A Eurasian shorebird known as a common redshank was discovered in a Detroit-area marsh on July 4, 2022.
© Justin Labadie
A Eurasian shorebird known as a common redshank was discovered in a Detroit-area marsh on July 4, 2022.
A Michigan birdwatcher made a once-in-a-lifetime discovery this weekend when he spotted a bird known as a common redshank in a marsh near Detroit, a few thousand miles from the bird's usual home.

Birding record keepers have confirmed the sighting as the first time the Eurasian shorebird has ever been seen in the United States.

Photographer Justin Labadie was birding Monday at Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, scanning one of the 4,000-acre preserve's marshy shorelines, when he spotted a reddish-legged shorebird that looked different than the others around it. A quick Google search and a few texts to birding colleagues confirmed that Labadie could officially report the rarest sighting he'd ever made.

"My goal when I go out birding is always to find new birds. But I've never found one that was a state first or a county first, let alone a country first," Labadie said. "In the birding world, it doesn't get any bigger than this."

Word travels quickly among dedicated birders, and within a half hour of the sighting's confirmation, dozens of people had arrived on the scene, with even more birders en route from Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

"[Birding] is almost like a lifestyle, to where things come up for people they'll drop what they're doing to see a bird that they haven't seen before," Labadie said. "When you get to 'U.S. first,' people get excited."

About 60 people had arrived at Pointe Mouillee on Tuesday morning in search of the bird, which has not yet been re-found.

There's often no definitive answer as to what causes a vagrant bird — the term for when a bird is found outside of its usual breeding or wintering area — though sometimes weather events like hurricanes and storm systems can push birds far from home.

From time to time, North American birds will pop up elsewhere in the United States, as was the case last summer when a roseate spoonbill, a pink bird that normally belongs in the coastal southern U.S., was discovered in a southeastern Michigan pond.

But an intercontinental vagrant like Labadie's common redshank is exceedingly rare, and one that many birders may only dream of finding in their lifetime.

"I was told by somebody that was there, that's high up in the birding world, he said 'This is the pinnacle of your birding here: You will never find a bird that is as rare as this one,'" Labadie said. "It made me feel pretty good, realizing how rare this is, and it made me feel good seeing all the people that got to enjoy watching it after I found it."