Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1030 [Dunlin resting above the wave line]
Shorebirds are some of our latest migrants in the northern reaches of Minnesota. Though flocks may begin appearing in late April, the mass movement doesn’t peak until late May. And so I took several opportunities to scope out the migration along one of Lake Superior’s most beautiful beaches…Wisconsin Point. Along with its “sister spit,” Park Point in Duluth, Minnesota, they create the world’s longest freshwater sand spit…nearly 10 miles long! Shorebirds moving north to their Arctic breeding grounds find the wide sand beaches and immense body of water familiar sights, and are likely reminded of their coastal wintering grounds in the southern U.S., Central and South America.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/1250 sec. ISO 200, handheld but braced on log]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1464 My technique in photographing shorebirds (shown in my video, Get Close & Get the Shot) is to move slowly in plain sight of the waders, crawling along the beach, then laying down in the sand as they get near. I try to get as close to eye level as possible (without grinding sand into my camera equipment!) as this gives a more intimate portrait. The success ration is not high as they often turn and start feeding in the opposite direction or scurry past so fast that getting a shot is almost impossible.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/800 sec. ISO 250, handheld but braced on log]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1291 [Dunlin]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/2500 sec. ISO 200, handheld while laying on sand]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1032[Dunlin sleeping]
Considering that this Dunlin may have already flown a thousand miles from wintering beaches in the southeastern U.S. or Atlantic Coast, it’s no wonder she’s tuckered out. And she’s got a couple thousand more miles to go to get to breeding grounds in northern Canada and the North Slope of Alaska.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/1250 sec. ISO 200, handheld while laying on sand]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1292
Dunlin are easy to identify. They are the ones that look like their bellies have been dipped in black ink. Also note their longer drooping bill.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/2000 sec. ISO 200, handheld while laying on sand]

Sanderling breeding plumage Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1312 We normally see Sanderlings in their “winter whites,” their pale non-breeding plumage. But this bird is already acquiring its reddish breeding plumage.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/2000 sec. ISO 200, handheld while laying on sand]

Shorebirds mixed flock Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1341This mixed flock of shorebirds contains Sanderlings, Dunlin and a rather rare visitor to Lake Superior…the Red Knot (the largest bird). I usually only see one or two of these each spring, and some years I miss them completely, so this was a real treat.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/1600 sec. ISO 200, handheld]

Red Knot Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1263[Red Knot]

Common Tern Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1482[Common Tern]
Terns seemingly float on buoyant wingbeats as they patrol shorelines for fish. Their head is angled down scanning the water for a likely meal and once a fish is spotted, they instantly tuck their wings in and go into a plummeting vertical dive into the water.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/3200 sec. ISO 250, handheld]

Common Tern Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1519
As part of their courtship the male Common Tern flies around with a small fish which he offers to the female. Strangely, these terns LOVE to nest on dredge material…sand and dirt dug up from the Duluth-Superior bay and piled on to land. Due to this preference, Common Terns formerly nested right in the Port Terminal of Duluth, which was essentially built entirely on dredge. But an effort to move them out of this busy industrial area had little success until Interstate Island (a tiny 8 acre island in the St. Louis Estuary just upstream of the Blatnik Bridge which is divided by the Minnesota-Wisconsin state lines) was bulldozed and became an ideal sanctuary off limits to humans. Unfortunately, Ring-billed Gulls rule the island with 13,000 nest in a recent census. Common Tern nests numbered about 200. This is only one of two nesting locations in the Lake Superior region. Commons are listed as Endangered in Wisconsin and Threatened in Minnesota.

Caspian Tern Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1513 I LOVE Caspian Terns! Maybe it’s that I only see them passing through in late May, or maybe their exotic name (they also range across parts of Europe and Russia including the Caspian Sea) These mega-terns are giant versions of the diminutive Commons that perched nearby. Their pterodactyl-like croak signals their presence with authority! Like the Common Terns, Caspians live almost entirely on fish.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/3200 sec. ISO 250, handheld]

Redhead pair Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1581 [Redhead pair on the bayside of Wisconsin Point]
Redheads are attractive ducks of our western and midwestern pothole prairies. While not rare, they are certainly not common either, and always a treat to see. This flock of four was even tolerant of my semi-stealthy approach along the bank of the bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/2000 sec. ISO 250, handheld]

American Redstart warbler Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1203 [American Redstart
Hiking back to the car on the inland side of the wind-whipped point we found a very cooperative warbler, the American Redstart, proudly and emphatically defending his territory in song.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/2500 sec. ISO 1600, handheld]

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