Thursday, September 8, 2011

Stepping out for my 'peeps'

I took the opportunity of the holiday weekend to get out a bit for some birding and photography.  I am working with a new piece of equipment - the Canon 500mm f/4L lens and I am absolutely loving it for bird photography.  With the 1dMkiii body I can throw a teleconverter into the mix and get 700mm or even 1000mm of reach while keeping autofocus. (The quality seems to drop off a bit with the 2x teleconverter and 1000mm but it's not too bad.)

But this post (and for that matter, this blog) is not about equipment, it is about the birds.  Not much happened with birding on Saturday (that day we enjoyed a cookout and some kayaking with friends) but started out early on Sunday and were rewarded with what I can only assume was a still storm-strewn bird from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene a few weekends ago - a juvenile White Ibis!

We spotted this from the road at the Stage Island Pool at the south end of Plum Island - not a bad little find for MA. After trying to get the word out so that others who wanted to add this bird to their state and/or Plum Island lists would have the chance to do so, we continued on towards Sand Point - the beach that is at the very southern tip of Plum Island - a great place for a variety of shorebirds, and especially so for migrants at this time of the year.  Earlier in the season, this is also a good spot for studying Least Terns (see my previous post) and Piping Plovers.  We arrived about an hour or so after high tide and were able to spot the common/expected species pretty easily (I'm not particularly good at parsing out 'peeps' so there could have been some more interesting species that I missed) - Semi-palmated Sandpipers, few Semi-palmated Plovers, many Black-bellied Plovers in all stages of plumage, Sanderlings, a few dowitchers (mainly Short-billed), as well as gulls and terns (Common, Forster's, and Least).  I tried to keep an eye out for Buff-breasted Sandpipers which we've seen here pretty regularly in the past as well as for Black Skimmers which had been seen in the area, with no luck with either species.  I settled in to take photos of some of the Black-bellied Plovers and after shooting for a while (and having all the shorebirds moved by an immature Peregrine fly-by) was told my another photographer that there had been a Hudsonian Godwit there just before I had arrived.  I scanned for the bird but did not see it so wandered on to check out a spit where there were several terns, gulls and cormorants resting.  Best bird of the spit was a Great Cormorant mixed in with the Double-cresteds.  Wandering back up the beach, the godwit had returned, so I chose a spot distant enough to not bother the bird (and that wouldn't interfere with another photographer that was already taking pics) and dropped myself down to kneeling in a few inches of water to try and get some pics.  The bird was quite content to feed, preen, and rest and after getting a some photos I was happy with, I backed away, leaving the bird resting in the same spot as when I'd arrived.  OK, that's a big wall of text for me - here's a few pics to break it up...

Black-bellied Plover


Hudsonian Godwit

As we headed back north on the island, we stopped in to check on the crown that had gathered at the Stage Island Pool to learn that only a few others had managed to see the ibis before it flew off in an unknown direction.  Thankfully, is was re-found soon later at the north end of the island, and many birders enjoyed good scope-views of the bird.  Stopping a the famed Newburyport boat ramp, I was able to pick out a Baird's Sandpiper among the 3 or 4 White-rumped SPs that were there, but when I went to grab the camera, somebody drove down the ramp to put in some kayaks, scattering all the shorebirds that were there and they did not return while we waited.  With errands calling, we headed back home for the day with a great morning of birding (and not a few photos).  Of course, (and as many birders will tell you this can often be the case) as we were approaching home, we checked the MA and NH bird reports (and got a call from a friend) to discover that an American Avocet had been spotted  in Salisbury, MA.  A cracker of a bird for New England with some rust on the head still, AND that another American Avocet that had been seen periodically along the NH coast was foraging very close to shore at an inlet in Hampton - both locations close to where we had been just a hour or so earlier.  We decided to take the chance, not drive back, and hope that at least one bird would stay until the next day.
I'll let you know how we fared in the next post...