Saturday, April 9, 2011

White Wagtail in Michigan! - 09 Apr 2011

Robin and I were just leaving Royal Oak this morning at 10:30 am when I decided to check my e-mail.  I was flabbergasted to see that a White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) was seen in Michigan.  Caleb Putnam sent the e-mail, so I figured it was being seen somewhere on the west side of the state.  But when I opened the e-mail he mentioned that Adam Byrne found it in Cell 3 of Pt. Mouillee!  Adam had relocated the bird in the south side of the Vermet Unit before it disappeared. 

We headed home, and after a quick lunch, I grabbed the bike and headed down to Pt. Mouillee to see if the bird might be relocated and get some photo documentation.  I arrived at the Siegler Rd. entrance at 12:30 pm and rode the North Causeway to the dike separating the west side of the Long Pond and east side of the Nelson Unit.  Travelling south toward the Middle Causeway I ran into Todd Palgut who reported that the bird hadn't been relocated since 9:30 this morning.  I then ran into Adam, who was driving some folks back to the parking lot, and got the same report from him.  So I continued on, carefully scanning the flooded farm fields of the Nelson Unit. 

I met Jim Lesser and walked with him until we got to the group of birders scanning the south end of the Vermet Unit.  Noone had seen the bird, so I stayed just long enough to get a digiscoped image of a Greater Yellowlegs just a few feet away from open water.  I then continued on toward Cell 3.
As I reached Cell 3 I saw another group of birders and offered to continue on to check the east side of the Cell to see if the bird might be on the mudflats along the SE corner.  I stopped briefly along the way to photograph a pair of Redhead Ducks, including a leucistic female with with a white head.

I approached the mudflats along the east side of Cell 3 and stopped about 50 yds. before so I wouldn't spook the dozens of gulls roosting along its edge.  I set the scope down in front of me and went to focus and scan when I saw the bird in my field of view.  Absolutely incredible!  White Wagtail! The bird was bouncing around in my scope and I didn't even have to look for it.  I quickly called Adam and informed him that I had spotted it.  I then lost it from view when I returned to look at it.

I moved a bit closer and rescanned the mudflats for several minutes before finally relocating the bird.  It flew to the SE corner of the mudflat out of view, so I had to walk do the edge of the mudflats before finding the bird near the edge of the water.
A pipit-sized gray bird with a white head, wing bars, and bobbing tail, the black throat patch was unmistakeable.  But a tiny gray bird on gray mud on a gray, windy day was impossible to see unless a spotting scope was used.  I had the 45X eyepiece on my Zeiss 85T*Fl so I was getting a pretty good view of the bird from better than 50 yds. away.  With the wind blowing and the Nikon Coolpix P6000 at full zoom I knew that digiscoping photos would be impossible.  So instead I took a couple of digiscoped videos.

Bob Arthurs walked up as I was digiscoping the bird, so he was able to see the bird to verify ID.  We kept losing the bird in the gray mud and had a helluva time relocating it, but got good looks for several minutes before the bird flushed back across the cell and disappeared over the Vermet Unit.  Sadly, a bunch of other birders had just arrived and missed seeing the wagtail. 

We would hang around for another half-hour or so before the bird returned.  This time it was foraging in the NE corner of Cell 3.  This time, everyone birding with Bob and me were able to get good looks, and a call to Adam confirmed that they were all able to see the bird, as well.  The wagtail flushed again, so we all headed back to the NW corner of Cell 3 where it was being observed along the west shoreline. It flushed again, so everyone left, satisfied with their views.  I stayed long enough to find a single Dunlin near the west shoreline.

Each time the bird was seen it was too far to digiscope and too far to photograph.  So I was extremely fortunate to be able to capture a decent, albeit shaky video of the bird when I did.

I believe this bird represents the 3rd record for the State of Michigan, and a 1st record for Monroe Co.! It was a thrill to be able to see this life bird and know that dozens of others were able to add it to their life lists!

Congratulations, Adam! and thanks for finding this great bird for us!


GumbyandPokey said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing this!

GumbyandPokey said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing this!

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