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Another great day in the blind

I’m convinced 90% of bird photography is getting close enough. Having all the technical expertise in the world isn’t going to get you a great bird photo unless you’re close enough to actually capture the image. While I can sometimes get good photos while on a hike, I’d estimate at least 90% of my best photos are those taken when I’m concealed in some way.

Often, that’s my vehicle. As I’ve said before, a great way to get good bird photos is to pull your car over next to a good area of habitat (a wetland, a small pond, a riparian area, etc.), and simply wait. Many birds that are skittish around a human presence are more bold when it’s “just” a car (regardless of what’s inside). However, there are better ways to conceal yourself, showing a much lower profile and getting to good birding areas that you could never take a car.

I started using a chair blind about 10 years ago. One of my favorite ways to use it is during shorebird migration in the spring, where I’ll set it up along a shoreline or the edge of a muddy field. This week I was birding up at Lake Thompson in Kingsbury County, when I came across a shallow water area with scattered mudflats, and quite a few species of shorebirds. A great place to set up the blind! I hiked out onto a good spot at the edge of the lake, making sure to place it in a location with the sun behind me (lighting always important for photography!). Of course everything scattered at first, at while the birds never came back in quite the same numbers as were present before I set up, it was still a great few hours. Here are a few photos from the day in the blind.

Marbled Godwit - Limosa fedoa
A Marbled Godwit flying past the blind, in hot pursuit of another Marbled Godwit. Both Marbled and Hudsonian Godwits were present in good numbers, but Marbled Godwits are the species that breed here. They were in courting mode, with display flights and birds chasing each other the entire time I sat in the blind. Not only my favorite photo of the day, this may be one of my favorite photos of all time, with the lighting, the pose, and the detail in the bird’s plumage.
Hudsonian Godwit - Limosa haemastica
A Hudsonian Godwit in flight. Female Hudsonian Godwits, juveniles, or males not in full breeding plumage can sometimes be difficult to differentiate from Marbled Godwits when they’re standing. But in flight, the bold black and white patterns of a Hudsonian Godwit make it easy to identify.
Lesser Yellowlegs - Tringa flavipes
A Lesser Yellowlegs strutting in front of the blind. Lesser Yellowlegs are always one of the most common shorebirds that migrate through in the spring, and I have plenty of photos of them, but who can resist triggering the shutter on your camera when ANY bird makes it this easy? Opportunities that you may not be able to get without the use of the blind.
Common Grackle - Quiscalus quiscula
Common Grackles are indeed quite common! They’re the bane of my feeder complex at home in the spring, as a small group of them can dominate my feeders and wipe out my offered goodies in short order! Despite that…I didn’t realize how few photos I really have of the species! Particularly when you get great light like this that shows off that iridescence.

Weekend Shorebirds and Waders

Black-necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus

A Lifer (for South Dakota!). A lone Black-necked Stilt has been hanging around for several days in Minnehaha County.

It’s still a bit early for a lot of the songbirds to be moving through (particularly for warblers, the group I love to look for in the spring), so my recent birding efforts have focused on shorebirds and wading birds.  South Dakota is actually a great place for shorebirds in the spring and the fall, as we have such a great variety of migrants that move through here. In addition to the common ones, you never know when you might find a rarity.

Over the last several days there has indeed been a rarity that I’ve found, a first for me in the state!  There’s been a lone Black-necked Stilt hanging out at a wetland in northwestern Minnehaha County, a bird that was nice to enough to hang around for a return visit 4 days after I initially found him!  I say “alone”, but in fact he had buddies.  His buddies just happened to be a different species, as he was loosely associating with several American Avocets that were also using the wetland.  It’s always great fun to see and observe Avocets around here.

It’s actually been a bit slow for shorebirds overall though. Part of it is undoubtedly the water conditions.  It’s been very dry here, and several of my favorite shorebird spots don’t even have any water right now.  Despite that, there have been some scattered shorebirds around, with a nice mix of variety (in addition to the Avocets and Stilt).  There have been a few Willet, which always seem kind of drab until they unfold their wings and take flight, showing that gorgeous black-and-white wing pattern.  I have yet to see any Hudsonian Godwits, but I have seen a few scattered Marbled Godwits. There are always plenty of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs around, and Pectoral Sandpipers always seem to be pretty common as they move through too.  Baird’s and Semipalmated Sandpipers are also around as usual, with a few scattered Least Sandpipers too.

American Avocet - Recurvirostra americana

Always a fun one to see, and watch as they feed…an American Avocet.

There are three other kinds of shorebirds I’ve found too that are some of my favorites.  I ran into a group of about 15 Semipalmated Plovers, probably the most I’ve ever seen at once, as they normally seem pretty solitary.  They always look so dapper to me and couple with their very small size, they’re just so darn cute.  Another favorite are Wilson’s Phalarope which are pretty common around here right now.  The birds themselves are beautiful, but it’s their behavior that’s such a great attraction, with flocks of them sitting on the water’s surface and spinning around like mad-men as they try to swirl up food items in the water column.  One more favorite are Dunlin, seemingly yet just another small shorebird until you see that distinctive black belly patch.

A nice variety overall, but there are still quite a few shorebirds I normally see in the spring that I haven’t seen yet.  Bigger wading birds are starting to arrive too, including a nice group of White-faced ibis I saw the other day (a species I don’t see all that often).  Black-crowned Night-herons have arrived, as have Great and Snowy Egrets.

White-faced Ibis - Plegadis chihi

Two of five White-faced Ibis found at Lake Thompson, actually the first I’ve seen there.

I’ve also had some nice luck not only hearing, but seeing a couple of species that are normally pretty camera shy!  Sora are something you hear pretty frequently in wetlands, and although I thought it was a bit early for them, I was fortunate this week to not only hear them in two different spots, but to actually see and photograph them.  Nice to add to a relatively sparse number of photos I had of the species!  Virginia Rails may as well be the Sora’s “Twins” in terms of shy behavior, but I also heard a rail and caught a glimpse of him moving through the wetland.

The weather’s been lovely, and the birds are arriving! I can’t wait for the coming days as the full-fledged songbird migration adds to all the fun that the shorebirds and wading birds have given me!

 

 

 

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