Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Be Stilt my Beating Heart! - 21 Jul 2008

This afternoon the skies cleared just enough to make it worth a trip to Pt. Mouillee to look for shorebirds. Brad Murphy and Adam Byrne had reported yesterday that 4 baby Stilts were seen, making this only the 2nd time since 2003 that Black-necked Stilts had successfully nested in Michigan. So I grabbed the bike and headed down to the Mouillee Creek entrance with the hope of seeing some stilts (and shorebirds).

I got as far as the Long Pond Unit (SW corner) and decided to ride no further. Shorebirds had indeed returned and the LPU was bustling with activity. Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Killdeer were feeding among the short grasses and open water just a few feet from the dike where I had assembled my scope. With the sun at my back I had the good fortune to find (3) Stilt Sandpipers feeding close enough to digiscope. With a half-dozen Short-billed Dowitchers among them I spent the next 40 minutes or so concentrating my efforts with trying to get some keeper images (and videos).

Seeing Stilt Sandpipers still in breeding plumage is a real treat. I love the barring on their chests, and the rufous cap and cheek patches. It always amazes me how far forward they lean when feeding that I wonder how they manage not to fall on their faces.
As I digiscoped them I heard the 'Bet-bet-bet' of the Black-necked Stilts about 100 yds. away.
I put my binoculars on them and watched as they actively chased any shorebird that came into their vicinity. I could only assume that the young were nearby. Taking this as an opportunity I made a rough count of the birds in the LPU:

65 Lesser Yellowlegs
35 Short-billed Dowitchers
2 Greater Yellowlegs
12 Stilt Sandpipers
1 Solitary Sandpiper
4 Semipalmated Sandpipers
20 Least Sandpipers
12 Killdeer
6 Spotted Sandpipers

Having unsuccessfully spotted any young Stilts I decided to try to move just a bit closer to where the Stilts were feeding. Parking the bike at the extreme SW corner I grabbed the scope and camera and proceeded to wade into the cattails that towered above me. As I quietly worked my way eastward into the emergent forest tried to keep the sun at my back so I'd have some idea which direction I was moving. Finally I reached the edge of the cattail patch and found fairly firm footing at the opening of the marsh. This still kept me approx. 60 yds. from the Stilts, but I was suddenly much closer to the nearby SB-Dowitchers and Lesser Yellowlegs that paid me little attention and continued feeding. Quickly setting up the scope I managed to get several nice digiscoped images of the Dowitchers and Yellowlegs before they moved on. A young Spotted Sandpiper feeding just 10 feet away provided a great digiscoping opportunity.

It was at this point that I realized I was being scrutinized by one of the parent Stilts. It took off and flew at me from the far bank and made a couple loud passes before returning to its roost. I managed several quick flight shots as it passed within a few feet of me. What a thrill!

By the time I was finished the clouds were moving in, so I took a quick image of the rainbow off to the east and headed back into the cattails. When I re-emerged from the cattails (a good 50 yds. away from the bike) I headed for home.

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