Jack Bowling elaborates.

Steven Feldstein of the of Pennsylvania State University on the weather

On Thursday, 5/21 the wind shifted to SSW. The last reliable report of the South Jetty curlews was on 5/21 at 1030hr. The birds were not found the afternoon of 5/21, though an effort was made from 1400hr to 1600hr. A 4 hour search on 5/22 also failed to turn up the birds. This supports the hypothesis that the birds were waiting for a favorable wind before moving on. The only data I was able to find for prevailing winds along the coast is for Astoria and a graph of that data is presented below:

The speculation for possible first arrival is based upon a report of "funny looking Whimbrels" seen on May 6. This corresponds with the arrival of the New River birds seen further south and it is not unreasonable to extrapolate simultaneous landfalls.


Photographs References