Monday, July 21, 2014

Backlight Birding - 20 Jul 2014

I did not get down to Pt. Mouillee SGA until late in the morning, so lighting was going to be difficult for viewing shorebirds in Cell 3 of the Banana Unit.  I arrived shortly after 11 am and found that skies were bright w/ the sun overhead, with just enough cloud cover to put everything in a haze. So I decided I would walk toward the east side of the cell and try to get some sunlight behind me.  As I walked I noticed that there were no American White Pelicans anywhere nearby.

Heat shimmer was particularly bad today. I walked around to the east side of Cell 3 and tried to digiscope some Short-billed Dowitchers from about 60' away, but found the shimmer playing havoc with focusing. I quickly gave up on these birds. Instead, I turned the scope on nearer Lesser Yellowlegs just 30' away.

Before reaching the NE corner of Cell 3 I found a 2nd-cycle Great Black-backed Gull resting along the Lake Erie Shoreline.  The bright white head, dark black, heavy bill w/ yellowish tip are clues to its age.  

As I walked around to the west side of Cell 3 I noticed that shorebird numbers had picked up from earlier in the week.  Lesser Yellowleg numbers were back up to 100-200 birds, and Short-billed Dowitcher numbers had increased to several dozen.  The best surprise was seeing about 3 dozen Stilt Sandpipers among them!  The open water between the NW and SW mudflats had 9 Stilt Sandpipers next to shore, so I moved slowly so that I could digiscope them from the dike.

Even with the Hoodman Loupe on the back of the Sony DSC-RX100 III camera digiscoping was still difficult in the harsh backlit conditions.  I had trouble focusing on the frenetically moving birds as they probed the mud in their typical, sewing-machine fashion.

I moved so that the birds were to the north of me, but that still didn't help.  I did get close enough to a Short-billed Dowitcher that allowed me to get some digiscoped images from 30' away.

I was pleasantly surprised to spot a Wilson's Phalarope swimming among the 2-doze Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpipers that were oblivious to my presence.  I would spend the next hour or so trying to capture the phalarope as it swam, dove, swam, swirled, and generally frustrated me to no end trying to get photos.  I would empty two 16GB cards on this single bird and would end up w/ less than 10% keeper rate.  That's about 150 photos out of 2000+ taken...

When I finally gave up and started heading back toward the bike I took notice of a flock of American White Pelicans drifting across the dike from the Humphries Unit where they were roosting.  About 15 birds were present and flew across my field of view several times before settling back down on the mudflats in the SW corner. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cell 3, PMSGA - 17 Jul 2014

A quick ride out to Cell 3 in the afternoon yielded the usual suspects. 43 American White Pelicans in the SW corner on the mud peninsula, 1 American Avocet, 100 Lesser Yellowlegs, ~50 each Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, 3 Short-billed Dowitchers and 1 Stilt Sandpiper. Least and Forster's Terns were roosting (~2 dozen ea) and a dozen or so Caspian Terns. Only saw 3-4 Black Terns on the mud spit.  Killdeer continue to be numerous (~3 dozen). Eastern Kingbirds now have fledged young, with parents out with 1-2 young birds on the open branches.

A Spotted Sandpiper gave me probably the best looks in years, so I spent a few minutes digiscoping it  from about 100' away.  Other than that a couple of Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs were close enough for some scope work.  Everything else was too far off to bother with.

I only stayed about 30 minutes before riding back to the Roberts Rd. entrance and headed home.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dickcissel! - 12 Jul 2014

I had about 40 minutes to kill after dropping Robin off at Lake Erie Metropark for her morning run. So I drove over to Haggerman Rd and the Antennae Farm to look for Dickcissels along the fence line. Sure enough, one male was waiting for me on the same perch I had photographed last evening.

The bird was backlit so I had to hug the fence in order to cut down on the back lighting. I tried to get close enough so that the tree line would give me a darker background.

Best part of the shoot was that the Dickcissel never left his perch even after I left. As I drove away I spotted a second bird farther down the road on the top of the fence.

While waiting for Robin to finish her stretch I watched the Barn Swallows that were swarming around the boat launch at the Lee Rd. Marina. I noticed several birds picking mayflies off of the telephone pole in the parking lot, so I grabbed the D7100 and 300/2.8 VRII and tried to photograph the swallows in the act.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Pelican Brief - 11 Jul 2014

I arrived at Mouillee Creek shortly after 4 pm and rode the Middle Causeway toward the Walpatich Unit. Swamp Sparrows were singing in the tall grass adjacent to the cattail marsh. American Goldfinches were foraging the thistle along the dike as most had gone to seed. An Indigo Bunting was singing in the SW corner of the Lautenschlager, but I was unable to get the scope on it quick enough before he flew away.

I headed toward the north end of the Lautenschlager Unit to see if any shorebirds were around. I found a pair of Least Sandpipers among a half-dozen Killdeer. The highlight was hearing the bugling from three Sandhills Cranes in the unit. I spotted one bird in the phragmites, then was able to watch as all three flew the unit toward the Nelson Unit. Before reaching the Long Pond Unit I spent a few minutes digiscoping a male Common Yellowthroat and a female Red-winged Blackbird.

Marsh Wrens were actively singing in the Long Pond Unit but none were in view. The North Causeway was recently graded and I managed to kick up every loose stone. Biking was not pleasant. The west shoreline of the Vermet Unit held a few Lesser Yellowlegs, and more goldfinches, otherwise pretty quiet. Construction was going on near Cell 5 of the Banana Unit and large dust plumes were drifting over the Vermet. The Great Egrets were squawking their disapproval. I did spot a family of Mallard that took cover under some lily pads as I approached. They were not entirely hidden...

I returned to the Middle Causeway and headed toward the Banana while scanning the Vermet for the Tricolored Herons, which were not to be found. Three Lesser Scaup were swimming in Cell 4. As I rode toward Cell 3 I scanned the phragmites for a Yellow-headed Blackbird that would also not show. Another Indigo Bunting was a nice consolation.

The water in Cell 3 is starting to dry up. The north end of open cell now has exposed mudflats, and Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs were strung out along its length. In the NW corner Ring-billed and Herring Gulls were roosting. A few Bonaparte's Gulls were present, but no Little Gulls. A nice mix of Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers were foraging near shores. I spent a few minutes Digiscoping them from just 25' away. A single Stilt Sandpiper was the highlight.


Out in the middle of the cell the American White Pelicans gathered in a large flock that numbered almost 30 birds. Another dozen birds were roosting on the mud in the SW corner of the cell.

As I walked toward the SW corner I ran into David Amomoto and we chatted a bit before spent some time scanning the shoreline for shorebirds. A flock of Short-billed Dowitchers (18 birds) and a single Wilson's Phalarope were spread out along the shoreline while dozens of Common, Forster's, Caspian and Black Terns roosted near the point. I would walk around to the south side of the cell and scope for both Arctic Tern and Little Gull, but would not find any. A steady stream of the birds were taking off in threes and fours toward Lake Erie, so it's possible that they might still be around.

The American Avocet was near the south shore so I spent a few minutes Digiscoping it before it moved away to safer distances.

Convinced that I would not see anything more this evening I headed back to the car and over to Haggerman Rd. and the antennae farm to look for Dickcissels. One bird was perched on 'his' tree next to the fence and provided some nice Digiscoping from just 20' away. With the sun beginning to set I packed up and headed home.

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