Friday, May 9, 2014

Long-billed Curlew! - 08 May 2014

Lyle Hamilton found a Long-billed Curlew yesterday at Willow Run Airport in Wayne Co., MI. If accepted this bird would be a 3rd State Record(?).  I was then happy to see the post from Andrew Dettling this morning at 6:40 am that he had not only refund the curlew, but also re-found the Western Meadowlark, Black-bellied / American Golden Plovers, and Upland Sandpipers that were also reported.

I took off for the airport shortly after 7:30 am to look for the curlew and hopefully photo document it for the Michigan Birds Record Committee.  I arrived at 8:05 and saw Brian McGee, who was just packing up after watching the bird in the open grass stubble just this side of the main runway.  The Long-billed Curlew was visible with the naked eye slowly walking about 50 yds. on the other side of the airport fence.

I was just getting out of the car to grab the scope when the bird took off, giving its whistling call and circling around the field before flying back into the same area.  I managed to get the camera on it just as it was landing and grab a few out-of-focus (OOF) images to show the non-barred, cinnamon underwings that help to distinguish it from the brownish, barred underwings of a Whimbrel, its nearest-looking cousin.

I took a few photos of the Long-billed Curlew using a Nikon 1 V3 attached to my 300mm f/2.8 VRII Nikon and 14TCEII Teleconverter for an effective focal length (EFL) of 300x1.4x2.7 = 1134mm! The bird was still just a small feature in the images, but sharp enough to allow for cropping.

Things got a bit tense for a moment when a Northern Harrier made a half-hearted swipe at the curlew and caused it to make itself small in the grass. The harrier then went after a pair of Upland Sandpipers that were closer to the runway where the Western Meadowlark was perched and singing.

After a few more pics I grabbed the scope and attempted to get a video of the bird for ID purposes.  I watched it for several minutes foraging and eating large night crawlers in the stubble.  I cranked the Zeiss 85T*FL Diascope and 20-75X Zoom eyepiece to full 75X magnification in order to get the bird large enough to view.  With the Nikon 1 V3 and 10-30mm PD lens zoomed to 30mm, I was getting an EFL of 75x30x2.7 = 6075mm!  Heat shimmer at this magnification and distance was intense, but did not interfere with me being able to verify the lack of head striping associated with Whimbrels, and to see the clean brown/white feather barring and dark-centered coverts that is more distinct than the softer brown back feathers of Whimbrel.  Note also that this curlew has pale lores (area between eye and bill), as opposed to the dark lores that are part of the streaking that goes through the eye on Whimbrel. Head is finely streaked white and neck shows fine streaking.  During the video you can even see some of the cinnamon coloration in the flanks and underwing when it fluffs up.

Images below are reference images of a Long-billed Curlew I photographed in Florida a few years ago.  Compare with the Whimbrel images taken in similar lighting.

Long-billed Curlew



Ron Gamble said...

Hmm - can't get this comment thing to work, so we try a third time (sorry if it's duplicate)

Awesome photo work. Now THAT'S documentation!

Cathy Carroll said...

Thanks for your post Jerry. I am counting WR Airport for the NAMC tomorrow. Your photos and discussion will really help.

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