Monday, October 18, 2010

2010-09-04 Point Mouillee

2010-09-04 Point Mouillee

Note 2 (2010-10-18):  I really got stuck on this blog. It was a really special day, and I wanted to put more of my pics here before I "published". Yet, it has now been over a month and I still have not worked up most of my pics. Judy and I tend to just keep "doing" while weather permits. The birds and birding opportunities keep changing with the seasons, and we keep discovering. I also have learned that an over abundance of photos (like from this day - over a thousand pics - which is the best?!) certainly clogs my propensity to publish. OK, Hey, what am I trying to do - publish a book? Well, maybe ... Being old school, I just gotta learn that a blog is designed to be more immediate.
Actually, I know my blog is whatever I want it to be. I want a collective "book" of my experiences for my own reference, but I also want to share with my birding friends and mentors in a reasonably quick time frame. I obviously failed on the latter and will hopefully improve, but the former (Dr. Bob's Bird Book - for Dr. Bob and friends by Dr. Bob ... or whatever) seems to offer hope as an option. Judy and I might be the main audience for the book, but I appreciate the eblog-forum for recording experiences.

Anyway, I am going to post this tonight so I can move on to more recent exploits!

Note 1 (2010-09-xx): this blog just may "go on forever", or at least thru this winter. I shot so many pics, it will take "forever" just to select the ones I want. So, come back later and see how it turns out.  Hey that's another neat thing about this blog space. You can amend it as your memory refreshes ... or as your memory embellishes? I certainly strive to keep it the former.

Background and Overview

Fantastic day! We had a chance to meet up with Cathy Carroll (a special person) in a special place (Pte. Mouillee) and saw many lifers - not only birds, but also "bugs" (mostly dragonfiles, but also butterflies).

Cathy is a true naturalist! She is not just a "bird watcher" out to get check marks on some list of birds, but she is really a "birder" (a more formal designation in the sense that she wants to understand the lives of the birds she sees as well as to see new birds). Cathy is also a naturalist.
I note that when I use the term naturalist, I am suggesting that from me it is a commendation of the highest order and refers to a person who desires to understand how all aspects of "life in nature" are related. In this case I linked  to a wiki ("naturalist") that requires far more work to be expressive of what it means, but it is a start. Case in point, I am referring to Cathy's abilty to enjoy and document and share the details every natural thing she sees. All life is wonderful and precious!

Cathy is fantastic! She already (and very quickly I might add!) blogged the trip on her exceptional blog "Into the Woods and Elsewhere". Our memorable day was documented!
Judy and I were very honored to be mentioned by name in Cathy's blog!

We had attempted reaching the place ("the promised land") twice before at Pte. Mouillee. Pte. Mouillee is a very difficult place to bird unless well prepared with maps and fortitude - ref my previous blog.  It was an easy walk out to "Cell 3" of the "Banana Unit". The wind was at our back. Expectations were high.
We started at the Roberts Road parking area. Roberts Rd. is by far the best access to the Banana Unit cells! I need to note it is a five mile hike to Cell 3 and back even from Roberts Rd.!  As we started along the access, our immediate thought was that there was little water visible along the shoreline of the lake itself. My first comment was "Wow, this has really dried up a lot since last week!"  We had seen lots of birds before, and now noticed mostly mudflats on the lake below our feet. Just last trip we had spoken with a fisherman on the pier at the bend (silly guy - it was shallow even then, but he was outdoors on a great day, so who's to complain? He once caught a 20 pound catfish there and was optimistic!). Yes, it had been hot, but not that hot ... Somewhere along the walk (about the time we turned left toward Cell 3), I realized that the prevailing winds had driven the water away from the shoreline. I figured the water must have all gone to Ohio! :) Whew! What a difference!

The walk out was pleasant (great cool temps and the wind at our back). We did not see the Moorhen and chicks we saw before. We encountered a few goose hunters returning. Only one had a goose (a party of three who had been there since 4 am). I had worn my blaze orange hat out, but realized that the goose hunters were all wearing camo, so figuring that goose hunters probably would not shoot camo on the dikes, before hitting the "promised land" in Cell 3, I changed to the camo hat I had in Judy's backpack. I was worried that the birds might "see" orange as a threat. (I do know white is a bad color for birders). On the other hand, I think the color-awareness thing is mostly for land birds, and not the shorebirds. Someday I might figure it out.

I also thought it was appropriate that just after the hunters passed us, seven geese flew directly over our heads. I dutifully "shot" them proclaiming my goose hunt a success.

As we walked toward Cell 3, we finally saw a few birders ahead of us. We also saw a few birds at the edge of the dike where we were, so paused to take pics. I shot several pics of a new bird. When we finally got to meet up with Cathy, her first question was "did you see the Red-necked Phalarope"? As usual, I had no clue. She walked us back along the dike to catch it. As it turned out, I already had a few dozen pics of the Phalarope. Yes, great bird!!!

Our First Shorebirds

insert pic - Phalarope pics

It was unusually windy (35-40 mph gusts)! Here's a pic of Cathy, Rudolpho (another visiting birder who Cathy had known before)  and myself. Cathy just barely caught her hat before it joined the birds on the mudflat below! After Judy's hat blew into the Phragmites enroute, Judy and I already had tightened our hats to "the next notch" on the way out to Cell 3. What wild winds!

After watching the birds on the NE corner of Cell 3 awhile (dozens of pics!) with Cathy and Rudolpho, we walked the tranverse dike towards the great expanse of Lake Erie. Rudolpho headed back. Cathy already had pointed out perhaps a dozen lifers for us. The lighting was poor - strongly backlit - and we were ready for more birds with better photo ops. Without counting, I would guess there had been several dozen shorebirds in the nearest corner of Cell 3. Yes! The "promised land"!

insert pic - Marbled Godwits

insert pics - others

I found it interesting to see the previous footprints in the mudflat at this corner of Cell 3. It brought to mind a story told to us by a returning (really fantastic pro!) bird photographer we had met returning from Cell 3 on another occasion who recounted a story about almost being swallowed by the mudflats while waiting for one of the photos by which he is known. He normally sits and waits for a shot. Some mudflats do not accommodate sitting and waiting. Slowly, slowly you just sink. I could just picture that! Sitting - waiting. Sitting - sinking! Abandon ship!!! (I well remember clam-digging in San Francisco Bay as a youth. As long as there is a gravel base, you are fine, but go a couple feet beyond, and you will be quite lucky to even get your boots back from the sucking mud!). I "saw" the entire story of his time previous trip unfolding before my eyes as I looked at the footprints. I could not help but to smile - been there done that!

I also recalled a story told to me by another local birder who had tried to more closely approach the "Banana birds" a few years before and had returned to the dike belly-first  after almost being swallowed by the mud. Fascinating! No one here ever met the SF mudflats before. I was personally lucky to even get one boot back in SF.
Back to the story:
Enroute, Cathy asked another birder if he had seen the Buff-Breasted Sandpipers. No. (Coming attractions ...)

The Bug Chapter - with whirling Red-necked Phalaropes

We wound up behind some trees that offered a bit of protection from the wind. These were lots of Dragonflies. Since they are "flappy things", I just must shoot them! And, of course, now I must learn their names. Please help, Darrin and Julie. After I get more than a dozen or so pics of d'flies for my "life list", I'll have to get more proactive in my learning and use the great references you guys have sent me, but right now, I am just trying to get this belated blog into cyberspace!

There was also a Red-necked Phalarope whirling around on the shallow water surface. I learned that because they have some lobing between their toes - quite unlike most shorebirds, they are able to create an "upwelling" from the bottom mud they stir up, bringing food articles to the surface. What  trick! Now I just have to wonder, do the birds in the southern hemisphere use the reverse direction of spinning motion to bring up food? (I admit, I am thinking of bathroom drains which drain the tub in a different swirl relative to a clock face ...). I think I read somewhere that this is an individual behavior for each bird, but that brings up another question - are there left-twirling and right-twirling RN Phalaropes? Were they born with it, or was it taught?

insert pic - lobed foot
Insert whirling pic
Insert several d'flies
Insert b'flies

The Buff-Breasted Sandpipers Chapter

As we returned from our sheltered buggy Phalarope excursion, we found the Buff-breasted Sandpipers ("Buffies") right beside the dike path feeding amongst the land vegetation. I shot about 100 pics (well ... maybe more ...), with three exposures of each. Well, not really three of each - by the time the camera fired again, the bird was in a different pose - a new pic entirely! It amazes me. I am shooting at maybe 1/1000 of a second, and by the time the camera fires for subsequent shots the bird moves. I guess it is the recycle time to write the previous photo to the memory card.

Lesson learned: forget "bracketing exposures" with birds. Birds are always on the move. Usually the best exposure is not the best pose! OK, next time I might try just shooting "raw" instead. On the other hand, raw exposures take so much time to upload to the memory card, I really think I am better off just shooting a continous series and hope the exposure settings are good. (Sorry if I ramble about camera stuff, but as I have said before, this blog is at least as much for me as for you. And, any of y'all with DSLRs might just benefit from this side track.) It's just too much to handle! Yet I try.

There were initially five birds in the group we were observing. As we walked along, two more joined them.

Did you ever try to hold a non-image stabilized lens in a strong wind? Even at 1/1000 sec it is hard to get the right object on the focus spot! OK, I know - use a tripod; use an IS lens. I cannot afford the image-stabilized (IS) lenses and I did not want to carry the tripod that far. I do what I do. I shoot lots, hope to get some decent pics, and at least get many memories from my pics.

Cathy taught me another great lesson with the "Buffies". Actually there were at least two lessons.

1) Be "creepy" - that is, be inconspicous and inobtrusive. I learned this lesson again later when shooting the Palm Warblers on our walk back. I figured that they had been on the path eating bugs for quite awhile, so they probably would just continue to do, so I approached too closely. Off they flew! OK, lesson 1. Maybe I'll learn it again - probably many times...

2) Get down to a good level. Not only would I have been more stabilized - especially considering the windy conditions I am whining about regarding photographs, but also I would have gotten better "bird level" pics as did Cathy. OK, I get it - lie, crawl and shoot! Cathy was so kind to serve as an example rather than chiding me! Judy and I did recognize what she was doing, so we kept back and were still; at least we were that cognizant and respective of an expert sharing her technique. (The Buffies were just off-screen to the left and walking her way).

The "Buffies" were quite fascinating to me. Just from the way everyone had spoken about them on the SE Michigan birders list serv, and the interest Cathy and the other Pte. Mouillee birders had in seeing them, I figured out they were very special. These birds are spoken of in almost reverential tones! I knew we were privy to something very special! (Oh, heck, to me even getting a phalarope or plover would be special.) It is weird how this happens. I wind up in some places the "Michigan List Birders" talk about, and I get the special birds (I have been very lucky), but I still need the more regular birds for my life list.

Anyway, yes, these are very different shorebirds. Pte. Mouillee offered large expanses of mudflats on this day, but here were seven Buff-breasted Sandpipers feeding on the "lawn" - well, actually in the weeds on top of the dike.What is their "story"? Are the weeds around mudflats or lakes that much more special than the weeds elsewhere? Or do they not want get their feet muddy - why? Do they just like being around other birds that sort of look like themselves, but have learned that there is no competition for food away from the mudflats and the muddy-feet birds? So many questions!

Anyway, here are a series of pics of the "Buffies" at Pte. Mouillee: 

A pair of "Buffies"

I think you can tell from what direction the wind was blowing. If this guy had been wearing a hat, he would have tucked it into his pocket like Cathy did.

I call this the "stalking pose". He saw something.

Our Return including lifer Palm Warblers

After Judy took a shot of Cathy and I (heck, I needed proof I made it), we faced and braced ourselves into the wind. Obviously my lovely photographer wife made it as well. Judy has been experiencing what I have experienced most of my life - the photographer rarely has a photograph of themselves anywhere. I can only say that my larger lens just does not shoot close pics, and Judy is normally so close to me I have to "run away" just to get a pic of her! One advantage of both of us using our 10x/12x Kodaks in the "old days" was that we both could get close shots as well as long shots.

"Dr. Bob" and Cathy Carroll (hero and mentor)

Palm Warbler with green caterpillar (right one)


Great day! We made it to the "finish line". With the wind, we often must have looked like we were walking like we were falling forwards. After we got out of the wind at the Roberts Road parking lot, it felt really quite warm  - stand up - off with the jackets! (Again I thank Judy for getting my pic with Cathy and apologize for not getting more pics of Judy with my mounted long lens).

General blog thoughts

I gotta remind myself how I put this together. (Yes, I do read my own blogs - they are my "field notes" and my learning tools). I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of photos I had taken - like really overwhelmed! In post-processing my pics, I knew I had "tons" of pics in a few catregories, so I separated them into files that basically correspond to the "chapters" in this blog. Bugs, buffies, phalaropes and Palm Warblers. I generally kept temporally-related pics together, but if I had a species in another main category (e.g., phalaropes), I dropped it into the appropriate folder.

While I was processing my pics, it brought to mind the events and excitement surrounding the photos, so I switched from Photoshop to my blog - still open on the computer - and dropped in some comments. I realized that since I had created sub-categories of photos (a practical matter) for the day, I might just as well use them for the blog, so I created "chapters". As I processed the pics, I dropped them into an appropriate chapter - this was new for me. Normally I work on pics, then write a story to go with the pics and insert them later. It feels much better to do it simultaneously! Blogger software allows me to save a draft rather than "publishing" as I go along, so whenever I get something I want to publish (even if partly done),I can just click "Publish" and off it goes. Otherwise, I can "Save as Draft" and y'all will see it (or not) when/if I click "Publish".

I know - I am quite sure this is far more than you needed or wanted to know, but after all it's my blog, and besides sharing with y'all, a primary purpose of my blog is to record notes to myself. Yes, I do re-read my own writings! They are really my field notes, my journal and my bird diary all in one.

Aside: Hey, if anyone is interested in a wonderful way to keep and share your birding notes (or your family history, or your hobby or whatever), I recommend setting up a blog and can easily help you. After all, I did it. Besides that, it's free!

Another aside to me:  "Hey, Bob! Great idea, so why did it take so long to post? You were on the right path."  And I answer with a "cop out" (ancient term): "Writer's Block".

Oh well, this blog is now "out there" for comments and awaiting the promised pics... and, better yet, I cannow feel better about postoing more recent episodes while waiting for winter to process far too many pics!

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