Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Locals! - 18 Jun 2011

A trip to Pt. Mouillee always carries the anticipation of seeing rare or casual bird species.  So much so that its easy to overlook the more common 'locals' that are here breeding and raising young.  Today, the birding was slow, so I had time to focus my efforts not only on the local birds, but also on some of resident insects.

I started out at Mouillee Creek and rode the Middle Causeway east toward the Banana Unit.  Swamp Sparrows and Marsh Wrens were singing from their usual haunts, from the Walpatich to the Vermet Units.  Blue-winged Teal, Redhead, Mallard, Wood Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and a Northern Shoveler were the highlights in the Humphries Unit. 

I looked for the Plegadis Ibis in the Vermet Unit, but saw only Killdeer, Canada Geese, Black-crowned Night Herons and Forster's Terns.  Cell 3 was quiet.  The only shorebirds present were Killdeer, a pair of Semipalmated Plovers, and a half-dozen Semipalmated Sandpipers along the east shoreline. 

I didn't spend much time there, so I scanned the Humphries Unit for the Cattle Egrets (two) and Yellow-headed Blackbirds (heard one).  Forster's Terns were swarming over the cattails in the middle of the marsh, while Caspian Terns roosted on the now-greening mudflats along the north end of Cell 3.  A small raft of Ruddy Ducks were swimming in the south end of Cell 3.

I decided to check out the woods along the south shore of Cell 3.  Warbling Vireos, Indigo Buntings, Song Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, and Willow Flycatchers were seen and heard.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was singing in the cottonwoods nearby, but failed to show itself when I played its call on my Sibley app (for Android).  It did, however, appear along the east shoreline, but remained obscured enough to prevent photographing. Mosquitos were swarming, and enjoyed the quart of blood I gave them.

A flock of shorebirds flew into the mudflats lining the east shoreline of Cell 3.  They consisted of 4-6 White-rumped Sandpipers among a half-dozen Semipalmated Sandpipers.  Strangely, no Dunlin were seen this morning.  The construction crew at the north end of Cell 3 were stringing out a large hose across the dike and into the cell, so it appears that a new round of spoils will be dumped (which may help to knock down the vegetation growing at the north end).

Having taken no photos to this point, I stopped near the Bank Swallow colony at the south end of Cell 4 and spent some time digiscoping the birds as they roosted at the entrance to their burrows.

Heading north to the Vermet Unit I stopped and scanned the marsh from the east shoreline.  Six Black Terns  and four Green-winged Teal were the highlight among birds that included American Coot, Common Moorhen, Pied-billed Grebes (and young), Forster's Terns, Great Egrets, Barn and Tree Swallows.  As I rode toward the North Causeway I flushed one, two, then four baby Spotted Sandpipers from the rocks below.  Three of them flew off, but one remained behind long enough to digiscope from about 70'. 

Heading west along the North Causeway I turned back along the path separating Vermet and Long Pond Units.  Walking slowly along the path I spent some time photographing the dragonflies and damselflies swarming along the grasses.  Images at left/below are, in order: teneral (exoskeleton not hardened) Slender Spreadwing, Eastern Forktail, Eastern Pondhawk, Halloween Pennant, possible Marsh Bluet, and Widow Skimmer (thanks to Darrin O'Brien for ID).  Also seen were Blue Dashers.  Sadly, most of my images of these tiny insects were way overexposed by the green vegetation, even though I had set exposure compensation to -0.3.  Next time I'll have to adjust it to -1.3 to -1.7.

A pair of Common Yellowthroat were frolicking in the phragmites lining the shore, and popped out long enough for a pair of quick photos.  As I chased them down the trail I saw a Least Bittern flying across the cattails toward me.  I'd been hoping to photograph one for so long, but when I saw it I couldn't immediately identify it, so I just watched it fly by w/o raising the camera. It wasn't until the bird passed by that I remembered I had a camera, but then it was too late.  I could only get a shot of its behind as it disappeared over the Vermet Unit.

As I headed toward the Middle Causeway a pair of Forster's Terns were feeding in the canal lining the east shore of the Long Pond Unit.  I managed to grab a few flight pics as they foraged / dove for sunfish.

A male Red-winged Blackbird was in full display while courting / herding females along the Middle Causeway, so I spent a few minutes trying to get flight shots as it flew up and down the path ahead of me. 

Returning to the car, I drove over to Haagmermann Rd. to look for last week's Dickcissel.  I spotted it along fenceline surrounding the radio towers, and decided to get out and try to digiscope it (again).  Nearby, however, I was hearing a very loud 'zeep' that sounded like it was directly overhead.  I was thinking Bobolink, or Dickcissel, but it turned out to be a hatchling Savannah Sparrow that was directly below me in the grass. 

The little guy must've been flushed from its nest (next to the road?) when I stopped, and was now 'zeeping' for its parents.  I walked to the fenceline, where I found an adult Savannah Sparrow w/ a freshly-caught grub, and realized that it might be the little one's parent.  I watched as its fluttered past me, landed in the grass, and looked around for its chick, all the time holding the grub in its bill.  It finally flew over to where the baby was and fed it.  I quickly returned and moved the car away from the family.

Bobolink were also lining the fence, but would not remain long enough for any kind of digiscoping.  So I had to settle for watching them through the binoculars from the security of the car. 

Time to head back home...

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