Whimbrels! - 24 May 2019

Between the 20th and 29th days of May a mini spectacle occurs for those patient enough to wait for it. Large flocks of Whimbrel migrate along the east coast and through the Great Plains toward breeding grounds in the North. Some years the flocks pass through the Great Lakes Region and can be seen as one-day wonders for those fortunate enough to be at the right place in the right time. Last night I got to see a large flock of Whimbrel for only the 3rd time in over 30 years of birding at Pt. Mouillee SGA.

With storms forecasted for the late evening and all day Saturday I decided to make an afternoon run down to Pt. Mouillee. Parking at Mouillee Creek I decided to ride the dike along the west side of Laughtenschlager Unit. The dike follows the unit due north, then curves around east along the south end of the Bloody Run Unit. It felt like one of those days when I couldn't seem to get the camera out fast enough to capture Blue-winged Teal flushing the moment I saw them.

My luck improved when I turned the corner near the Bloody Run Unit. I suddenly thought that I had heard a Sedge Wren singing its flat "chip-chip-ching-ching-ching" call. As I stopped to listen for it I spied a flock of 17 Ruddy Turnstones breaking from a larger flock of ~100 Dunlin that just erupted from the field to my left.

After a few minutes I heard the Sedge Wren singing again. It was across the ditch and perched atop a cattail singing and chattering away. I was able to get some digiscoped images before it took off.

Once it ducked back down in the cover I continued on toward the North Causeway and the Long Pond Unit where I hoped to see some migrating Whimbrel. I stopped long enough to digiscope this new family of American Coot. The babies were cheeping away as mom and dad brought food to them.

As I was getting ready to continue on a nice couple on bikes stopped and asked if I was a birder? They had seen a blackbird with bright orange head and wondered what it was. I showed them pics of Yellow-headed Blackbird and played the call; they recognized it immediately, and were grateful to be told that their sighting of a rare bird was appreciated. They then asked if I'd seen the flock of plovers with long-decurved bills. I said "NO", and took off.

Just as I arrived at the Long Pond (Zone 4 sign) a large flock of Whimbrel were flying in from the east and heading directly toward me. I had plenty of time to get off the bike and fire away at 20 fps with the Sony a9 and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS. I probably didn't need to take 2000+ photos of the flock, especially when they circled me several times before settling down on the mudflats. 

I then spent the next 30 minutes digiscoping them from the comfort of the grass 50 yds away. A dozen Ruddy Turnstones and 100-200 Dunlin were among them, as were a few Caspian Terns and Forster's Terns. 

I had the opportunity to everyone in flight again as the entire flock of terns/shorebirds lifted off and circled the area a few times before re-settling. I took that as my cue to head home for the evening. 

I would learn later that evening that the waterbird count at Whitefish Point had 900+ Whimbrel fly over today, as well as a breeding plumaged Pacific Loon. Wow!



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