Avocets, Indigo Bunting surprise during cold snap

2010 January 10
by David J. Ringer

VICKSBURG, MISS. — Ignoring weather forecasters’ warnings to stay indoors this weekend, I went out looking for tree sparrows, longspurs, swans, or any other good birds the massive cold front might have nudged our way. I did find some great stuff, but not at all what I was expecting.


It has been below freezing since sometime Thursday afternoon, so much of the shallow water (and there’s a lot of it around right now) is frozen over. At one frozen pond, I came across two immature Bald Eagles and several Great Blue Herons. Not sure what they were doing — just sitting there wishing the water would thaw?


Snipe were clearly distressed by all the frozen water — I saw small groups of them flying around all day. One bird feeding along a road edge at Mahannah Wildlife Management Area was almost completely oblivious to me. Just look at the intricacy and complexity of the patterns! Absolutely beautiful. I’ll devote another post to more pictures of this bird.


One solitary White Ibis flushed from beside the same road. Dozens of White Ibises have been hanging around the area, but perhaps most of them have bailed out. This was the only one I saw all day. Also missing today were Anhingas, which had been around through December.


I had a few Greater Yellowlegs throughout the day; their numbers were also dramatically lower than a couple of weeks ago. Observing one Greater Yellowlegs through snow flurries early in the morning, I realized that I had never before seen yellowlegs in the snow.

Sparrows and blackbirds were around in big numbers; I kept stopping to scan them when possible. This paid off early when I found five Brewer’s Blackbirds.

Later, while picking through one large and skittish flock of juncos and Chipping Sparrows, I saw something different — small, plain, brown. My brain said, “Indigo Bunting!” The flock was scattering, and I was faced with a choice: watch the bird a few seconds more, or grab the camera — with no time to change lenses or adjust settings — and try to get a photo. I chose the latter … and it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.


So … pretty terrible, but it does show a small, short-tailed brown bird with no streaking, wingbars, etc. (100 percent crop, no processing.)


A general impression of wing shape, proportions, and even a few individual rectrices as the bird takes off.


It paused with its back to me and then disappeared, and I could never find it again.


Just in case you’re doubting that any details would have been visible, here’s another 100% crop from one of the shots. The junco and Chipping Sparrow are clearly identifiable.


If those lousy images made your eyes bleed, this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) may help. It appeared to be feeding on fallen fruit. This bird shows some interesting plumage features (anyone want to point out the most obvious?), and I’ll feature him in another post too.


In the afternoon, I drove part of the mainline levee in Madison Parish, Louisiana, and I found a bunch of ducks. I had 15 species of ducks and geese throughout the day; exciting additions here included Canvasback, Redhead, and Northern Pintail.


There were a few more surprises in store, including four Dunlin! While not unheard of during winter, it’s a pretty good record, and I about froze my fingers trying to get some sort of photograph. It’s not great, but this one shows two of the birds beside a Least Sandpiper.


As light started failing and I was ready to leave, a small cloud of white birds materialized over a borrow pit. Gulls? No — avocets! Thirty-three of them. What beautiful and graceful shorebirds. What a great way to end a great day.


Unsure of this species’ status during winter, I decided I’d better get an identifiable photo, so I took this shot by holding my phone up to the scope! It won’t win any prizes, but it does show you the avocets.

With so many good birds around, do I go back out tomorrow, or do I tackle all the things I didn’t get done today? Hmm.

Related posts:

  1. Dallas-area Snow Bunting and Little Gull
  2. Surprise guest on a bitter night
  3. A going-away surprise
  4. Big river birds make for great CBC
  5. Birds of Tropical Storm Lee, Part 1
One Response
  1. Lisa Berger permalink
    January 10, 2010

    RE Sapsucker: Could be a hybrid, Red-naped by Y-B. due to the molt progression vs timing.

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