Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Photo shoot - American Golden-plover

September 29 was a great day of photography in Moosonee. Alan Wormington, Jeremy Bensette and I had traveled all the way up to this part of Ontario in the hopes of finding a rare bird or two. We did have some decent finds for northern Ontario (Lesser Black-backed Gull, Dickcissels) but those were on our last days of the trip, back in the "near south". Most of our time at Moosonee was spent walking the dusty streets, hoping to see something interesting but generally just seeing dogs and starlings.

Fortunately when you are into photography as well as birding, even a day without any really notable finds can still be rewarding, as was the case on this day. We had amazingly close photo opportunities with 3 species - Mourning Dove, White-winged Crossbill (more on that later) and American Golden-Plover.

We first noticed an American Golden-plover when we were doing a riverwatch near the Polar Bear Lodge in "downtown" Moosonee, overlooking the Moose River. It was an adult bird - a strange late date for one this far north. It eventually flew, but we caught up with it (and a handful of juvenile goldens) on a lawn near the train station later in the morning.

Using a bit of stealth and a lot of luck, we were able to slowly inch closer to them and obtain some full-frame photos.

The plovers were somewhat wary of us at first, giving us their full attention.

But eventually they returned to feeding. It was obvious why they had picked this lawn - it was full of earthworms! The plovers would keep a sharp eye out for the appetizing Annelids, then quickly pull one up out of the ground. Once a plover grabbed a worm, it was a matter of milliseconds until it was down the hatch! Unfortunately I wasn't fast enough to get any good action shots.

It often seems that there is a dichotomy between "birders" and "photographers" - you are either one or the other. Some birders get annoyed with photographers, and vise versa. I consider myself a hybrid between the two, and this experience with the plovers was a perfect example. Because I was trying to take photos of them, I ended up crawling on my belly until I was a few feet from them and enjoyed half an hour of watching their behavior from up close. Being a photographer put me in a position to see some really awesome behavior that I wouldn't have seen otherwise!

Occasionally, the plovers would hunker down in the grass, presumably due to some perceived threat (like a raptor in the sky). It was surprisingly difficult to spot them like this - obviously a great evolutionary adaptation to avoid predators.

My favorite photo from the whole sequence...

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