Sandhill cranes flying off the road as our jam packed 57 passenger bus was creeping along Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. That place is definitely worth the hype.
Well, I learned an interesting tid bit at the festival--the field trip to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge sold out before the field trip to go birding with David Sibley! I'm pretty sure that it had more to do with the awesomeness of the location rather than the cool factor of guides. I don't care, I'm so glad that I was one of the guides for the Agassiz trip--we saw 25 species of shorebirds on the trip!! Whoot! Whoot! Whoot! And really cool shorebirds at that! Above are some of marbled godwits (the big birds). Check out the dunlin in the back--that's the little guy with the black belly.
We had some unusual birds, above on the lower left is a red-necked phalarope (the other bird is a semipalmated plover). We were expecting Wilson's but we ended up getting the red-necked too. I couldn't do a lot of digiscoping because the priority was making sure the 53 paying customers got to see the birds and the light wasn't that great for it either. It was fun though, because as soon as someone would point out one really cool shorebird like the red-necked phalarope and then get the group focused on it, then someone else would shout, "Stilt Sandpiper!" It was a good problem to have. We even had crazy numbers of more unusual birds--like 90 some odd hudsonian godwits.
I loved this scene--it's a black-bellied plover surrounded by a posse of semipalmated plovers. Wish we could have been closer, but at least we got to see the bird. That was a cool new bird for quite a few people on the trip.
The place was lousy with American bitterns--at one point three of them were flying around the bus. Bitterns are secretive birds who stand straight up and use their stripey plumage to hide amongst reeds. The above blurry guy was one that I saw running in short grass. When he noticed our bus coming he shot his head up to hide himself but then suddenly realized that he was surrounded by short grass. We stopped the bus and he ran to a very sparse patch of taller grass and assumed the position. The bus windows distorted the shot, but you get the idea.
It was a diverse group and people wanted different birds--some wanted to focus in on shorebirds, others wanted better looks at area specialties. While Doug Buri and Kim Risen would focus in on peeps (small shorebirds that give me a headache), I would call in a sora or get some yellow-headed blackbirds (above) or bobolinks in the scope. By the end of the day, our bird list topped out at 135 species, which may be a festival record. It was awesome. I get the sense that they will offer the trip again next year and hopefully we will have more time than just four hours to bird there. We had such limited time. The trip was two hours out there, four hours to bird, and another two hours back. Next year they could easily add another two hours for birding--we really could have added more warbler species and I would have loved the chance to photograph red-necked grebes.