Saturday, May 26, 2018

Ruff, And a Late-May Snowy Owl - 24 May 2018

Yesterday (23 May) Amy Hoffman posted a photo of a Snowy Owl at Pt. Mouillee. I was convinced that they had moved on, but one bird still lingered. So, I decided to ride down and look for it. But first I'd check out shorebird habitat and look for Whimbrels.

I parked at Mouillee Creek shortly after 5 pm and rode the Middle Causeway eastward toward the pump house and the shorebird habitat. Skies were clear and temps were in the mid-upper 80's. An adult male Yellow-headed Blackbird flew across the dike right in front of me, but I couldn't stop in time to photograph it in flight.

As I arrived at the pump house and turned south toward the NW corner of the Humphries Unit I could already see several Whimbrel w/o the need for optics. Lots of Dunlin, and numerous Black-bellied Plovers. I set up the scope and decided to count Black-bellied Plovers (16) before turning it on the Whimbrels. Swinging the scope on the them I immediately noticed a smaller, plump shorebird about the size of a Pectoral Sandpiper. The dark throat gave the hint of a soot-covered Pectoral, and for a moment I had visions of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.

However, the bird had no red cap. Nor did it have the bright coloration of a Pec or a Sharp-tailed. I began to suspect a Ruff despite the fact that legs were yellow and not the bright orange I would suspect from a Ruff. But, the more I looked at it, and noticed the large, scaly back feathers that I convinced that it was a Reeve (female Ruff).

I took several videos and numerous digiscoped images, completely ignoring the 16 or so Whimbrel that were also present. I would also spot several Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, and a White-rumped Sandpiper. Dunlin number 600+! so it was a chore to weed through all of them.

Satisfied that I had gotten sufficient record of the Reeve I headed south along the dike into the Bad Creek Unit to check out the larger shorebird cell. When I arrived the mudflats were empty, but a large flock shorebirds could be seen much farther south in a small inlet on the other side of the unit. So, I biked down and hiked through the brush to get to birds. I stopped just long enough to spot a Coyote trotting along the edge of the shoreline. Shorebirds would all be Dunlin (200), but I did find a Greater Yellowlegs and a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs still hanging around. A Bald Eagle and a tick later, I was back on the bike and heading back toward the Middle Causeway.

Water levels remain high throughout the Units, except the Walpatich, which is really low. A Northern Harrier was being harassed by gulls near the Banana Unit as I approached. An Indigo Bunting was pursued for a while but never stopped long enough to photograph.

I rode south along the Banana Unit to the south end of Cell 3 and looped around to the Lake Erie side to see if the Snowy Owl might be roosting on the large backhoe. It wasn't. Cell 3 held a bit of water, but was grown over and hosting only a few Mallard. Cell 4 held a dozen or so Redhead and a pair of Lesser Scaup.

As I rode north along the Banana past Cell 5 I reached the clearing where the dried pond used to reside, and spotted the Snowy Owl perched atop the largest snag in the middle of the clearing. With the sun sinking low near the horizon the lighting was just about perfect for some early evening digiscoping.

The poor thing was panting in the early evening heat, and looked a bit on the thin side. Its chest feathers were stained a rusty tan, but otherwise was mostly white. I was actually sad to see it, as I worry that it won't survive this far south. But, who knows? It may surprise us and survive.

I then headed back to the car, stopping just long enough to try to photograph a pair of Eastern Kingbirds flycatching just over the water surface in the Long Pond Unit. I then spotted Rob Jamieson scoping the shorebirds near the Pump House, so I stopped to let him know about the Ruff. He had a Red Knot in his scope, and I helped him find the Ruff. The Whimbrel had all left, but a Short-billed Dowitcher appeared, along w/ more Black-bellied Plover (now near 30?).

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