A Prized Addition to the Collection

And we are BACK!  There is a hidden surprise with this particular post … let’s see if you can tell what it is … ready Go! tick tick tick tick. Are you noticing anything different? does something feel a little more ummm snappy? Okay, here’s a hint… who has two thumbs, no longer has to share, removed of daily cap and no longer has to send every post 22,000 miles away from earth just so you can read it?  The answer is THIS GUY who is now the proud owner of a DSL Internet service. Yes boys, we have arrived and we’re loving it. I am sure you can feel just how fast this post is being created compared to those crappy satellite days.

In truth, this is a special day for another reason. Today I get to bring you, to use the description in the last blog, the jewel of Emiquon. My apologies for all those that thought that was a clever clue to the name of the featured bird. I was thinking in terms of how I feel having actually had the opportunity to photograph this bird as opposed to any insightful characteristic like color, hardness or price. First a quick background. When we first discovered Emiquon we immediately walked out to the observation decks to see what they had to offer. While out there I noticed there was a large sign showing the various wildlife in the area and a little history of the place. There was a bird featured on that sign that I had never heard of. Having grown up relatively close to the area, I found it odd that there would be water fowl that I hadn’t came across in many of the other local marshes, rivers and lakes we frequent… and believe me, I would have remembered this unique bird. As luck would have it, on our most recent visit to the Refuge, there it was (actually there “they” were). I will give credit to Linda for spotting them first but she alerted me to them with “what are those doohickies over there”. Those my dear are the find of the year!

And now I would like to introduce you to the latest check on the Birding List. Ladies and gentleman I give you the Black-Necked Stilt”

How cool is that!  Admittedly, there was a struggle to get the exposure right on these shots.  With the two ends of the spectrum covered by the bird feathering itself, all the other greens, browns and the pinks were filling up the palette pretty quick.  I had to delete a bunch of the initial shots thanks to forgetting I had recently reconfigured the camera to moved the focus button off the shutter to a rear button.  By the way, now that I did that it is highly unlikely I’ll ever go back and recommend it to all my fellow photographers out there … I just need to remind myself I did that until it gets engrained in my head.

There were two of these Black-Necked Stilts hanging out in the Marsh.  This particular one was pretty active walking through the water and muck occasionally stopping to stab at the water.

Hit the jump to see even more pictures of this rare (at least to our area) Stilt!

Those pink legs are amazingly suited to this environment.  Not only did it have the ability to stay high and dry through the goop, but the way it was hinged allowed it to adjust the angle to give it a wide feeding arc.  They can pick their food off the water’s surface or grab for invertebrates well below the surface (per my National Geographic North American Field Guide).  I actually a shot of one of these deep stabs further in the post.  Since the females are suppose to have some brown tones on their back compared to the male which is all black, this one is likely the female.  Note, this shot gives a view of the feet – they seem to have more of the standard toe structure with minimal webbing.

The male stilt (no brown on the back) was hanging a little further out in the marsh, but was keeping an eye on his mate.  For roughly the entire shoot this guy just stood there on one stilt content just to take it all in and enjoy the sunset.

It was obvious from my “chimping” (professional term for continually looking at the LCD on the back of the camera and going “Oooh! Ooooh! Oooh!”) that the grass hues were going to make it difficult to isolate the bird.  If I could get the bird moved further out into the water I might have a chance to take the shot with a blue background.  That ended up being easier said than done.  I must have kept the Beast trained on this one bird for 20 minutes in hopes it would walk to the right spot.  Here is the cleanest composition I could muster.

Oh, and here is the deep dive shot I mentioned above.  The fact she kept her eyes open gives it a nice touch.  They must have the duck feathering properties since their whites were staying clean even when splashing and poking around in the marsh.

From the previous shot to this shot you can see how those legs give it complete freedom of movement.  Surprisingly it did not really hunt the way I expected it to.  Like the Heron I assumed it would stand motionless waiting for the food to come to it.  On the contrary, she was almost always in motion occasionally picking at the water’s surface or as in the shot above going for broke.

I actually specifically waited for this shot but forgot I had the Aperture wide open due to the dropping light.  I wanted to give a reference point since I know some of my readers want that kind of thing.  The Killdeer in the background was suppose to provide that, but the depth of field was too small to get it in focus.  The Black-Necked Stilt has a slightly bigger body than the Killdeer and the head is about the same – neck is clearly longer.  The stilt’s beak is about 3x longer and sleeker.

The Emiquon website (link here)  (thanks for the link address Ron) Indicates this stilt is only seen occasionally during the Summer and Spring.  Both the National Geographic guide and the Audobon bird guide do not show this bird’s region anywhere in Illinois.  The Smithsonian guide on the other hand did have a more liberal migration swath that did cover all of the state.  It is a little concerning that there is such a difference in the references.  In any case, I’m pretty happy I was able to get this bird in the tin!

Eventually the male stilt decided it was time to start feeding and abandoned it’s one legged position.  I decided to throw in this final shot because it made me chuckle when I came upon it.  Having completed the Northern Shoveler post (link here) a couple of days earlier (it’s been a whirlwind of blogging activity around here as of late), the synchronized flying shots were still fresh in the memory.  Turns out these stilts were doing a little mimicking of their own.  It is a little difficult to see the back stilt, but I thought the shot looked like it was taken with a mirror in the background – same leg posture and similar neck angle.

That’s all folks!  Hope you enjoyed our long legged friend – I sure had fun taking the shots.

2 thoughts on “A Prized Addition to the Collection”

  1. Cool bird. I thought it looked like the old dunking birds in bars I used to hang out in when I was a kid when I was supposed to be watching you.

    I’m glad you included the killdeer for scale. I was thinking this bird was about the size of an egret, so it was surprise to see that it is much smaller (and therefore much cuter).



  2. I remember those old dunking birds .. had blue or red colored water in the rear and would dip it’s beak in a shot glass or something ..hey wait a minute you were SUPPOSE to be watching me… of course you are the individual who gave me a skateboard for my birthday which eventually resulted in stitches in my chin so I’m not entirely sure you were the best choice to watch over me… come to think of it, weren’t you also in charge of me the day I hit the cement steps with my chin?

    It’s a tough call but I’ll give the cuteness factor to the Stilt, but for pure coolness I still lean to the Egret and definitely the Heron


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