Posts tagged ‘American Redstart’

Superior Shorebirds & Friends at Wisconsin Point

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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Mega Warbler Fallout!

Black-throated Blue Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2214Black-throated Blue Warblers winter in the Caribbean and are not often seen in migration…especially males. And their nesting/singing sites are high in deciduous trees so an eye-level view is a real treat.

Duluth’s Park Point can be a major migrant trap during spring migration, BUT only if the right weather conditions come together. If we have beautiful spring weather during migration, the birds just wing their way north, bypassing Park Point. Sure, many birds stop along the way, but not in great numbers. This year we had the perfect storm of conditions as six days of fog, rain, wind and storms between May 18th and the 23rd trapped birds on the Point. Most warblers migrate at night, so when conditions south of us are good, they make major movements, but then they hit fog near Duluth and don’t dare journey out over Lake Superior. They plop down at the first available land, which is the 7-mile sand spit known as Park Point (and its twin, the 3-mile long Wisconsin Point). Fortunately for the birds (and unfortunately for the birders!) this phenomenon does not occur every year.

When we arrived at the Beach House parking lot on the Point on Sunday the 19th, birds, mainly warblers and Swainson’s Thrushes, were everywhere! You didn’t know where to look next. Majority were American Redstarts but my friend Ben Yokel had already seen 22 warbler species by the time we got there at 9:30am! Eventually 25 of the regular 26 species of warblers would be seen by birders over the next 4 days (only Pine Warbler was not recorded). Karl Bardon did some counts on the 21st (the day that the majority of warblers were feeding on the Lake Superior beach…hopping around on the sand as if they were tiny shorebirds!) and came up with some amazing numbers, including a state-high count of 452 Palm Warblers!

I ended up photographing TWENTY species of warblers during this mega-fallout. The highlight for me was the Black-throated Blue Warbler male, who put on quite a show, feeding for hours in a few pines near the soccer fields.

Nashville Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002305Nashville Warbler in Forsythia. I planted myself next to this blooming Forsythia to see who might come by, and in addition to this Nashville, I photographed a Least Flycatcher, Phoebe and a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in this same bush in a 15-minute span.

Black and White Warbler Concordia Language Village Bemidji MN IMG_2008 copyBlack and White Warblers are appropriately named. This is a male. The female lacks the striped undersides. Unlike other warblers, they often forage on the trunks of trees like nuthatches and creepers. They nest over much of the Eastern U.S..

Northern Parula in grass Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2244Northern Parula male foraging on the soccer field. With fog, rain and high winds, many of the warblers were only finding insects low to the ground.

Magnolia Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2184Magnolia Warbler male. One of the most striking of our spring warblers. “Mags” nest across Canada and the North Woods of NE N. America in dense cover of mixed coniferous/deciduous forests, especially attracted to young pines.

Cape May Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2167Cape May Warbler male. A real boreal species, preferring tall spruces in the far north of MN, WI, MI, Maine and much of boreal Canada. I often see them foraging in blooming willows like this one during migration.

Golden-winged Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2105Golden-winged Warbler female. I missed the male, who is even more striking. Found nesting in regenerating aspen stands, alder stands, but not very common. In the northeastern U.S. their existence is threatened due to interbreeding with the Blue-winged Warbler which is moving north into Golden-winged territory due to global warming.

Nashville Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2147Nashville Warbler. Note the rarely seen orange crown. A very common warbler in the North Woods. Note the willow catkins that add much to this composition.

5 spp of Warblers  Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002231FIVE species of warblers in one shot! Not a great shot but can you pick out the American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Canada Warbler, Palm Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. On the 21st almost all the warblers were foraging on the sand on the Lake Superior side of Park Point.

Palm Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002230Palm Warbler. One of the MANY terribly-named warbler species in North America. It’s breeding habitat is as far from palm trees as possible, nesting in the Black Spruce bogs of Canada and the extreme northern U.S. from northern Minnesota to northern Maine. The name came from early observations on their tropical wintering grounds.

Common Yellowthroat Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002416Common Yellowthroat’s sport a “robber’s mask.” You can find them nesting in wet, marshy areas

Wilson's Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2201Wilson’s Warblers nest mainly in Canada and Alaska but a few do breed in far Northeastern Minnesota. Named for Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), considered the greatest American ornithologist prior to Audubon. Other birds named for him include the Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and Wilson’s Plover.

Magnolia Warbler female Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002257Magnolia Warbler female.

Blackpoll Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002263Blackpoll Warblers nest just north of Minnesota so we only see them in migration. Note their orangey legs. Blackpolls make heroic fall migrations, flying NON-STOP over several thousand miles of open ocean from New England/Eastern Canada to Venezuela!

Chestnut-sided Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002268Chestnut-sided Warbler. In most years, the bulk of the warbler species migrate through the Duluth area AFTER the leaves have come out on the aspens. This year, the warblers are late but the leaf-out, green-up is even later. Good for birders!

American Redstart Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2084American Redstart foraging in the jetsam and flotsam on the beach. Redstarts are warblers, and often the most common warbler seen during migration (along with earlier migrating Yellow-rumpeds and Palms)

Northern Parula Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2058Northern Parula female. Love the yellow and blue combination! Nest high in coniferous trees, making unique pendulous nests woven from Usnea tree lichens.

Blackburnian Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2050Blackburnian Warbler foraging in the pines on a rainy day. They nest high in spruces in the boreal forests of eastern Canada, New England, Adirondacks and the North Woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Ovenbird Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2315Ovenbird eating an earthworm. This is a shot I needed 6 months ago for the 2nd Edition of our Earthworms of the Great Lakes book. Oh well. They are ground foragers that love worms. You’ve probably heard them singing in mature deciduous forests, “TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER.” Ovenbirds get their common name from the resemblance of their domed ground nests to the clay/earthen bake ovens of yesteryear.

PHOTOGRAPHY NOTES:
Foggy, gray sky days are among the most difficult conditions for bird photographers. But when you have THOUSANDS of warblers “dripping from the trees” in front of you, there is no excuse for NOT shooting. The key is FLASH! I used both regular synch-speed flash which gives you a 1/250 of a second shutter speed, and sometimes tried High-speed synch flash, which allowed me to shoot even to 1/1000 of a second and still be able to illuminate my subject. BUT, you need to be quite close to your warbler if using high-speed synch at these fast shutter speeds due to the fact that the flash output is much less than at normal synch speeds. Also, the flash takes longer to recycle so you only get one flash image before the camera switches to non-flash mode. An external battery pack would have solved this to some degree. Attaching a Better Beamer to my flash allowed the beam of the flash to reach MUCH FURTHER. The unit uses a plastic fresnel lens to magnify the flash output.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 handheld. Flash for most with Canon 520 and Better Beamer flash extender]