Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hunting shorebirds

A Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia, nectars at the flowers of White Heath Aster, Symphyotrichum pilosum. There's nothing "common" about the appearance of this exotic-looking butterfly, and while the plant is abundant and sometimes derided as weedy, it is an important native late-season source of energy for butterflies and other pollinators. I made this image last Sunday at the St. Marys Fish Hatchery in Auglaize County, Ohio.

I haven't been letting grass grow under my feet of late, hence the scarcity of posts. Three recent and highly productive field days resulted in many sightings and images, though. I'm still sorting and cataloguing those, but present a few photos here.

This freshly molted male Red-winged Blackbird, many feathers still fringed with buff, felt the spirit of a late fall Indian Summer day and could not contain himself. I photographed him in the yellow glow of the final minutes before sunset at Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area in Wayne County. He obligingly posed on a fruiting stalk of our native cattail, Typha latifolia.

A Turkey Vulture takes wing in western Ohio. Photographers are sometimes disappointed with their vulture images. As large as these birds are, they'd seem to be easy pickings with a camera. But vultures on the wing are often much further away than they appear, making it tough to get a crisp image. This animal and many of his compadres were feasting on dead fish in a freshly drained pond at the aforementioned St. Marys Fish Hatchery, and they permitted close approach.

A highlight of the fish hatchery foray was this stunning female Surf Scoter. Any of the three scoter species is rare away from Lake Erie in Ohio, and it's often not possible to get near enough to obtain imagery such as this. The scoter was quite confiding as it feasted on submergent aquatic vegetation in one of the ponds.

Shorebirds were my primary targets at the fish hatchery. Personnel there have temporarily drained several ponds, and their timing coincided nicely with the tail end of shorebird migration. This Lesser Yellowlegs was one of several that were present during my visit.

A squadron of White-rumped Sandpipers rockets by, low over a mudflat at the fish hatchery. It was this species I had, first and foremost, come to see. White-rumps are fascinating birds, and record - or near record - numbers have turned up in Ohio this October. Rarely will one get the chance to study this species as we have had this month, and I've tried to take full advantage of the unusual opportunity.

I spent several hours studying and photographing White-rumped Sandpipers last Sunday, only rarely turning the lens to other subjects. The little birds are exquisite in plumage, habits, and voice, and I clicked off more images than I care to admit.

Hopefully, if unexpected distractions don't crop up, I'll soon make a more detailed post about White-rumped Sandpipers. I'd like to share more images of these incredible birds, and some details about their amazing lives and travels. Also, perhaps, some tips on how to position oneself in such a way as to maximize study and photo opportunities, without bothering the birds.

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