Sunday, July 6, 2008

Golden-hour Stilt! - 04 Jul 2008

Happy 4th of July! And a sincere Thank you and God Bless to all of you who have sacrificed to preserve our freedom. We don't appreciate you enough!

With absolutely gorgeous skies and low winds I took a run down to Pt. Mouillee this afternoon to ride the dikes. Parking at Mouillee Creek I was greeted almost instantaneously by a lovely male Baltimore Orange (Oriole). The Warbling Vireo continues to sing day-long at the parking lot, as do several Swamp Sparrows in the Walpatich Unit. The week's rains have left Mouillee Creek muddy, and water levels elevated in the SGA, but not too bad (not enough to be overly concerned for the nesting(?) Black-necked Stilts.

As I approached the pump house and Lautenschager Unit I found a Common Moorhen roosting on a log near the cattails. As I set up the scope to digiscope it from the dike it took notice and carefully headed into thicker cover. As I scoped it from a distance I noticed 3 little chicks with it. Scanning back to the log I discovered two more chicks still resting on the log, so I spent a few minutes digiscoping them. Very cute little guys with their balding heads and bright orange beaks!

Continuing on toward the Bloody Run and Long Pond Units I scanned the ditches and found four Great Egrets quietly roosting next to the road. Turning to my left I was stunned to see and count over 200 more Great Egrets lining the ditch between the two units the entire length. As I snapped away at the birds an oncoming couple of humans caused the entire mass of feathers to lift off toward the plowed farm fields to the west. I managed a shot of ~100 in this frame!

As I scanned the Long Pond Unit I failed to see any sign of the Stilts. A few Caspian, Forster's and Black Terns were visible out along the sand spit in the Vermet Unit, so I walked about half-way out toward their roosts before deciding to approach any closer (without waders since the spit disappeared under water for a stretch). Returning to the bike I watched as an Osprey circled overhead the late afternoon sun over the Lead Unit.

I stopped midway between the Lead and Vermet Units and attempted to photograph a few Black Terns flying back and forth, but few birds were present. So I continued on toward Cell 3 where I found a large flock of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, a few Bonaparte's Gulls, Forster's Terns and Caspian Terns. An immature Northern Shoveler was present, along with a hand-full of Redhead and Lesser Scaup. Scoping the far shore I managed to find a Short-billed Dowitcher off by itself, and listened to its 'du-du-du' as it flew off with the flocks.

Heading back down the Middle Causeway I stopped again, and this time had some good luck with Black Terns flying by in the now late afternoon sunlight. With sunlight at my back for a change I got some nice pics as the birds flew by in groups of three.

At the last moment I decided to take the dike along the west side of the Vermet Unit back toward the North Causeway then head back along the west side of the Long Pond Unit. Things were quiet until I spooked a Great Blue Heron from the ditch below me. As I took a few pics of it flying away I spotted a Black-necked Stilt flying across the dike from the Nelson Unit but was too slow to do anything but watch it disappear into the cattails. I back-tracked a bit and headed into the cattails where I was able to make out a flock of Green-winged Teal, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and another Caspian Tern. As I looked for the Stilt a female Common Yellowthroat came out to inspect my presence and stayed momentarily enough for a quick photo.

Returning to the dike I headed toward the Middle Causeway but stopped when I found another Lesser Yellowlegs and a pair of Least Sandpipers feeding along the west shore of the Long Pond Unit. With the sun at my back and in a perfect setting, I digiscoped the Yellowlegs for a few minutes before a Black-necked Stilt flew into my field of view. It literally landed in my scope view and began feeding just a few feet away from the other shorebirds. Stunned, I quickly seized the opportunity and began firing away at the bird as it quietly fed along the edge of the emergent grasses. It paid me no attention but was being harassed by a Barn Swallow that took offense to its presence. I followed the bird for the next half-hour and managed a hundred pics and a few short videos before it finally flew off toward the east side of the Unit. The low sun at my back made for perfect lighting as the beautiful Stilt posed and probed about 30 feet away from me. I'm glad I took as many pics as I did since the constantly-moving bird produced many a blurred digiscope image. If not for the jeweler's loop attached to the camera the glare from the sun on the viewfinder of the Coolpix P5000 would've made for complete blind-digiscoping. After the bird flew off I happily packed my gear and headed for home!

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