Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fall Shorebirding Has Begun! - 04 Jul 2014

I parked at Roberts Rd. at the south end of Pt. Mouillee and rode out to Cell 3 to look for the Little Gulls (again). It was 5 pm on a partly cloudy and gorgeous Independence Day.  I had spent the day rigging the digiscoping equipment to include the Hoodman Loupe to see if using the LCD would provide an easier way to see/focus the Sony RX100 III camera.

My first opportunity came in the SE corner of the Humphries Unit where I found a small flock of Barn Swallows roosting next to shore. Among them were several fledgelings that provided nice looks from 25' away.

The NW corner of Cell 1 is drying out quick. A pair of Great Egrets, a handful of Killdeer and Least Sandpipers were foraging the remnants of the pond that is now low enough to show several large Common Snapping Turtles.

The Eastern Kingbirds in the SW corner of Cell 3 continue their defense of their nest. Reliably one mate perches on the dead branches of a bush next to the south trail while the other perches on the nearby phragmites.  They take turns attacking anything that approaches. I tried to get a few pics of them hovering over me, but had better luck digiscoping them from 20' away.  The Hoodman worked very well, allowing me to find critical focus points.

A quick scan of Cell 3 from the SW corner revealed a number of shorebirds along the water's edge. I was still too far away to tell what they were, but it had appeared that the first batch of fall-migrating shorebirds have arrived on their southbound migration.  A few minutes later I would find that the shorebird flocks consisted of (exclusively) Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs!

I saw the American Avocet along the south shoreline so I headed over to get some digiscoped images from about 100' away. It kept a watchful eye on me as it slept and preened, but did not move from the area the entire evening.

I scanned shorebirds at this point and could only pick out a few Greater Yellowlegs among the 100+ Lesser Yellowlegs and 200+ Least Sandpipers.

As I headed toward the NW side of Cell 3 I noticed several Bonaparte's Gulls swimming just out from the mudflat shoreline.  Scoping them put me on one bird that appeared to be a Little Gull. It was not until I started digiscoping the bird that I noticed that it was showing NO evidence of the white eye-arcs that were visible on ALL of the nearby Bonaparte's Gulls. Score!

Here are some comparison shots of both the Little Gull and Bonaparte's Gulls from the same distance. Physically there is very little difference to tell them apart, but some of the Bonies show brown tail and wing tips, while the Little Gull showed black. Some of the Bonies started showing white tips to the primaries. Caps varied from all white to partial to full, with the earspots coming in. On the Little Gull the cap extends lower onto the back of the head. The bird never stretched its wings so I could not look for dark underwing linings. In these pics the Little Gull shows the appearance of almost no neck, which might be diagnostic against the longer-necked appearance of the Bonaparte's Gulls.

In the NW corner of Cell 3 I had a chance to digiscope some nearby Least Sandpipers. They all appear to be worn adults. Feather edges are worn, and the birds have an overall brown appearance and lack the white racing stripes on their back that is more typical of fresh juveniles.

While returning to SW corner I had the opportunity to photograph several of the Black Terns that were flying back and forth between Cell 3 and the Humphries.  Small flocks of adults (starting to molt into their whiter basic plumage) and juveniles swirled overhead noisily and challenged my flight-shot capabilities.  Love these birds!

I had to change cards at this point and found that the alignment screws on the Digidapter™had loosened enough that the camera looked completely crooked when I remounted it.  I spent the next 15 minutes trying to realign everything while digiscoping the kingbirds in the SW corner. I knew I was going to need to spend the day tomorrow refining my rig. The elastic bands I used to hold the Hoodman Loupe to the back of the camera were preventing me from aligning the camera properly on the Digidapter so that I could rotate the camera 90 degrees for portrait shots. I kept getting shadows. But I got things tightened down enough to get some more portraits of the Eastern Kingbird and (lastly) the Avocet before heading home at 8 pm.

Let the shorebird season begin!

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