Curlew Confrontation or Courtship?

Curlew Confrontation or Courtship?

The recent trip to Galveston and Bolivar yielded over 1600 photos. I know, a bit excessive, but hey, you get carried away. What if you never ever see another Sanderling? Or the light is totally unique and has to be taken advantage of? Or something completely unexpected and fantastic is going to happen in the next shot? You get the idea.

And something strange did happen one day at the North Jetty. That is where I was last adventure in the fog. The light was not near as good, a bit too bright for my taste, but you work with what is there. As Rumsfeld said, you go to war with the army you have.

First off, there was a Long-billed Curlew strolling toward me. He wasn't really close enough, but I figured if I waited and was really quiet, he might even walk in front of me.

Long-billed Curlew Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1250 sec. f/6.3 ISO 400

Long-billed Curlew

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1250 sec. f/6.3 ISO 400

If I had to guess, I would think this is a male since the bill doesn't look as long as the one I followed all around at East Galveston Beach a while back. Or it could be a juvenile. Did not seem to be a fully grown female with the long bill. But still, it is hard to tell without another to compare with. I took some photos of Willets while I kept an eye on him. Willets are always available at the shore.

And then ....there were two Long-billed Curlews.

Curlew Standoff Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Curlew Standoff

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

When I first noticed there were two, they were too far apart to get both in the frame, but I increased my shutter speed, just in case something happened. They got closer and closer to each other and I saw the one on the right had hunkered down in a seemingly submissive posture. Not until I downloaded my shots to the computer did I see the other one had the same posture.

Well, now. How is this going to turn out?

Action! Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Action!

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Next, the one on the left, the newcomer, was in the air and I was shooting burst shots fast as I could. I thought at first it could be a courtship ritual, but they don't breed here. I have seen some shots of courting behavior and the male would circle the female and attempt to stroke or lift her tail feathers. And, to add to that, I always thought the courting would happen after they migrated to the central US breeding grounds. It is just too early for that kind of behavior.

Besides, judging by the similar lengths of the bills, I think these are both males. But I am not sure.

More aggression and submission or courting behavior? Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

More aggression and submission or courting behavior?

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

If I had thought about it, I could have increased my shutter speed more, but I was too excited. This was amazing behavior and I was ready for it. The curlew on the left circled the crouched bird several times, but finally they both started raising their wings and flapping around.

Airborne! Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Airborne!

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

The above looked like two males trying to show who is boss, and after a bit of squabbling I saw this:

Showing who is boss and accepting it? Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Showing who is boss and accepting it?

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Was this two males in a territorial dispute? Just males showing who is stronger and more aggressive?

Or could it be that the female was ambivalent about courtship attention from the male, and told him to get lost?

More displaying Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

More displaying

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

The birds did circle each other, and to my eyes looked quite aggressive. No one attacked or seemed to get the upper hand, though. It was looking more like males doing strut and puff games. But look at all that amazing cinnamon color under the wings! These are really beautiful birds. My new favorites, I think.

Is it over? or not? Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Is it over? or not?

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Then they approached each other fairly close. This was after circling each other with folded wings. I was holding my breath.

One last clash Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

One last clash

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

There was one last, brief clash. The encounter had gone on for at least 3 minutes (according to the time stamp on my shots) but it seemed much longer. When something like this happens, you just keep snapping and hope for the best. And hope you have battery and room left on the memory card!

And I have finally learned you don't get opportunities like this unless you wait and wait and wait while the birds do regular and boring bird things for the longest time, and then... and then... and then something really cool might happen.

Last Curlew standing Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Last Curlew standing

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

And then it was over. To tell the truth, I think one flew off but I cant be sure. They turned and moved so much during that brief encounter I lost track of which bird had approached the other. I think the bird I had first noticed was the one that stayed; the interloper might have raised a bit ruckus, but he was the one that flew away.

Was that not an exciting event? Aren't you glad I can take action shots instead of just boring portraits? Do you think it was two males having a tiff or was it a female not in the mood? Let me know in the comments, just click the balloon icon and sign in as a Guest.

Note: I recently re-read my whole blog (all of the adventures - well, it was raining and I was tired of TV) and y'all used to comment A LOT. And I liked that. Hint. Hint.

Peacocks 2.0

Peacocks 2.0

Bolivar North Jetty

Bolivar North Jetty