I headed out to Cherry Creek again yesterday. On my way home from an errand, I noticed a small group of Ibis, what looked like White Faced Ibis, hunting in a patch of dried cattails at the Cottonwood Creek Wetland. I saw an Ibis once before several years ago, and managed to hack out a barely visible photo with my first DSLR, the Canon 450D. I’ve seen the silhouettes of Ibis as they flew overhead at Chatfield, however have not seen any in any photographable form since that one years ago. I grabbed my camera and headed back out, and ended up seeing at least 100 White-Faced Ibis either hanging out at the Cottonwood Creek wetland or flying overhead towards the lake.
I was unable to get any decent shots (largely because the Ibis at Cottonwood Creek wetland were attracting a lot of viewers, they haven’t been seen there for at least a year or two, and seeing so many was quite a site to a lot of people.) I headed towards the Cottonwood Creek delta, where I thought the Ibis had gone, hoping to get some better shots. As it turned out, the Ibis headed right over the dam to some other hangout (possibly one of the water hazards in the golf course just over the other side.) I found another set of subjects, however…the Cottonwood Creek delta let out onto a very soggy mudflat, which stretched out to sandy beaches before finally reaching the lake. Along the edge of the water and into the delta a little ways I could see dozens of shore birds, of a variety.
The water levels are usually right up to the shore, several feet deep into the reeds and cattails. The hot summer, no rain, and poor snowfall over the past year drained Cherry Creek reservoir to maybe four or five feet below its average levels, so the beach was quite large. Getting out to the sand, however, was a bit of an ordeal. The reeds edge the shore, and between the reeds and the sand is this nasty black muck that sucks you down like it was quicksand. I carefully tried to make my way across, however almost lost my Neos Overshoe. I finally found that the bed of Cottonwood Creek itself, only about a foot deep, was quite stable, so I followed that and headed out to the sand. After creeping up prone and setting up my tripod, I noticed at least four different types of shore birds: Willets, American Avocets, Least Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Plovers. A group of American Coots would swim, and oddly waddle when they hit a sand bar, their way past every so often. Pelicans bobbed up and down, back and forth, seemingly patrolling the shores.
I spent an hour or so photographing the birds out there. Ever slowly inching my way closer. I finally managed to get near the minimum focus distance of my lens, which is a bit less than six feet from the sensor plane (so maybe five feet from the end of my lens). (At times, the birds actually moved to less than the MFD of my lens, at their closest, maybe two feet out….less than three feet from myself! Go camouflage!) I made quite a few photos, particularly of the avocets and the willets (of which there were dozens of each). After laying there for some time, I noticed three little balls of feathers moving around a ways out. I tried to focus on them, but they were quite small, and my lens once again was having problems locking on right. I eventually managed to get it focused well enough to see a lone Least Sandpiper, and a pair of Semipalmated Plovers. I have not seen many plovers out there, and certainly not for lack of trying. At first I though they were Piping Plovers…probably because I had just recently been reading about them…but they are a rather rare visitor to Colorado, and I am not sure they visit Cherry Creek at all.
I was pretty excited about seeing so many shore birds at Cherry Creek. I’d seen a few solitary shore birds, or a couple here and there, in the past. But never so many all over the place. There must be dozens of Avocets, and at least a dozen or so Willets. I could see small brown patches of mobile earth out of range of my lens that I believe were more Least Sandpipers. I only saw the two Semipalmated Plovers, however there are reports of more. In addition to the shore birds I found around the Cottonwood Creek delta, another photographer and I spotted a Wilson’s Snipe at the Cottonwood Creek wetland. Yesterday, I also spotted a couple of Hudsonian Godwit (a rarer visitor), at least one Greater Yellowlegs, at least one Spotted Sandpiper, one of what I believe was a Solitary Sandpiper, and of course Killdeer. Reports from other bird photographers mentioned Lesser Yellowlegs. That brings the current shore bird species count to at least eleven, and there are potentially five, maybe as many as seven other common shorebird visitors that might arrive during migration, including two I’ve been hoping to see: Black-necked Stilt and Long-billed Curlew (both of which seem to be summer residents, not just migrants passing through…so my chances are high.)
Well, I have a big chunk of money that I’d almost forgotten about. Stock, and in the past couple of days its gained a few hundred in value. It was worth about $10,600, today it’s worth about $11,100. If the market keeps moving up, this one stock may completely cover the cost of the lens, and once it reaches thirteen grand, regardless of what the market looks like, I’m going to sell the whole lot and buy myself the EF 600mm f/4 L IS II. Time to be done with this old 100-400mm and start getting some better shots with better gear…gear that will let me stay back at a more respectful distance, and still achieve that artistic style I’m after. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that before the bulk of these shorebird migrants move on, but if the stilts and curlews do move in to Cherry Creek, they, along with the ibis, herons, egrets, cormorants, pelicans, and other summer residents should still provide plenty to photograph.
Speaking of pelicans! The featured photo today is a rather surprising shot that I managed to get, hand-held, of a huge American White Pelican on a moment’s notice. He swooped down out of nowhere, and I had only a moment to swing up the lens and start making photos. He cruised in a circle around me, not more than 25 feet up, and ended up moving into PERFECT light as he headed towards a sand bar off the sand spit along the South East shore of the lake, where a bunch of his mates where already hangin out. I’d had another close encounter with a pelican a little over a year ago…one came into view around some trees, and wasn’t more than 15 feet over my head…I couldn’t even fit it in my viewfinder! I got a shot looking strait up at it, however it’s head wasn’t in view, and while it was amazing seeing that gigantic 9-foot plus wingspan right over my head, I was never really satisfied with the shot. I’m quite happy with this one..he’s huge, his wings are fully spread, his head is facing me, the light is great, his eye is even quite clear for how soft the shot was. Yes, quite satisfied!
I have a number of frames of this pelican as he came in to land, and I’ll post a gallery of him, along with all of the avocets, willets, sandpipers, and plovers in forthcoming blogs.
Bird list for the day: