I parked the bike at the NW corner of Cell 3 and started to walk toward the hundreds of shorebirds scattered across the north end of the cell. No sooner did I raise my binoculars when I felt a sudden rush of wind and loud wingbeats in my right ear. A Peregrine Falcon shot past my head like a bullet and headed straight for the crowd of shorebirds in front of me. Quickly raising the D300 and Sigma 400mm I attempted to focus on the bird as it banked left and headed for the now-scattering flocks. Despite the somewhat low light I was able to follow the falcon as it made several swipes at passing Semipalmated Plovers and Sandpipers.
I managed to capture a flight shot as the Peregrine singled out a Semipalmated Sandpiper and attacked. The small peep sped for the near shore with the falcon on its tail then veered sharply up and back out toward the middle of the cell. The falcon followed closely and swiped several times but missed badly. Instead of pulling up and calling it quits, it banked upward and continued its pursuit.
For the next 5 minutes I watched as the Peregrine followed the peep out into the middle of the cell, each time flying upward about 30 feet, then dive-bombing the smaller bird and making a swipe with its talons. Each time the sandpiper would duck and change direction in the nick of time. The falcon would continue to follow, gain altitude, then dive again. I counted at least 7 passes alone in Cell 3 before the chase moved into the Lead Unit.
I was shocked that the falcon would continue to chase the smaller peep for so long, and it appeared that the struggle for survival would end shortly. The Semipalmated Sandpiper then headed skyward and tried to blend in with a flock of Tree Swallows that passed by, but the Peregrine seemed unfazed. I managed to capture a short series of shots as the falcon tucked it wings and dove toward the peep as it now flew in my direction. They both passed by close enough for me get one or two fairly sharp images of the falcon* (the top image was doctored slightly - the falcon is real, the Semipalm was added for effect).
The sandpiper disappeared into Cell 4 and the Peregrine gave up, floating toward the now empty mud flat and resting for several minutes. I put the scope on it and discovered that it was a banded bird: a Black Band on the left tarsus with the letter 'B' and a Green Band below it with the number '7' followed by a '6' or '0'. The right tarsus had a Red Band on it. I wished I had the Coolpix as the bird was close enough to digiscope.
After several minutes it took off again, made a few passes over the flocks of Mallard and Blue-winged Teal that were out in the middle of Cell 3, but they seemed unfazed by the raptor. It then made a short chase after a pair of Killdeer along the extreme east side of the cell, then disappeared over the dike and along the shore of Lake Erie. What an experience! I can count on two finger the number of times I've witnessed a Peregrine attack....
With Cell 3 completely void of shorebirds, I headed back down the Middle Causeway. I stopped long enough to photograph a passing Northern Harrier (female) and scope 3 Osprey on the platform in the Lead Unit. At the junction of Lead, Vermet, and Long Pond Units I scoped about 50 Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers (1), Pectoral Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Sandpipers. A pair of Sora were actively calling from the cattails in the Lead Unit, and about 100 Great Egret were actively croaking farther out. As the rain began to fall I returned to the car and headed home for dinner.