Monday, July 21, 2014

Backlight Birding - 20 Jul 2014

I did not get down to Pt. Mouillee SGA until late in the morning, so lighting was going to be difficult for viewing shorebirds in Cell 3 of the Banana Unit.  I arrived shortly after 11 am and found that skies were bright w/ the sun overhead, with just enough cloud cover to put everything in a haze. So I decided I would walk toward the east side of the cell and try to get some sunlight behind me.  As I walked I noticed that there were no American White Pelicans anywhere nearby.

Heat shimmer was particularly bad today. I walked around to the east side of Cell 3 and tried to digiscope some Short-billed Dowitchers from about 60' away, but found the shimmer playing havoc with focusing. I quickly gave up on these birds. Instead, I turned the scope on nearer Lesser Yellowlegs just 30' away.

Before reaching the NE corner of Cell 3 I found a 2nd-cycle Great Black-backed Gull resting along the Lake Erie Shoreline.  The bright white head, dark black, heavy bill w/ yellowish tip are clues to its age.  

As I walked around to the west side of Cell 3 I noticed that shorebird numbers had picked up from earlier in the week.  Lesser Yellowleg numbers were back up to 100-200 birds, and Short-billed Dowitcher numbers had increased to several dozen.  The best surprise was seeing about 3 dozen Stilt Sandpipers among them!  The open water between the NW and SW mudflats had 9 Stilt Sandpipers next to shore, so I moved slowly so that I could digiscope them from the dike.

Even with the Hoodman Loupe on the back of the Sony DSC-RX100 III camera digiscoping was still difficult in the harsh backlit conditions.  I had trouble focusing on the frenetically moving birds as they probed the mud in their typical, sewing-machine fashion.

I moved so that the birds were to the north of me, but that still didn't help.  I did get close enough to a Short-billed Dowitcher that allowed me to get some digiscoped images from 30' away.

I was pleasantly surprised to spot a Wilson's Phalarope swimming among the 2-doze Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpipers that were oblivious to my presence.  I would spend the next hour or so trying to capture the phalarope as it swam, dove, swam, swirled, and generally frustrated me to no end trying to get photos.  I would empty two 16GB cards on this single bird and would end up w/ less than 10% keeper rate.  That's about 150 photos out of 2000+ taken...

When I finally gave up and started heading back toward the bike I took notice of a flock of American White Pelicans drifting across the dike from the Humphries Unit where they were roosting.  About 15 birds were present and flew across my field of view several times before settling back down on the mudflats in the SW corner. 

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