Friday, May 23, 2014

Whimbrel Migration 2014! - 22 May 2014

Its taken almost 10 years, but I've finally accomplished a long-sought goal. I can say that I've witnessed the one-day wonder that is the Whimbrel migration through the Great Lakes.  This evening I found a whopping 250+ Whimbrel along the Middle Causeway of Pointe Mouillee SGA and Cell 3 of the Banana Unit.  The majority of the birds flew to the NW 30 minutes after I found them, with only about 32 birds remaining behind (Cell 3).
Each year between 22 May and about 29 May Whimbrel migrate along the east coast, Great Lakes and Canada toward their summer breeding grounds in tundra of Northern Canada and Alaska.  These birds have wintered in South America and will travel up to 4000 Km between March and June to reach their breeding grounds. Here in the Great Lakes the birds have a tendency to appear in 'large' numbers (>100) for a single day in various locations in SE Michigan, and disappear by the next. Stragglers will stick around through the first week or two of June, but the larger flocks move like ghosts in the night.  Places like Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto, Canda will rack up numbers in the thousands during this time, so its always good to keep an eye on the rare bird alerts for Canada, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

I rode toward the NW corner of the Lautenschlager Unit at ~4 pm to look for the Black-necked Stilt that was seen last Saturday, but would not see it.  Spotted Sandpipers, three Osprey and a few Great Egrets were the only consolation.  The North Causeway was also quiet - I looked for the Snowy Egrets in the NW corner of the Vermet Unit, but came up empty, as well.  The Tricolored Heron along the Middle Causeway was also a no-show.  The day was beginning to look like my favorite Constellation: The Big Dipper.

I then spotted one of the Snowy Egrets foraging in a shallow puddle next to the Humphries Unit along the north shoreline and Middle Causeway.  As I watched it fly overhead it passed over a huge flock of brown shorebirds, and I knew immediately that I had hit the jackpot - Whimbrels!  They were roosting on the freshly planted farm plot in the NE corner of the Humphries Unit among a flock of Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls.  I had to be careful not to alarm the geese or gulls, as I knew they'd make a ruckus and scatter the whole flock.

I grabbed the scope and started counting the Whimbrel. Two hundred plus! I then grabbed a series of frames w/ the D7100 / 300/2.8VRII / 1.7TCEIII for a panorama.

Time to grab a video w/ the Nikon V3 attached to the Zeiss 85T*Fl and 40X W eyepiece w/ homemade digiscoping adapter.  I would later count 208 ± 1 Whimbrel in the video.  The panorama produced 232 Whimbrel!

I spent the next 30 minutes watching the birds roost and tried to slowy approach.  At one point the whole flock lifted up and circled overhead, providing me w/ some flight shots as they passed close by and settled back down in their same spot.  I dared not move, so I stayed where I was and continued to digiscope them from about 100' away.


After a while I could sense the birds starting to get restless, moving as a large unit and flexing/stretching wings. Then suddenly the whole flock lifted up and flew in a direct line to the NW over the Vermet Unit and toward the Siegler Rd. parking lot. They never turned and continued in a straight line until they disappeared out of view. 


I then headed to the NW corner of Cell 3 where I found another flock of 32 Whimbrel along the edge of the mudflat.  Among them were several hundred Dunlin and and a hundred or so Bonaparte's Gulls.  Along the north shoreline of the mudflats I spotted 4 Red-necked Phalaropes swimming in the shallows among another several hundred Dunlin!

I spent a few minutes videorecording the Whimbrel and taking a few digiscoped images before heading to the SW corner.

Shorebirds were fewer and farther out in the SW corner of Cell 3, but the highlight was 31 Black-bellied Plovers strung out along the tip of the muddy peninsula. A pair of White-rumped Sandpipers were also in the corner, about 70' away and within digiscoping range.

As I headed back toward the Middle Causeway I heard, then saw a Yellow-headed Blackbird being chased by a Red-winged Blackbird along the east shore of the Humphries Unit.  The two birds passed over another YHBB just a few feet away from me.  So, I stopped the bike and grabbed a couple quick profile photos of the gorgeous male before he took off into the shrubby area of Cell 3.


Jim VanAllen would report seeing the Tricolored Heron along the Middle Causeway shortly after I left, so it was good to heart that that bird is still around.  I got back to the car and took a quick run down Haggerman Rd. just long enough to grab a few photos of a Bobolink in the dandelions along the fence surrounding the antennae farm.


I felt exhilarated having finally caught a large flock of Whimbrel moving north through the area.  Hopefully more will pass through in the next few days. In the meantime I'll keep an eye on those reports from Canada...

1 comment:

Edward said...

On my walk back along the lakeside of the Penisula I had a female Yellow Head in the road a head of me. What a subtle beauty. I saw a male at LSC Metro last year. I was on the Penisula on the last day for birders August 31 and was pretty sure I saw a Whimbrel.

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