Monday, August 31, 2009

Point Mouille SGA: a Lesser Yellowlegs adventure

This morning I met Tim McKay and his daughter, Isabel, at the Mouillee Creek parking pull-off to ride our bikes and bird around Point Mouillee. Jim Fowler was also leading the Oakland Audubon Society around the SGA and so we had the benefit of Jim's expertise as well. We didn't stick with the Oakland group exactly, so they saw a Marbled Godwit when we did not. But we had our own adventures.

Our first stop was along the Long Pond where a tiny island of sludge held a Snowy and a Cattle Egret. The morning started out with dramatic, but leaden, skies and it was unseasonably cold, especially when standing along Lake Erie at the eastern most part of the SGA. It was also windy and this made for a morning one would expect in October. But the sun occasionally came out to take away some of the chill.

We saw no adults, but we did see several juvenile Bald Eagles. This bird soared directly overhead, in blue sky and gray, while we birded the southeast corner of the Vermet Unit. Here we found an American Golden Plover and looked for Marbled Godwit.

The Oakland Audubon Society continued birding the the southeast corner of the Vermet Unit, (and did find the Marbled Godwit) while we moved on to the northeast corner. Here the adventure occurred which took up our attention for the rest of the morning.

Tim and I got out our scopes and started to scan. I was distracted by something actively flopping around in the water and thinking it might be a carp I turned my scope to check it out. It was a Lesser Yellowlegs that appeared, at first, to be bathing. But the water seemed too deep
for bathing. I watched it a bit longer and realized that it was unable to get itself out of the fix it was in. Its struggling was tiring it and it seemed to sink deeper with each vigorous struggle. I know that I should not be sentimental. Millions and millions of birds die each year in all sorts of unfortunate incidents and Lesser Yellowlegs are one of our more plentiful shorebirds. I tried to go back to scanning, but the drowning yellowlegs had distracted me. I decided that I just did not want to watch it anymore. The bird was not really that far out - but all of the cells at Point Mouillee are made of sludge and dredge thus lining the bottoms with the most dreadful muck.

I made my way down the rocks which was surprisingly difficult and took longer than I anticipated. To find the best launch spot I stopped to check the bird's location a couple of times and to make sure it was still above water. I watched it go under two or three times, but then it would somehow come to the surface again. I left my camera and binoculars with Izzy. When I finally plunged in - to dreadful and deep muck - the bird was barely showing above the water.

It took me so long to get down the rocks that I thought my efforts would be too late.

The first step was a test, but my feet finally found bottom. The water is actually very shallow. I'm up to my knees in muck. I'm lucky that I didn't lose one or both shoes.

The bird had got its leg caught in some tenacious underwater weeds and its stuggles were not going to free it. I released it from the weeds and carried it to the rocks.

I handed the bird to Tim while I figured out the best way to get out of the muck.

Izzy look this close photo for me.

After much discussion about the best place to leave the bird for its recovery, we decided to leave it lying on a rock close to the water to dry and rest. I knew it must have taken in some water, so its recovery was by no means certain. Additionally, a toe was broken where its right foot had been snared in the weeds. But it made a couple of yellowlegs calls and once even shook its head vigorously. And, it could hear the other yellowlegs calling from the marsh.

We saw a few more shorebirds here - Short-billed Dowitchers and one Long-billed, Stilt Sandpipers and two Red Knots - before deciding to cave to our grumbling stomachs. We left our Lesser Yellowlegs still huddled on the rock and the Oakland Audubon group and rode our bikes along Lake Erie. We rounded the corner where the Vermet unit triangles with the Lead unit and the Long Pond. Beautiful sunflowers were growing alongside the Lead unit. We had a coney and giro lunch at the Riverfront Family Restaurant on Huron River Dr. before parting after a great morning of birding and biking.

Later that afternoon my curiosity got the best me. I went back to Point Mouillee at 5:00 pm to check on the Lesser Yellowlegs. I wanted to see if it had disappeared from the rock where we left it. I thought I had committed the landmarks pointing to this rock to memory. I searched and searched and did not see the bird on the rock. But, I'm not even sure I clearly recalled my landmarks for identifying this rock. Goes to show how poor memory can be. Nevertheless, despite careful searching I did not see the bird on the rock.

I found these companionable Semi-palmated Sandpipers resting.

Then walking further down the dike, far left of where we left the yellowleg this morning, I found this Lesser Yellowlegs with its right leg propped up. Yellowlegs stand on one leg all the time, so this is not really all that identifying. But, yellowlegs always vocalize and fly off with the slightest provocation. Here I stood at the top of the dike to take this photo, not all that far away, and the bird did not move. I wondered if this could possibly be the same bird and that it might still be recovering. Later it tussled with another yellowlegs and flew off and landed on another rock - limping. With such spindly legs I imagine that there are a lot of limping yellowlegs out there. Nevertheless, the whole thing seemed encouraging for our bird to have made a recovery.

I sent the above photo with the news of my evening visit to Tim and Izzy. I received this comment back from Tim, which I think is spot on.

"Ounce-for-ounce, birds are about the toughest characters around. That these tiny things can roam two continents at will never ceases to amaze me, and now we can add this to the long list of bird survivor stories."

1 comment:

Jerry Jourdan said...

You rock, Cathy! Well done!