Sunday, May 22, 2016

Curlew Sandpiper in Ohio! - 13 May 2016

Friday the 13th is supposed to be a day of bad luck. Not this time, though. Yesterday, Steve Jones stumbled upon an ABA Code 3 Curlew Sandpiper at the corner of Angola and Raab Rds in Swanton, OH. The Code 3 status means that only 1 or 2 birds are seen annually in North America, and that fact that this bird was found in breeding plumage made it even more special. Luck also brought the bird close enough for some wonderful photos, and luck also kept it around for several days. So, I did what any dedicated employee would do - I skipped out of work and headed out to see it, myself!

The bird was seen among a flock of Dunlin and Lesser Yellowlegs in a flooded field field in a rural part of NW Ohio. The fact that it was also found during the Biggest Week in American Birding Festival meant that hundreds of birders flocked to see it. I was fortunate to arrive just before noon Friday and see dozens of birders lined along the banks of Angola Rd. scoping and photographing the bird just 40 feet away. "You don't even need binoculars, the bird is that close" they replied when I inquired.

Its always fun to be among people seeing a rare bird for the first time. And the Curlew Sandpiper did not disappoint. It put on a show preening and foraging close to the near shoreline. I would shoot almost 75GB worth of digiscoped images with the Sony a6300, and even took some 4K videos. But, the near gale-force winds buffeted the scope enough to make the videos extremely shaky.

Still, I was very pleased with the camera's ability to capture the rare bird in its alternate (breeding) plumage. The last time I had seen one was at Pt. Mouillee about 10 years ago; a bird in basic plumage, far away, and in horrible light.

I even managed to capture its wing-stretch, which allowed me to see its bright white underwings.

An added bonus for those making the trip was the presence of a male Wilson's Phalarope in non-breeding plumage. A stunning female in breeding plumage would arrive a day later.

A Short-billed Dowitcher, and the myriad of Lesser Yellowlegs and Dunlin, were no slouches.

The curlew sandpiper breeds on the tundra in Siberia and Alaska. It is a highly migratory bird that winters in areas from western Europe and southern Asia to southern Africa and Australia. A highly gregarious bird, it occasionally wanders into North America, with regular sightings mainly in Alaska and Hawaii, but sometimes even farther south to our region.

The birds would flush and scatter, but not before circling in front of us before landing farther out into the field. That would be my queue to pack up and head back to work. This bird would provide some nice consolation for someone unable to participate in this spring's migration spectacle due to work obligations...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Yellow-est Warbler - 09 May 2016

Yellow Warbler at Pt. Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co., MI. And my only warbler of the spring...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wakodahatchee Wetlands Bonanza - 04 May 2016

I then hopped on the Florida Turnpike and headed north about an hour’s drive to Delray Beach, Fl and Wakodahatchee Wetlands. The 56-acre wastewater treatment facility houses the state’s largest Wood Stork rookery, and the ~½ mile boardwalk wends its way through several ponds and a waterbird paradise.

As I entered the boardwalk from the parking lot I espied a Green Heron looking intently just a few feet away. Reason? Chicks nearby!

Just around the corner a Black-necked Stilt was foraging next to the boardwalk. I was able to get some nice closeups, even seeing its bill below the water! Its mate was sitting on a nest of mud just a few yards away. But a number of people were photographing it, so I'd have to come back when there's room to set up my scope for digiscoping. So, I would just have to settle for some quick photos with the D7100 and 300/2.8 VRII.

I couldn't resist getting a nice portrait of an American Coot with the glowing backdrop of the morning sunrise.

The Wood Stork rookery was hopping with weeks-old chicks begging for food and adults actively building new nests. Anhingas, Double-crested Cormorants, Little Blue Herons, Green Herons, Cattle Egrets, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Glossy Ibis and Tricolored Herons were all actively nesting in the shrubby islands scattered throughout the ponds. I didn’t know where to start.

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were nearby and also too cute to resist.

I stopped and asked someone if any Purple Swamphens were being seen here. He said, "Not recently. But, check at the end of the boardwalk where some Purple Gallinules were seen recently." So, I walked to the edge of one dike and found a found a pair of Purple Swamphens grazing on grass about 50 yds. away. Some long-distance digiscoping would be required to capture these birds.

To the majority of birders around here I think the Purple Gallinules and Purple Swamphens are easily overlooked. I would find several of each during my walk. This bird was close enough photograph w/ the D7100.

Not much distance away were several Purple Gallinules. One was close enough to dispense with the digiscoping equipment and just use the 300/2.8 VRII.

Tricolored Herons were nesting nearby. Three little chicks were, um, adorable?

I then asked someone if any Least Bitterns were sighted recently. They hadn’t seen any in weeks, so they suggested I drive 2-hours to Vierra Wetlands. I thanked them, walked 20 feet and found a Least Bittern sitting out in the open next to a large Arrowroot stand.

I would spend the next 20 minutes or so digiscoping the bird at point blank range, and trying to take 4K videos, but boardwalk activity kept jarring the video recording.

I returned and was able to digiscope the Black-necked Stilts that were nesting just a few feet out from the boardwalk.

More Purple Gallinules and Purple Swamphens were spotted.

A few Glossy Ibis were foraging close enough for photos, including this non-breeding adult. I found some young nestlings sporting striped bills. I’d never seen ibis nestlings, so it was a treat to see the white patches on the head and stripes on the bills - the field guides fail to show this.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were flying about, and provided some nice portraits. 

So did nesting Red-winged Blackbirds

The young birds stole the show, however. Hatchling Green Herons, Tricolored Herons, Wood Storks, Anhingas, Common Gallinules - all were adorable.

A Great Blue Heron resting in the palm trees made a nice portrait in texture.

Anhingas are just the coolest feathered dinosaurs...Their babies look a bit phalic-y.

As I left the boardwalk area I managed a closing shot of Blue Jay next to the car, and saw a pair of Brown Thrashers to close out the Miami escapade.

I drove back to Miami and got into the hotel just moments before thunderstorms opened up on the city. We would lose cable signal just as I was watching the Cubs-Pirates game.  The score?
C3-PO… No kidding. May the 4th Be With You!

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