Saturday, May 17, 2014

Video Saved the Digiscoper - 15 May 2014

Rain and cool weather has put a damper on the past few days so I was anxious to get out and bird, especially after hearing reports of Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret and White-faced Ibis at Pt. Mouillee. It was supposed to clear this afternoon, so I grabbed the bike and headed down to Pt. Mouillee despite the continuing drizzle.

The drizzle turned into a steady rain, so instead of parking at Mouillee Creek I continued on to Haggerman Rd. and drove the mile long dirt road looking for sparrows.  Bobolink were displaying and singing overhead near the antennae farm, while a mud patch in the field held a nice array of 4 Short-billed Dowitcher, 4 Black-bellied Plover and several Ruddy Turnstones.

It was after 6 pm by the time I got back to Mouillee Creek, so I grabbed the bike and road the soft Middle Causeway looking for the target birds listed above.  I found the  four White-faced Ibis along the south end of the Vermet Unit foraging close to the causeway.  It was very overcast, so I took a few photos using the Nikon V1 attached to the 300/2.8 VRII (810mm EFL) before trying to digiscope.

I was getting no useful digiscoped images, so I settled for digiscoped video of the birds.  The result was being able to confirm that all four birds looked good for White-faced Ibis and I didn't have to worry about possible hybrids w/ Glossy Ibis.

I then found the Tricolored Heron reported earlier this week by Karl Overman and a few others.  This bird was much more approachable and I was able to get some digiscoped images, as well as video.  Great find!

The 1st-year male Yellow-headed Blackbird was observed among a large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds, but I was unable to get any photos of him.  He seems to be particularly attached to a young male Red-winged Blackbird - the two spend much time hanging out and chasing each other.

A good number of shorebirds were moving along the north shore of the Humphries Unit. From the Middle Causeway I found 8 Ruddy Turnstones and a flock of Semipalmated Sandpipers working the open ground next to the shoreline.  I looked for a Willet or two but saw none.

The rain had stopped, but winds were now picking up and the temps were steadily dropping.  I rode on toward Cell 3. Large flocks of Caspian Terns were on the mudflats near the NW corner of the 'open' cell, while crazy numbers of shorebirds could be seen toward the SW corner mudflats.

There I found approximately 400 Dunlin among a flock of ~400 Bonaparte's Gulls.  A group of 12 Short-billed Dowitchers and 8 Black-bellied and American Golden Plovers were foraging along the farthest peninsula mudflat.
I then heard, then saw a Willet among them.

As I scanned the Bonaparte's Gulls I spotted two small gulls w/ distinctive black carpal bars and wing edges that were much thicker than the rest of the gull flock. Little Gulls!  I tried digiscoping them from a distance but low light and high winds prevented any real keepers.  So I again turned to video.


Slowing down the video allowed me to look for things like bill length, head color and underwing color.  1st  year Little Gulls look surprisingly like 1st year Ross's Gulls (extremely unlikely here) but Ross's Gulls have very short, diminutive bills.  Underwing color of Little Gulls are blackish and help identify them in flight.  These two individuals have light underwings, which is expected of 1st winter birds, but there was some hint of darkening occurring as they flapped their wings.

The whole mudflat then erupted into flight and settled down.  I had to rescan the flocks looking the two Little Gulls, but could not relocate them.  Instead, I found a female Red-necked Phalarope swimming among the Dunlin about 100' away!  Again I turned on the video, knowing full well that it was my only means of recording the moment.

After a while I was able to relocate the Little Gulls near their original location, but it was now dark enough that I had to head back to the car.  Near the NW corner I found two more Willet in the shallows near shore. High winds from the west made riding difficult, but I managed to keep peddling.  The sun would appear just as I was near the pump house, so I stopped for a few final pics.  A flock of 20 Black-bellied Plovers flew overhead as I rode back, but all I could do was enjoy their calls as they disappeared over the Humphries Unit.  I would not see the heron or the ibis on my return trip.

Despite the cold and dark weather the birding was most productive.  Thank you, video!

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