Monday, September 2, 2013

Last Day of Shorebirding - 31 Aug 2013

Despite almost 2" of rain overnight and overcast/muggy temps this morning I had to take one final spin around Pt. Mouillee SGA. I figured that the dark and overcast skies would be poor for photos this morning, but I could at least survey the units before the SGA closes Sept 1 for hunting.

It was quiet. No birds singing in the Walpatich and Lautenschlager Units. Only crickets and a couple of flyover Tree Swallows. As I approached the Humphries Unit a large colony of Great Egrets was roosting near shore. I stopped far enough back to scan the 120 birds for any Snowy Egrets. I found 5 Snowies along the far left side of the group, but they all flew before I could get off the bike to scope them.

I headed for the North Causeway via the dike separating Bloody Run and Long Pond Units. Song Sparrows bounced across the road in front of me, and the only way to ID them was by their long, Spizella tails. A Cooper's Hawk was roosting on a pole to my left as I road by, but took off the moment I slowed down. Same went for a Northern Harrier, so I continued riding toward the North Causeway and Cell 5.

I spotted the American White Pelican in Cell 5 almost immediately. It was along the far shoreline among a pair of Great Egrets, and dwarfed them in size. An American Avocet in basic plumage was also there, and as I scanned the shoreline I spotted five Short-billed Dowitchers and a handful of Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

I took some digiscoped images of the pelican before continuing on. As I reached the far side the avocet began foraging in the shallows in my direction. So I attempted to digiscope it in the low light. One or two keepers later it was close enough for the D7100 and 300/2.8 VRII to use.

Warning! NOT digiscoped
I spent a few minutes along the dike at the north end of Cell 4 scanning the large sand spit for Buff-breasted Sandpipers, but dipped. I then rode toward Cell 3 where I ran into Ming Yao and chatted with him for a few minutes. A juvenile Baird's Sandpiper was foraging on the road ahead of me, so I rode slowly and tried to grab a photo or two in between its short flight bursts.

Overnight pumping in Cell 3 had reduced the mudflats in the SW corner by a third, and shorebird numbers were dwindling. A pair of Wilson's Phalaropes were foraging near the shoreline below. I spent a few minutes photographing them in their mid-molt conditions. Even with their heads below water the amount of white feathering on the belly and sides helps to ID them. Note the fresh gray feathers on the back. A third Wilson's would appear before I left.

Out on the mudflats the Red Knot was foraging about 60' away, so I spent some time trying to digiscope it. A pair of White-rumped Sandpipers were also nearby, and really stood out in the overcast light. By now their plumage has grayed enough to really enhance the white eyebrows. A pair of American Avocets were still out on the edge of the mudflats among dozens of Short-billed Dowitchers.

Tom Pavlik and Brian Allen were there, and spotted a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes swimming far out from shore.

I accidentally bumped my Nikon V1 and put it into manual-focus mode. Didn't realize that I had that option... I decided to try it out on the Stilt Sandpipers that were preening just a few feet away, and liked it. I just have to use the scope to focus on the birds.

As I headed back I ran into Todd Palgut, who alerted me to a possible pair of Long-billed Dowitchers in the NE corner of the Humphries Unit, so I rode over to verify. They were far back in the vegetation but almost completely molted into winter grays.

I got back to the car just before the rains hit. It was a good season, and I'll miss the place until 2014.

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