Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ruff @ Pt. Mouillee SGA - 9-10 Aug 2014

I saw an e-mail Saturday afternoon that a female Ruff (Reeve) was found by Scott Terry, Adam Byrne and Brad Murphy in the Vermet Unit at Pt. Mouillee SGA in n. Monroe Co., MI.  I texted Adam to see if he had gotten pics, or needed some, then headed down there in the middle of the afternoon to document it.

The bird was found just below the island of trees used by the Bald Eagles in the south end of the Vermet Unit out from the Middle Causeway. A open field of soft, spongy ground and gale-force winds greeted me when I arrived shortly before 2 pm. Heat shimmer didn't help, and scoping proved to be difficult. That said, I could not locate the large shorebird, which is about the size of a Lesser Yellowlegs, similar-looking except for distinctively more orange-red legs and black-centered feathers on back and wings.  I even attempted to hike into the cattail stands, hopping from clump-to-clump trying to avoid sinking into 6" of duckweed-covered muck.  No luck.  Plenty of Pectoral Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs, but no Ruff.

I rode on to Cell 3 to check it out, and found lots of shorebirds, mostly Semipalmated Sandpipers and Lesser  Yellowlegs. But again, the winds were gusting and I had hard enough time w/ binoculars, so I headed home.

Several texts came Sunday morning that the Ruff was relocated in the same area as Saturday, so I waited until about 4 pm to head back down there. Incidentally, the Detroit Tigers were in the 8th inning of a 19-inning game that wouldn't end until I got back into the car at 8 pm!

I parked at Mouillee Creek and headed out on the Middle Causeway toward the Vermet Unit, where I saw Tony Leukering, Lou Dombroski and James Fox scoping the SW corner of the unit.  They had the Ruff in their scopes, so I was golden.  Now, it was a matter of getting some documentation.  Heat shimmer was an issue, again, but the sun was behind us and the bird was fairly close (150').  I digiscoped it through the Zeiss 85T*Fl and 40X W eyepiece using a Nikon 1 V3 and Digidapter™to get photos, but ended up taking 3-second slow-motion videos to better document the bird, which was foraging in the cattail stubble among Pectoral Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs.

Tony Leukering, James Fox and Lou Dombrowski

At first glance the bird appears very similar to both the Lesser Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpipers. It is not until you see that its legs are brighter orange-red that it begins to stand out from the bright yellow legs of the other two species.  The dark-centered feathers on it back help verify it, while the other two species show more uniform brown or gray feathering.  But still, I'm stunned that Scott, Adam and Brad were able to pick this bird out of the crowd in such confusing habitat!

Here's a slow-motion video of the Ruff by itself. Note the leg color and back feathers.

Here's a comparison video of the Ruff w/ Pectoral Sandpiper. Note how leg color differs!

Now here's the Ruff next to a Lesser Yellowlegs!

I felt bad for Bruce Cohen and Sean Williams, who showed up (literally) as the flock of shorebirds took to the air.  Sean spotted a Peregrine Falcon buzzing the Banana Unit, so we suspect that its presence prompted the departure of the birds.  They would stay in the area until 8 pm and not relocate the bird.  I went on and spent some time in Cell 3 before coming back around 7:30 pm, but would no see the Ruff, either.  Plenty of other birds, though, hiding in the stubble: Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Snipe, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers!

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