Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shorebird Habitat Revived! - 09 Aug 2008

Normally I'm out here early in the morning or late in the afternoon, but today I've taken a very rare mid-afternoon trip to Pt. Mouillee. So, arriving at the Roberts Rd. parking lot on a very warm, very windy afternoon I unloaded the bike and headed off for a ride.

The Lead Unit, just like the rest of the units here, is drying up and providing good shorebird habitat for Lesser Yellowlegs and Great Egrets. Both birds seem to be everywhere, with the yellowlegs chattering and squabbling with an intensity matched only by the wind. I tried to digiscope a few pics of the Lesser Yellowlegs but just couldn't get a good enough angle to capture the nearest birds.

As I approached Cell 3 I was stunned to find how much lower the water level was since my last trip. The amount of exposed mudflat was astounding, and I was delighted to see shorebirds everywhere. Unfortunately for me, however, the birds were too far away for even digiscoping, so I happily concentrated on scoping. The majority of birds consisted of Least, Semipalmated and Pectoral Sandpipers, but there were also numerous Short-billed Dowitchers and even the first immature SBD's of the year. Farther out were dozens of Semipalmated Plovers, and even a few Greater Yellowlegs. I spotted a Wilson's Phalarope feeding in a small waterhole out in the middle of the mudflats, and a heavily-barred dowitcher presumed to be a Long-billed Dowitcher. A single Stilt Sandpiper and a single Black-bellied Plover rounded out the notables.

I rode around to the the north side of the unit to attempt a count, but the wind and severe backlighting made it impossible, so all I could do was attempt a few flight pics of the constantly moving flocks of birds. A bonus bird appeared in the form of White-rumped Sandpiper that I did not see until I reviewed my pics. Heading down the Middle Causeway I looked off to the west, where severe thundershowers were forecast. Large clouds were moving in, but the dark skies were off to the north.

As I scoped the large sand spit in the Vermet Unit something caused the egrets and Caspian Terns to flush. A few flight shots of those birds brought my camera into focus on an adult Bald Eagle heading my way. As I snapped away at it one of the adult Osprey took offense and began harassing it. I got lucky and managed a shot of the eagle doing a barrel roll to avoid the Osprey's talons. As the Osprey peeled off the Bald Eagle made a close pass and allowed me to take some nice pics against a backdrop of menacing clouds. After a few moments the Osprey made a fly-by and allowed me a couple of pics. And a few moments later a Caspian Tern provided some nice pics agains the darkening skies.

Deciding to continue on I headed along the west side of the Vermet Unit toward the North Causeway. Few birds were visible in the Unit, but I did manage to see a small flock of Redhead fly by. The north end of the Long Pond held few shorebirds, but hundreds of Starlings. The remaining portions of the Long Pond were completely dry except for a small patch of open water in the SE corner.

Fighting the increasing winds / gales I slowly made my way back to the car and headed for home.

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