From the east dike I could scope the peninsula in the SW corner and see several Pectoral Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers and Short-billed Dowitchers among the dozen or so Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpipers. The highlight was seeing a second-cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull among several dozen Herring Gulls in the same age group.
The trek across the north dike of Cell 3 gives closeup views of construction equipment, a bit of trash, and flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds among the phragmites. An Indigo Bunting was a nice consolation but (always) out of photographing range. When I got around to the NW corner of the cell and within range of the mudflats I spotted a half-dozen American White Pelicans in the Humphries Unit. It was then that I realized that I had not seen any in Cell 3 to this point.
The usual colony of Ring-billed Gulls, Caspian Terns and Forster's Terns were sitting in the NW corner of the mudflats near the water's edge, and shorebirds lined the water's edge like beads on a rosary. Most were Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpipers, but a few Stilt Sandpipers, Killdeer, and Short-billed Dowitchers broke up the monotony. An American Avocet was in the shallows separating the NW and SW mudflats, but moved off as I approached.
A few hundred photos later I decided to inch my way down the side of the dike to the base and edge of the mudflats. From here I was more to ground level and would spend the next hour or so photographing shorebirds foraging as close as 10' away! I would empty almost two 16GB cards in the process. The sun was backlighting birds to my left, but as long as they stayed to my right I could get some nice images that filled the frame. A Short-billed Dowitcher was especially fun to photograph as it probed the mud and played tug-of-war with Tubifex Worms.
The Wilson's Phalaropes were steadily moving closer to shore and allowed for some nice images from 30-40' away. A stunning female, with her bright red neck coloration, contrasted sharply with the 'whiter' males already molting into their basic plumage. Its nice to be close enough to see some fresh basic feathers appearing on her back!
When the phalaropes would drift out of range I would turn my attention to the Semipalmated Sandpipers on the mudflat just a few feet away. For the most part these birds were readily identifiable by they plump shape, short stubby black bills and short wing projection that doesn't quite reach the tail, overall 'gray' appearance and and partial necklace w/ whitish throats.
One individual caught my attention, however. It appeared significantly larger than the surrounding birds with an overall bulkier appearance (middle bird at left). Immediately I suspected White-rumped Sandpiper and proceeded to photograph the cr*p out of it. After all, it was foraging less than 10' away and oblivious to my presence.
When reviewing my images of this bird, however, I noticed how 'brown' this individual looks. The necklace is pretty distinct and very suggestive of a White-rump adult in worn breeding plumage. However, the bill is very short and lacks any evidence of the reddish base that is typical of most WRSA. Also, wing projection is shorter than the tail when it is expected to be at least tail length (for young males) or longer. So I'm concluding that this is an adult Semipalm in worn breeding plumage, but the question could be raised if there is any White-rumped x Semipalm hybridization going on. I suspect not, but have asked for a couple of opinions.
I received a nice response from Julian Hough (Hartford, CT) who responded with the following:
All the birds in the images are Semipalmated Sandpipers and from a plumage point of view are typical of that species at this time of year. Structurally, females may stand out from the males in a flock by being longer-legged, slightly longer bodied/winged and longer-billed but plumage wise there is nothing unusual I see in the images to suggest anything other than typical Semips. Looking through flocks locally here in CT at this time of year, it is apparent that Semips are very variable - some being quite grey-toned while others are darker/browner. The upperpart color and pattern is rather monochrome, with the scapulars having a dark centre (with a pale basal area) and paler buffier fringe. The breast pattern and underpart markings can be very variable with some individuals showing heavily coalesced chevrons/streaking across the breast while others are more lightly marked on the breast, but most, like the birds in your images, show hairline streaks along the rear flanks and lateral tail coverts.
Thank you, Julian!
And here's a response from Kevin Karlson, co-author of the The Shorebird Guide:
Thank you, Kevin!
I'm am so very impressed w/ the quality of images coming from the Nikon V1 (10MPx) attached to the Nikon 300mm f2.8 VRII and TC17EII Teleconverter. The combination provides accurate focusing (manual-assisted Autofocus) and gives shutter speeds in excess of 1/1000 sec. wide open under bright skies and ISO 200. Being a mirrorless camera means 'quiet' when shooting birds. Compared to digiscoping images are much sharper, brighter, and truer in color balance. Edge sharpness is superior to anything I'm getting w/ my digiscoping rig, and keeper rate is terrific. A Wimberly tripod head would be a welcome addition to this setup, but in the meantime I can pan fairly well to follow birds moving on the mudflats in front of me. I did have a nice Baird's Sandpiper appear at my feet, but could not swing the camera and tripod around fast enough to get any pics before it flew off!
My digiscoping rig provides better magnification for distant subjects and is preferred for stationary or slow-moving subjects. Of course, I'd rather have my D7100 attached to the 300/2.8 VRII when flight shots and fast-moving birds are nearby. But its a terrific rig, and I'll probably be swiping Robin's Nikon V3 (20MPx) the next time go out to the mudflats.