Sunday, September 23, 2007

Smithville Lake Pelagic 2007

Sabine's Gull
Photo by Kristi Mayo

Three years ago, I suggested to the field trip organizer for Burroughs Audubon that it might be fun to take a pontoon or two out on the lake in the fall. It is something that birding groups have been doing for some time out on Carlyle Lake in Illinois, and, in fact, St. Louis-area birders Jim and Charlene Malone planted the idea in my head back in 2003 when they suggested that Smithville is similar in size to Carlyle. So, in 2005, I reserved a couple of pontoons and announced the trip. The boats filled immediately.

That first year we set out on October 8—a beautiful, crisp, cool morning... but one that yielded little species variety. Timing was perfect to enjoy the large Franklin's Gull flock (10,000+) that stages on the lake each fall, but we saw little else. It was just too late in the year to be finding Sabine's Gulls or phalaropes.

In 2006, I moved up the date to September 18 and scheduled the trip in the evening and on a weekday to take advantage of the evening gull roost and less boat traffic. We spotted an immature Sabine's Gull in a relatively short space of time and both boats got fantastic looks from 20 to 30 feet at the bird sitting on the water.

This year, the formula changed a little once again: September 22 was still within the window for Sabine's Gull and phalaropes, but this time we tried the trip on a Saturday. Add to that a perfect, blue-sky, 85°F day, and we were not alone on the water. Boats and jet skis were everywhere, and seemed drawn to the large flocks of Franklin's Gulls that attempted repeatedly to settle down on the water. Nonetheless, we were able to sidle up in both boats to a very cooperative immature Sabine's Gull, watched numerous Osprey catching and eating fish, and marveled at a Peregrine Falcon pummeling (but not killing) an American Coot in mid-air.

Here's a few photos from the excursion:

Brock Winkelbauer (pilot of the second pontoon) & me
Photo by Marsha Hawk
Sabine's Gull between the two pontoons
Photo by Kristi Mayo

We tried "chumming" with popcorn. This attracted the attention of a few Ring-billed Gulls, but there simply weren't enough Ring-bills around to create the feeding-frenzy we had hoped for.
Photo by Laura Gilchrist

No comments: