Monday, March 23, 2015

Finally! - 22 Mar 2015

It took the end of March for me to finally see a Common Redpoll in Wyandotte! This morning I looked out at the feeders and spotted a single redpoll perched in the tree above the feeders. It took a few moments but the bird flew down and started feeding. It would remain in the yard for the better part of the day, but not be seen afterward.

All of my photos were taken through the back window, so I'm not overly disappointed with the detail I was able to get from the Nikon D7100 and 300 / 2.8 VRII. I was even able to get some digiscoping from point blank range from the back room.

Jean Iron has a wonderful writeup identifying subspecies of Common Redpoll. This bird appears to be an Acanthis flammea flamea. Of interest was the amount of white in the rump! A close look reveals a tinge of rosy pink, but in proper lighting one might be inclined to consider a Hoary Redpoll...

A wonderful visitor! Will this be the last great yard bird for me?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lapland Longspur - 22 Mar 2015

This Lapland Longspur popped out from the side of Haggerman Rd. and flew a short distance before landing among the stubble. I was able to get a few pics from the car before it flew farther away! Otherwise, the only action on the road were the scattered Horned Larks and their 'tinkling' calls in the fields.

Although signs of spring have emerged for the past week or two (Red-winged Blackbirds, Skunk Cabbage, temps above freezing) winter is slowly loosing its grip on the ponds at Pt. Mouillee SGA. As I rode my bike from the Roberts Road entrance around Cell 1 of the Banana Unit I could see that only patches of the Humphries Unit held open water. Lake Erie was open, but ice shelves up to 3' thick were piled along the shoreline. American Coot, Ring-necked Ducks, and Canvasback were staging in shallows of Lake Erie waiting for the ponds to open.

I left the bike and hiked back into Cell 1 where recent construction equipment had left a 'road' of shredded  bark. A large expanse of open water could be seen in the middle of the cell, and when I rode back around toward Cell 2, I could see that a large dike had been constructed. A large swath of phragmites had been cleared on either side of the canal.  A road has also been constructed between Cells 1 and 2? I had hoped to see some lurking Snowy Owls but only found a flock of 8 Killdeer.

A portion of Cell 3 had open water and a large group of Ring-billed Gulls sporting their breeding whites were congregating along the shoreline. Check out Paul Poronto's latest post to see what I mean.  No white-winged gulls were among them.

As I returned to the car I heard, then saw, a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the SW corner of the Humphries Unit.

A quick drive over to Pt. Mouillee HQ yielded a handful of Northern Cardinals by the fence. I took a few photos of them from the car using the Nikon V3 attached to the 300/2.8 VRII and 1.7TCII.

On the way home I found a Red-tailed Hawk on the roadside and grabbed a few hand-held shots through the car window (closed) before it flew off. They were fuzzy enough so I converted the image at left using a Watercolor filter in Photoshop.

In another week or so the ice should be completely gone and the ducks will be packing the inland units of Pt. Mouillee!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Long-tailed Ducks! - 08 Mar 2015

With clear skies and temps to hit the 40's today Robin and I took a drive to Sarnia, Ontario to look for  Long-tailed Ducks. Had the skies remained cloudy we would've remained in Port Huron, but sunny skies required a trip over the Blue Water Bridge so that lighting would favor us.

The mouth of the St. Clair River was open with sporadic ice flows, but ducks were scarce. A few Red-breasted Mergansers were floating in the middle of the river but at a distance a bit too far for digiscoping. A few Long-tailed Ducks appeared, and I managed to grab a flight shot as one took off from the water. Out in Lake Huron a small raft of White-winged Scoters were floating among a dozen or so Long-tailed Ducks but were too far to digiscope, so I packed up and headed downstream of the bridge.

Most of the shoreline along the Sarnia side of the river was ice-choked, but I found a small pull-off where a patch of open water was available. As I sat in the car and saw small groups of mergansers and Long-tails working the Port Huron side of the river a group of female Common Mergansers appeared near shore.  Then, a male Bufflehead appeared next to shore. This prompted me to grab the camera and try to get some pics.  I waited until he dove before getting out of the car, then waited next to the railing waiting for him to surface. Unfortunately I was too slow and he took off the moment he hit the surface. I could only manage a flight shot as he flew past me and landed next to shore just upstream about 30 meters away.

I returned to the car to grab the scope and walked back to get some digiscoped images. The Bufflehead was swimming among the mergansers and a single drake Long-tailed Duck. Score!

I waited for the Long-tail to dive, then worked my way to within digiscoping distance (~10 meters) and got some images when he resurfaced. He paid me little attention and floated to within a few meters and allowed some nice closeups. A second Long-tailed flew in and joined him, and for the next 20 minutes or so I enjoyed some nice digiscoping with the sun behind me.

I don't know where the thousands of Long-tailed Ducks went. Perhaps they were farther downstream, or maybe they've flown north? I'll have to keep my eyes open for reports. I was hoping to see some pre-alternate plumages before they moved back north. Was I too late?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Beauty and The Beast! - 07 Mar 2015

Forecasts had called for winds, clouds and snow today. Therefore, I cancelled my planned trip to Port Huron to look for Long-tailed Ducks and instead went furniture shopping. But skies were blue all day, and winds held off, so I took a late afternoon trip down to the Detroit River in Wyandotte to scope some ducks.

As I approached the boat launch at the foot of St. John's Street I spotted a half-dozen Great Black-backed Gulls on the large ice flow in the river. An immature Bald Eagle was among them but flew off just as I parked.  Walking out to the end of the dock I put the scope on the birds and proceeded to digiscope an adult bird as it wrestled with a fish on the wet ice. A Great Blue Heron sat nearby but flew off once it realized that it wouldn't get any scraps.

Another GBBG flew in and attempted to steal the fish but was quickly chased off. I took the opportunity to get some flight shots to show diagnostic features that help ID the bird. Note the white spot at the tip of P10 (primary feather) and the dark gray primaries and secondaries that contrast against the white underwing coverts. Compare with the subterminal white spot on the P10 of a Herring Gull in flight and the pale gray primaries that barely contrast with whiter underwing feathers. GBBG also has pretty blue eyes relative to yellow eyes on the Herring Gull.

Great Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

When this particular ice flow moved by I gathered up the scope and headed toward the fence to see if there were any ducks worth digiscoping. I had talked to Pat Rydzewski later in the day and she mentioned that an ice breaker had gone through the river, so it made sense seeing the USA side of the Detroit River relatively open while the Canadian side was still ice-choked.

A pair of Canvasback were sleeping along the pier so I took a digiscoped image through the fence. Someone was keeping an eye on me!

A group of Mute Swans were congregating under the fence next to dock. Among them was a single Tundra Swan! This was most fortunate for me since I haven't been able to get close enough to get nice photos of Tundra Swans. Ever.  What a Beauty!

I took some photos of the Tundra Swan as it preened and waddled among the ice flows. I then spent some time digiscoping the bird from ridiculously close distances. It gave me a chance to get some nice diagnostic images of the smooth, curved bill at the base of the forehead that helps differentiate it from the notched bill at the base of the forehead on the similar-looking Trumpeter Swan. The yellow tear-drops are diagnostic on Tundra Swans and generally lacking on Trumpeter Swans, as well!

As I was photographing the Tundra Swan I spotted a drake Canvasback swimming toward the fence. Possibly it was approaching with the hopes of a handout, because the Mute Swans were clearly looking for one. The Canvasback passed too close to one of the Mute Swans, which took offense, and immediately got attacked. I had a bit too much lens so had to settle for extreme closeups...

For the next several, terrifying moments, the Mute Swan gave the tiny duck a thrashing. It was biting, drowning, and bashing the tiny duck against the ice while it tried to escape. I kicked at the fence hoping that it would release the duck, but the Beast continued its assault. Finally, the little guy was able to break free and scamper across the ice to freedom.

As I followed its retreat I spotted a pair of female Greater Scaup that were swimming in the shadows of the pier and ice flows. The light bouncing off the water made for some nice photos.

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