Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Their bills can hold more than their bellies-can!

Today was one of those days that keeps you going back. I biked out to Tiscornia at dawn again and initially didn't have much. I walked north along the beach, turned to look back and saw that a dog was already flushing shorebirds back behind me. I scanned north and returned to the lookout dune. Fortunately the shorebirds came back, a sanderling and a semipalmated sandpiper, probably the most common bird I was still missing for the Bigby year.

Buoyed by fairly quick success I settled down and started scanning back and forth over the water. There was little movement, though 4 blue-winged teal and a flyby yellow warbler were probably migrants. After an hour or so I picked up some big birds flying in formation out over the lake. I jumped up to the scope, found them quickly, and immediately realized they were not the Canada geese I was expecting. They were indeed enormous brown birds but they were flying entirely differently from geese, with broader wings, slower wingbeats, and much more bend at the elbow, more like a great blue heron's (though not quite as deep). My obvious next thought was great blues, but that made no sense given that they were flying in formation just above the water and what's more were entirely brown, not blue or gray. There was nothing they could be other than brown pelicans. I watched them for probably 5 minutes as they slowly flew away from me, making slow steady effortless progress flying nearly into the wind hoping one would turn and show its bill. I could see something protruding down in front of the birds but never did get a nice profile. I briefly tried to pull out my (broken) camera but it was hopeless. The LED screen is broken and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to digi-scope flying birds with a hand-held camera without being able to see what I was doing.
I thought about the doppler radars I'd checked before leaving on the bike and realized that the storm front that passed through southern Lake Michigan but passed just south of us that had come from the WSW likely picked these birds up as they were dispersing up the Mississippi River. They likely stayed in front of it and then floated north of it and let it pass them and now were heading back from whence they came.

I settled back down to see if they'd come back (though I strongly doubted that), had waited no more than 20 or 30 minutes and what flies through the binoculars but an avocet! One or two have been sporadically seen lately and this bird, along with about 8 sanderling, was being slowly herded south by 2 people (fortunately sans dog) walking along the edge of the water. Eventually it circled them and settled down to preen. I couldn't resist trying to photograph it, broken camera and all. Fortunately it was a stationary target. I tried bringing the camera blindly down over the scope but knew it wasn't working when the flash kept going off. I eventually ended up holding the camera over the eyepiece while I looked at it from the side to make sure I was centered which ultimately worked reasonably well; I was glad I didn't try this experiment though on the pelicans, by the time I'd have figured out how to get even the possibility of images they would have been long gone.

So, all in all a quite successful 3 hours, scoring 3 Bigby birds, and finally tallying a self-found review species this year. I was definitely starting to wonder if I'd be able to manage it this year on the bike.

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