Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area in Wayne County, along the north side of Wilderness Road. An active peat mining operation has temporarily created good shorebird habitat, and reports of shorebirds have been coming in from this area for a few weeks. Last Sunday, I was finally able to get to this spot and observe some waders, and make a few images.
Great views of the birds can be had from the dike running along the east side of the wetlands, but a spotting scope is highly useful. The photography conditions are OK, but not great. For the most part, unless you are armed with Canon's 800mm lens, most birds are a bit distant for really excellent images. That, compounded by a less than desirable angle of view stemming from standing atop the dike, means that only the closest birds can really be nailed well. I was shooting with my 500mm with the 1.4 teleconverter on a Canon 7D Mark II 1.6 crop sensor camera, and still didn't like most of my results of the often too distant birds. Another issue with shooting distant shorebirds on broiling mudflats on baking mid-summer days is the heat waves between you and your subjects. The closer one can be, and the less cropping that needs to be done to the photos, the better.
But shoot the birds on their terms, and that means not impinging too closely and causing them to flush. Most of these animals have come a LONG way, and don't need the unnecessary hassle of some photographer spooking them. Many shorebirds can be quite tame and confiding, and with a bit of patience one can let them approach on their own terms. That's how I got these shots - by waiting quietly in good locations, and letting birds eventually settle into my side of the wetland.
Mid to late August migration sees the overlap of adult and juvenile birds, too, which makes for great study. The snipe on the left is a brightly colored juvenile resplendent in a fresh coat of feathers. The other snipe is an adult. Its feathers are duller and more worn. In general, especially as concerns the shorebirds that breed in the far north, the adults return in advance of the juveniles.
This animal weighs little more than an ounce, but it is one of the world's champion migrants. Baird's Sandpiper nests in the highest reaches of the Arctic, and winter in southern South America. Some of them travel over 9,000 miles between summer and winter habitats. Conservation and appropriate management of wetland stopover sites is of vital importance to successfully protecting populations of birds such as this species. CLICK HERE for a brief essay that I wrote about the value of mud, and the possible roles that long-haul migrant shorebirds such as Baird's Sandpiper may play in the distribution of certain plant species.
In a few short weeks, this sandpiper is likely to be foraging in a wetland near Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. The annual movements of shorebirds around the globe is truly one of the marvels of avian migration.