Swamp Reflections

A greater yellowlegs sweeps past my hide at B.K. Leach Conservation Area.

I spent a couple of mornings at B.K. Leach Conservation Area this week. Although Leach is 86 miles from my house, I consider it my home base for wetland photography.

I love the solitude I find on the wetlands at Leach. I rarely see another person, even on weekends. Perhaps it’s because I bring my chest waders to cross the waterways so I can head out into the interior pools, away from the roads. I bring along a portable, three-legged chair and some cut-leaf camo and just sit in the water and wait for the action. This week I was thinking shorebirds as the season is upon us. I departed each morning at 3:30 so I could be cozied into a strategic spot long before sunrise.

Much of the shorebird action on Bittern Basin, the northern unit of Leach I was visiting this week, was that of greater yellowlegs. Yellowlegs seem to always be in a skirmish with others of their kind, but it rarely gets serious. They call incessantly, a series of cries reminiscent of begging, as they chase each back and forth across the shallow pools.

Also present were pectoral sandpipers (thanks for the ID help Mike Arduser), which fly around in tight groups, obviously taking the concept of “safety in numbers” seriously. Once on the water they are safe to preen and rest under the assumption that it will always be one’s buddy that will get picked off by an overhead predator.

Pectoral sandpipers often move around in tight groups.

Once on the water the group takes time to preen and rest for a spell.

There wasn’t much shorebird diversity during my visit to Leach but I was fortunate to see a pair of black-necked stilts, at least on the first morning. I had high hopes for the second morning as I set up my hide in the perfect spot for their return but they were AWOL. As my old friends at MDC always say, “You can never trust a critter!”

The black-necked stilt, a most elegant shorebird.

I have photographed stilts at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area but these were my first at Leach. Maybe they will turn up somewhere else on the area over the next few weeks.

A whitetail crosses the wetland in front of my hide.

It’s a running joke among a few of my friends that if I’m near water, an “aquatic deer” will eventually turn up for a photograph. I’m glad a single whitetail continued my streak of “deer in the water” images that I’ve been collecting over the last few years.

A couple of snipe foraging along water’s edge.

I’ve never seen as many snipe on Leach as I saw this week. They were everywhere! I even managed to get a few pictures of the secretive little shorebirds. I wrote a story about snipe hunting for Missouri Conservationist a few years ago and Leach was our location for all of the hunting and photography. Here is a link if you are interested:

https://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2019-07/hunting-snipe-and-rail

Overall, it was a wonderful two mornings on my favorite wetland area. Thanks to John Vogel, MDC wildlife biologist and old friend, for helping me plan my visits to Leach this week.

When I visit B.K. Leach, I’m reminded that a swamp is the perfect place to be alone without feeling lonely.

Happy naturing,

DB

Reminder: Watch for my story about the pelicans of B.K. Leach Conservation Area, coming out in the September issue of Missouri Conservationist.

Email: Natureframes@Rocketmail.com

Photo Gallery: https://dannybrown.smugmug.com

America is beautiful. I vote to keep it that way.

8 comments on “Swamp Reflections”

  1. Nice posting Danny. I can’t picture myself being in position so early, much less in the water, but glad you do it for the great photos. I’m heading to Southern Wisconsin (Horicon Marsh) in two weeks, so you give me hope some of the shorebirds will also be there.

  2. Lovely! I go to a wildlife refuge on occasion, and try to get there before sunrise…and I usually make it to the PARKING LOT by sunrise, but it’s a 2 mile walk back to the wetlands, so I’ve NEVER made it back there for sunrise. Still, I have seen some amazing things, including pelicans last fall. Here in Michigan pelicans are pretty unexpected. Are you sitting in a blind, or just sitting still on your 3 legged stool in the water?

    • I sit in the chair with the camera on the tripod in front of me and then I drape cutleaf camouflage, the military style, all over the camera and tripod. I usually bring a couple fiberglass gardening sticks to clothes pin some of the camo like wings from the camera to block me even more. Hope that makes sense.

  3. Interesting narrative and great images as usual!

  4. I’ve never seen a black necked stilt. Wow! Really enjoyed your article! Thanks for sharing.


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