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Friday, August 5, 2011

Pipers and Plovers and Egrets, Oh My!

As you may have seen from my earlier post about it, the Ellerbe Creek mudflats on Falls Lake is the place to be during fall shorebird migration. Last time, the twin peninsulas that line the mouth of the creek hadn’t yet formed, and little inlets of Falls Lake impeded our progress. However, this week, not only were the peninsulas fully formed, but they were already covered in grass!

First thing’s first though. The entire reason we were birding the mudflats when we were was to meet up with Scott of Birdaholic, as he was keen to see what was out there (as were we). But, due to his schedule, we couldn’t meet up til 10, which meant James and I had a little time to check out the Cheek Road causeway over the lake. Doing so netted us several Ospreys, a bunch of Canada Geese, and a ton of Egrets. Mostly Greats, but there were a few Snowys mixed in, and one revealed itself to have pale green-gray legs, and was in fact a juvenile Little Blue Heron, a new county bird for me!

Far-off Egrets, at the very edge of scope-view.

With that, we met up with Scott and headed for the railroad grade that crosses the lake, and immediately we were on the birds. Well, mostly Killdeer (do they really count?) and a couple of peeps, but there was a mystery Sandpiper that looked bigger than the peeps, had a longer, decurved bill, and was feeding deeper than anybody else. We couldn’t really refind it, but found a couple kind of similar birds that we decided were Western Sandpipers due to their size, and James’s far-off photo hasn’t really eased my conscience too much. Any ideas?

Mystery Sandpiper! Bad pic, but you can still see the long bill.

As we made our way down to the flats themselves, we flushed a distinctive adult Black-crowned Night Heron from the willows under the bridge, giving me my second county bird of the day – a great success to say the least! Not a common bird around here by any means. Thankfully, the flats next to the old fishermen’s trail had formed, meaning it was a brisk walk down to the peninsulas, and it netted us a Solitary Sandpiper and a couple of Spotteds to boot. A Belted Kingfisher swept past us, and all of a sudden, the shorebirds abounded!

Semipalmated Sandpiper - Falls Lake, NC; 08/04/2011

A quick scan yielded the Semipalmated Sandpiper seen above – not a bad pic considering it was all the way across the creek on the second peninsula, plus it was a life bird for James, and a bird he’d been looking forward to getting. There were shorebirds on our peninsula as well, but there were Killdeer too, and as anybody who’s shorebirded knows, Killdeer are huge chickens (er, not literally). But seriously, if you get within 100 feet of a Killdeer on the flats, it’ll let out its namesake shriek and all of a sudden every shorebird in the vicinity has taken flight and moved to the far peninsula.

Pectoral Sandpiper - Falls Lake, NC; 08/04/2011

Which is how we never got a great look at a Pectoral Sandpiper even thought they seemed to be everywhere. They were always bailing to the other side with the other shorebirds, but even still, the sun shone bright over there, and that got us our best pic ever of these top-heavy sandpipers. Towards the end of the mudflats, I saw a couple of birds, and James went into stealth mode to try and photograph them.

Semipalmated Plover - Falls Lake, NC; 08/04/2011

However, it being the flats, there wasn’t much out there for James to hide behind, so he decided to do a little number that involved him “pretending to be a heron and hope they didn’t notice” (his words, not mine). Not his proudest moment, but it did net us this decent pic of a Semipalmated Plover, of which we had seen several along the flats. All in all, a pretty good day, despite it feeling like 105° degrees outside (in reality, it was a “cool” 99°). Oh, plus we found a confiding Least Sandpiper on the way back. Nice.

Finally a bird that resists the siren song of the Killdeer!

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