Celebrating Rusty Blackbirds - 09 Nov 2014

There is something absolutely captivating about Rusty Blackbirds that compel me to stand in freezing weather to photograph them. "Woodland Shorebirds". "Leaf-flippers". Whatever you want to call them they are gorgeous to look at and fascinating to watch.

Forecasts called for clouds and gusting winds this afternoon, so I took the opportunity to make use of the sparse clouds this morning. It was a cool 35 degrees this morning, but there was no wind, so I took a drive down to Pt. Mouillee SGA to look for something (anything) to digiscope. It was only 7:30 am. The sun was not quite up high enough to photograph anything, so I wasn't too disappointed to not see anything at Elizabeth Park in Trenton.

I drove down Campau Rd. toward the Pt. Mouillee HQ and found a flock of ~400 Rusty Blackbirds in the lot where a house was recently knocked down. American Robins were among them by the dozens, and seemed to take umbrage to their presence. I spent several minutes watching robins chase the blackbirds away from their locales, only to go after another three or four birds just seconds later. The birds were too far away to photograph, and it was still a bit too early and dark, so I had to settle for just watching them from the car. I would loop through the parking lot and check out the Huron River, but it was quiet.  When I returned to the canals most of the birds had flown off, leaving just random flocks of European Starlings.

I then headed down Roberts Rd. where I found more and larger flocks of European Starlings, and a few more Rusty Blackbirds among them. Again though, the birds were high up in trees, severely backlit, and out of photographing range. So I settled for just listening to them make their "rusty gate-hinge" call.  A Northern Cardinal was taking a bath in a roadside puddle, so I grabbed a photo just few feet away after he flew into a tree.

Next stop was Haggerman Rd. where I found only a few scattered flocks of Horned Larks. But a Northern Harrier (female) made an appearance up ahead carrying a clump of grass that I could only assume contained a field mouse or vole. It landed about 50 yds away at the edge of the field to my left, but then took off and flew back across the road in front of me. I had enough time to get out of the car and grab a few flight shots before the bird disappeared into the fenced-in antennae farm.

Since it was still early I headed back to Campau Rd. to make another swing through the parking lot. But, as I crossed the first canal I spotted several Rusty Blackbirds foraging along the creek bed close enough to possibly digiscope. So, I pulled over and grabbed the scope.

No sooner had I set up the scope that a passing truck flushed whatever few birds there were, so I was left looking at an empty creek. Undaunted, I decided to stay a few minutes and see if any birds would return. My patience paid off.

A pair of American Robins appeared and gave me something to digiscope. A Swamp Sparrow then started chipping in the phragmites to my left, and appeared long enough for a few digiscoped pics. Then the Rusty Blackbirds returned.

A single bird appeared along the shoreline, and started foraging about 60' away. Clouds had moved in and it was overcast, so I had to use high ISO (800) in order to get 1/60 sec shutter speeds wide open. Even at 10fps I only had a few keepers with the Nikon 1 V3, but it was still better than what I was getting with the Sony RX100 III.

As I digiscoped the bird now making its way in my direction, a large flock of several dozen Rusty Blackbirds started flying in across the canal and foraging through the leaves like birds on a mission: flipping leaves, probing water, flipping leaves, etc...

Several birds came close enough to get some nice images from 30' away, so I had time to swap between Nikon V3 and Sony RX100 III cameras. Sadly, the Sony died (battery), so I stayed w/ the Nikon the rest of the morning. Just as well. The Sony works wonderfully when there's time to use Focus-Peaking, but otherwise Autofocus is just not as good or as fast as the Nikon V3.

More American Robins appeared among the blackbirds, so I spent a few minutes photographing them before turning the scope back on the Rusty's.

I then took a few videos to record their foraging activity. Mesmerizing! Whatever tension I may have felt while driving around was long gone...

Though several birds were foraging practically at my feet, they seemed to have no concern with my presence, even when I paused to swap cameras or to rearrange the scope. It was a joy to get such closeup views of their stunning black and rust feathers, and intense yellow eyes.

The flock finally took off after a few more passing trucks, so I put the gear away and headed home. Wonderful outing!


Satoko said…
So glad I came across your post here with beautiful photos illustrating your wonderful birding field trip. Useful, too, as I'm shopping for a camera with speedy auto focus and good image quality (in that order) for digiscoping. Thank you for sharing! Satoko

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