Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Black-necked Stilt at Hillman Marsh

On April 30, Derek and Jen Lyon found a female Black-necked Stilt at Hillman Marsh in Essex County, and it continued to be seen regularly for the next few days. Black-necked Stilt is a species that I had wanted to see in the province for some time, as the last chaseable birds showed up at Pelee in early May, 2013, the day that I had left to drive to Aurora to start my current job, and they had left by the next weekend when I returned to Pelee. According to the eBird targets feature, Black-necked Stilt was the most likely species that I would add to my Ontario list.

I drove down on Tuesday afternoon, happy to be making the familiar, though long drive back through the agriculture and occasional woodlots of Oxford and Middlesex Counties, and through the monoculture of Elgin, Chatham-Kent, and Essex. I arrived in the Hillman Marsh area late in the afternoon, with reports of the bird coming in throughout the day. As I drove along the north edge of Hillman Marsh I encountered Bob Cermak - Bob informed me that the last he had heard was that the stilt was back in the shorebird cell at Hillman Marsh.

The sun was starting to descend in the sky as I walked briskly to the entrance to the shorebird cell. I could hear unfamiliar bird calls as I approached, and the calls were soon pinpointed to the group of feeding American Avocets only a few dozen meters from the grassy dike. This rare but regular spring and autumn migrant had shown up in decent numbers in the Point Pelee area, with a number of sightings in multiple areas. This ended up being the largest group of them - numbering 34 to be exact.

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh Conservation Area

My attention soon shifted to searching for my main quarry, and it only took a few seconds with my binoculars before a slender black and white shorebird with long legs stopped my scanning. Further looks with the scope revealed the bright pink legs and intricacies of its plumage - a smart looking shorebird indeed!

To take advantage of the better lighting from the west, I headed down the adjacent dike until I was in a good position, a few hundred meters from the bird. The distance was still a little too far for great photos, but it serves well as a "bird in habitat" photo.

Black-necked Stilt - Hillman Marsh Conservation Area

There are 17 records of Black-necked Stilt accepted by the OBRC, current to the end of the 2014 annual report. Thirteen of these records were during the spring season, with dates ranging from April 11 to June 23. The species has attempted to breed once (at Jarvis sewage lagoons in 2004), while  the latest lingering individual was at Port Lambton until January 2, 2002  This was the tenth time that a Black-necked Stilt has been seen for more than just one day.

It was nice to document all 34 American Avocets in a single photo as well, since my lens was not conducive to this when they were closer.

American Avocets and Black-necked Stilt - Hillman Marsh Conservation Area

The diversity of the remaining shorebirds included many first of the years - Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, and Wilson's Snipe. Ten Willets were also observed in the shorebird cell, some occasionally probing at the mud while others resting. It almost felt like I was watching at the edge of a pothole wetland in the prairies, watching flocks of Willets and American Avocets.

Killdeer - Hillman Marsh Conservation Area

Willet - Hillman Marsh Conservation Area

By 7:30 PM the American Avocets became restless, and shortly thereafter they alighted, taking off together along with the Willets. At times, both species flew right over my head, providing an interesting photographic opportunity. The Willets eventually landed, but the avocets continued on far to the northwest.

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh Conservation Area

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh Conservation Area

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh Conservation Area

The Black-necked Stilt continued to feed along the edge of the water and I enjoyed it through the scope for another 20 minutes or so, before continued on to my next destination. It was a great start to over four days of solid birding at Point Pelee!

Willets - Hillman Marsh Conservation Area

With Black-necked Stilt off the target list, the next most frequently reported species that I "need" for Ontario include the following. Will one of these species be next? There is currently a Ruff being seen at the Brighton constructed wetlands that is tempting!

-Willow Ptarmigan
-Tufted Duck
-Rufous Hummingbird
-Northern Wheatear
-Swainson's Warbler
-Tricolored Heron


dwaynejava said...

Stunning photos Josh. The scene with the Avocets and the Stilt is shorebirding perfection! -dm

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks Dwayne! An evening I won't soon forget for sure.