Wednesday, June 1, 2011

End of May Sightings - 28 May 2011

Saturday morning brought overcast skies, winds, and the threat of storms.  I went birding, anyway.

Parking at Mouillee Creek I rode the bike along the Middle Causeway.  Pausing only to listen for Swamp Sparrows (yup), Marsh Wrens (yup), and a possible Least Bittern (nope) I stopped only when I got to the pump house.  There, I heard my first Willow Flycatcher of the season singing atop a willow (of course).  Black-crowned Night Herons were flying about, but little else.  Water levels were high, as expected, from the last 2 weeks of heay rains, but not terribly so.

I rode the dike separating Nelson and Long Pond Units toward the North Causeway, and only scared up a few Common Moorhen, Pied-billed Grebes (on nests), American Coot, and Common Yellowthroats.  Returning to the Middle Causeway via the dike separating Vermet and Long Pond Units I managed to finally see 8 Black Terns flying among the dozens of Forster's Terns in the middle of the Vermet Unit. A pair of Blue-winged Teal were a nice surprise.

I returned to the junction of Long Pond/Vermet/Humphries Units and scoped the Humphries Unit for Yellow-headed Blackbirds.  For the most part things were quiet, but 1 or 2 YHBB were flying over the cattails. 

As I headed east along the Middle Causeway toward Cell 3 a flock of Dunlin caught my attention.  They were flying low over the sunflower fields along the south shore of the Vermet Unit and landed near a large puddle in the open field.  As I approached them a female Yellow-headed Blackbird caught my attention.  I managed to grab a few digiscoped images as she honked and flew from sunflower stalk to another, and then finally disappeared into the Vermet Unit.  This was a good sign, 'cause it means that we may get some nesting YHBB here at Pt. Mouillee now that there are both males and females about.

As I approached the flock of 20 or so Dunlin I noticed 4 Ruddy Turnstones foraging in the field to my left.  Two of the birds were bright males, and the others were a bit duller in color.  They moved off quickly, but I managed a digiscoped image or two before they got out of range.

As I scanned the Dunlin I spotted a White-rumped Sandpiper among them.  The little guy was hopping around on one leg (resting the other) before being body-slammed for getting too close to a couple of ornery Dunlin.

Several of the Dunlin were feeding close enough to digiscope w/ the 20-60X zoom eyepiece on the Zeiss Diascope.  Even in the overcast skies I managed a couple of nice keepers.

I headed up to Cell 3 where I found few shorebirds.  A small flock of Dunlin were far out on the mudflats, and that was about it.  A few Forster's and Caspian Terns were roosting farther inland away from the water's edge.  Unfortunately I noticed the start of green vegetation growing along the shoreline, which means that Cell 3 may be losing its mudflats to secondary succession.

As I biked around the north end of Cell 3 the Bank Swallows started pouring out of their burrows along the south bank of Cell 4.  I spent a few minutes seeing if any would return to their burrows, but they decided that flying was safer.  A nearby Tree Swallow was my digiscoped consolation prize.

I moved on to the east dike of Cell 3 where I spotted a Sanderling in breeding plumage.  Next to it was a smal peep that I suspected might be a Western Sandpiper.  Too far and too windy to take any digiscoped stills, I opted to take a long-distance video (60X on the eyepiece and 3X on the Coolpix = roughly 2000mm).  The extremely pale shorebird was much whiter than the nearby Semipalmated Sanpipers, and longer-billed and longer-legged.  It tended to probe the mud much more than the Semipalms, which tended to pick at the ground.  Unfortunately it appeared to be a non-breeding bird, so I couldn't verify rusty scapulars.  Still, it appeared thick-necked and long-billed, so it appeared to have traits supporting a Western Sandpiper.  I documented the bird as best I could and sent it to Adam Byrne.

Other shorebirds in the area included Semipalmated Plover (4), Killdeer (too many), Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Spotted Sandpipers.

I returned to the Bank Swallow colony and managed a few digiscoped images from about 100'.  The birds tended to land 3-4 at a time and would roost at the opening.  I suspect that they're feeding young.

I then spent some time trying to capture flight shots of the swallows using the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 and TC14 II.  Switching off 'spot' autofocus and turning on 'area' focusing made tracking the birds much easier.  I managed a few captures and created this composite.

A surprise was seeing a Cliff Swallow among them!

As I photographed them a flock of 6 American White Pelicans soared overhead!  I had heard reports earlier this week of 20 birds in Lake Erie near Pt. Mouillee, and would later hear from Mark Wloch that he saw 29 birds.

Returning to the Middle Causeway I scoped the Dunlin flock for the White-rumped Sandpiper, but couldn't relocate it.    I rode back toward the car, and stopped to talk to a few other birders that were out hiking.  I spotted a Snowy Egret near the BCNH colony and was able to verify ID w/ the scope.  An Indigo Bunting was singing near the pump house and made an irresistable subject for digiscoping.

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