Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
January continued to be exceptional for me in the BY-squared. I finally sighted a female Hairy Woodpecker to go with the fairly reliable male. A flock of 22 Cedar Waxwing and 4 Eastern Bluebirds helped add to the FOY totals for the yard, on the 25th. On the 27th I watched a Carolina Wren trying to break up a peanut it pulled from the feeder. On the final day of January I heard a faint Northern Flicker in the distance, and just after sunset a pair of Great Horned Owls were heard calling from the woods. The owls pushed my month to 35 species. Really well above what I thought was realistically possible. It made me hopeful for February.
February so far has been pretty uneventful. I've added zero FOY the birds, and only managed 21 species so far. The 1st started out not too bad with 17 species. My high for a day in February in the yard is 21 species, with other highs of 20 and 19. I thought 4 more species would be fairly easy to add. I've added them but it has taken 9 days to add those 4 to my total since the 1st.
I did manage to swing by the Millpond and added Hooded and Common Mergansers, along with my first tagged Trumpeter Swan. I googled the tag and it popped on another eBird checklist from Ontario. Other "highlights" this month have been a very drab Chickadee that I thought was maybe a candidate for Carolina, a Sharp-shinned Hawk sitting on the feeder when I came home from Chaos, and the male and female cismontanus are still pretty regular at the feeder.
I still need 12 more bird this month to try to beat the high for the month of 32. Seems easy when I hit 35 last month. I doubt I get another Chipping Sparrow, or Cackling Goose or Bald Eagle with the lake frozen over. Mallard is doubtful with the freeze also. Chaos is really trying to intrude everywhere now and hindering doing too much.
I've been trying to get caps of Junco tail feathers. I think this is the cismontanus female. It looks like maybe 3 nearly solid white on the left side with just a thin line on r3. It's been so dark hard to keep up the speed.
This Slate-colored is mostly white on r6-r4 with a small strip on edge of r4.
Chaos ruled most of the week, but Monday the 13th did allow for some extended viewing time of the feeders. The male and female cismontanus Dark-eyed Juncos continue to be here. Adult Bald Eagle made a flyover also. The rest of Tuesday-Friday involved late evening sightings of the typical end of the day feeder birds; Northern Cardinal, Junco or Canada geese flying in to Beadle Lake.
Friday morning I spooked a Cooper's Hawk off the branches over the feeders when I was trying to check out the sunrise. I did manage also in the afternoon to catch the Cackling Geese flying in. I even managed to hear them call as they flew directly over, flying inside the "V" of the larger Canada Geese.
The Cooper's hawk returned on Saturday with a few weak passes at the feeders, inbetween snow showers. It gave me some excellent views and I took this 2:24 video of it searching for more prey.
The "highlight" of the week was bird #30 for the yard this year. A European Starling showed up on the suet feeder. I had this as a likely bird, even though apart from 2016 I don't get them on a regular basis. There is usually a small flock I've seen within .5 mile of here. I'll not complain unless it gets too many more to show up. The snow and cold kept me from doing too much outside time this week. I also had a very strange Raccoon show up. Very lethargic, didn't react to me walking outside towards it. It spent from 10:40 to at least now walking a mere 100 feet from one side of the valley to the other. I have a feeling it may be rabid. A couple of the symptoms fit; lethargic, walking in circles, out in the daytime, tipsy, falling over a couple of times or just laying down where it was. I took a video of it, but not sure about uploading a Raccoon just slowly wandering around in circles.
Today ended up being an inadvertent Big Yard Day. In the morning I managed 18 species mostly looking out the window. 3 Rock Pigeons were FOY on the flyover, along with the normal feeder birds. The unbelievable 40 House Finches flagged as a high count. I know I have a lot of them but never this many. Ring-billed and Herring Gull flyovers helped to add to the list, and the cismontanus female Dark-eyed Junco showed up again.
The little surprise was a small sparrow that settled not 12 feet from my eyes outside the window. I thought "That is awfully small for a Tree Sparrow", and put my binoculars on it. Sure enough this bird had a pink bill (not yellow lower, black line through eye, not spot on chest and a weak mustache. A rather lost Chipping Sparrow was in the yard. It flew next to the house and I lost it. Never saw it again the rest of the day, nor when I went outside to see if I could find it next to the house. It is a first eBird January record, assuming it is accepted.
I went out later in the afternoon to see if I could beat the high day of 20. Trumpeter Swans flew past calling and I knew I'd get to 20 with the Canada Geese that would fly in. Now I had to just get out and find some additional bird to get to 21. It wasn't long before a Brown Creeper was seen out the window. Now I just had to see how far I could push it.
Sure enough Canada Geese did show up as well as Mallards flying in/out of Beadle Lake. A Cooper's Hawk streaked across the backwater shortly after. To top it off I saw a large flock of birds flying behind the trees. They turned back towards me and land right above and in front of me. 29 American Robins had looked to potentially roost for the night in the yard. They did eventually move on, no doubt due to my presence out there. The Robins pushed me to 24 for the day. Not bad considering coming in to this year my high for the month was only that. I now sit at 29, and should be able to get that 30th bird with more than half the month still left. Still have fun with the Big Yard and looking forward to seeing what else shows up.
Grabbed the card from the camera. Snagged these birds trying to stock up on seed before all the ice/sleet/snow hit.
The birding continues to be very quiet around here lately. Winter has not arrived, until this weekend's "Icemageddon", so the same birds are still around. I was able to add Brown Creeper to the Month/Yard list today. I grabbed some of the old The Jack Pine Warbler journals and started to read through them to see what birds Lawrence Walkinshaw has reported.
I've been able to come up with a solid 210 species. Most of them coming from the 198 species he reported from the Baker Sanctuary Area. One within that list was a little less clear if he had seen the Long-eared Owl, or was just reporting a continued report from another observer.
2 additional species on that list were Blue Goose and Traill's Flycatcher. He does report Willow Flycatcher, and I have to believe he likely had an Alder Flycatcher at some point also. Willow and Alder were not split from Traill's until 1973. He does report Snow Goose and Blue Goose, which were once considered separate species. So these species that are not currently "countable" would get one additional with an assumption he likely had Alder in Calhoun to get to 211.
Other hypotheticals are:
With the hypotheticals he would be at 225. I'm sure there are plenty of others in his field notes. He definitely has plenty of very rare birds that he found, so have to believe many of the easier ones would still be ones he has seen.
The current Code 1 and Code 2 birds that I've not found records of, apart from the hypotheticals above:
Code 4 he has listed
I have little doubt I will be adding to this list in the future. If I can ever get my hands on his 1978 book Birds of the Battle Creek, Calhoun County, Michigan area I'm sure there are confirmations on at least some of the hypotheticals. The man was an amazing human with so many birds in Calhoun County, and as he stated in another article 290 species in the state. Most of this before any of the modern transportation we take for granted now. No eBird, no Twitter, and no Listserves, just getting out there and looking for the birds. Not just looking, but banding, recording, reporting and helping to create places like the Baker Sanctuary.
Some references used:
The year started out with a bang, literally. Fireworks in the area just past midnight spooked up some Trumpeter Swans and Canada Geese. This was just the start to a new high for a day with 17 species. A Sharp-shinned Hawk glimpsed outside the window as it went after the feeders was followed shortly after by Red-tailed Hawk making a weak attempt itself. This Red-bellied Woodpecker had the most extensive red I've seen before. I've not caught it since though.
January 2nd was even more fruitful with 19 species. Cooper's Hawk soaring with some Red-tailed Hawks was a nice surprise. Mallards and a Hairy Woodpecker were new additions to the monthly total. The female cismontanus Junco also made an appearance. January 3rd was dominated by Chaos, but January 4th proved to be the biggest January day yet with Belted Kingfisher and a pair of Bald Eagles adding to the monthly total. 20 species in total were observed on the 4th.
The highlight/lowlight on the 4th was the Sharpie was successful in nabbing what looked like a Junco based on the grey feathers. It was down the hill about 120 feet plucking feathers. The photo opportunity was weak, but I decided to let some video run off the camera. It wasn't especially exciting or even the best shot, but it does show it taking just over 11 minutes of plucking feathers and devouring the bird. I only managed to find a few bits of innards and feathers after it flew off. I only caught just the flash of it coming at the feeders and then chasing something down the hill. By the time I got glass on it, it was sitting on the downed log surveying the surroundings. It wasn't till I saw feathers fly I knew it was successful. It was inevitable it would get lucky at some point. There isn't much in the way of cover right now. One junco bumped into the window trying to get away, just feet from my face. Even with the paracord to try to break up the reflection.
I did a little less birding on the 5th, but still managed 18 species with Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull and quick looks at some Cackling Geese pushing me to 25 for the month. 5 days in and have surpassed my previous high for the month in the yard. I have a goal to hit 30 before the end of the month. Should be doable with Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Rock Pigeon, Great Horned Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Eastern Bluebird still highly likely.
Not sure if the Big Yard will continue to be as interesting and fun as it has been for the extent of the year. 5MR may be a next level limiting factor, but for now going to dig what I'm doing. There is still Beadle Lake with open water to hit that is not out of the way to hit when I do have to go out. I have my sights set on getting to 150 for the full year and pushing the lifetime up a bit closer to 160.
It continues to be relatively quiet around here at the end of the year, and the beginning of the new year. I thought I'd do the ever popular Top 10 for the previous year.
1. 3 new birds added to my County list. Northern Mockingbird, Golden-winged Warbler and White-winged Scoter were probably as high up on the list of expected birds as one can get. The only birds in my data that I need that rate higher for expectation are my nemesis Common Redpoll, Evening Grosbeak (driven by data from 70's and 80's), Connecticut Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush.
2. White-winged Junco candidate. This odd junco led to a nearly year-long tip down the rabbit hole of junco ID research. I still have some much more technical work to dig through and will have something further later this year. All driven by this one individual bird.
3. March 17th being the hero. This was the time I found the lost dog and watched over it until its owner showed up. After what happened the previous holiday season, it was uplifting for my spirt.
4. Big 1/2 day at Woodland Park on 5/10. 80 species and 23 warblers with a lifer Golden-winged mixed in.
5. Imperial Moths showing up. Not birds, but hands down the best moth experience.
6. Adding new birds to the County Illustrated Checklist. I was finally able to get get my eyes on Marsh Wren and Sora this year. These were missing from the County Illustrated Checklist on eBird.
7. Female cismontanus Junco at feeder. After having males of this subspecies showing up in 2016, and earlier in 2019 I finally had a female example to see.
8. 5 New Yard Birds added. This really just helps to feed in to the focus for 2020.
9. 365 days of checklists. The one solid goal I had for 2019 was to a checklist a day. Chaos has caused this to be an issue in the past, but this year I did manage it. I only recall maybe a day or two where it was dicey.
10. Finding Bewick's Wren in JPW. I'm big on trying to get a comprehensive list together of birds sighted in Calhoun County. Finding something in The Jack Pine Warbler that added a new species was a great way to end up the year. Hoping maybe to find some more in 2020.
A bonus at number 11 would be the increased use of iNaturalist for moth sightings in particular, but also putting together the MNFI sightings index on there as a Project.
I did some digging through old The Jack Pine Warbler journals today, and found a record from Lawrence Walkinshaw of a Bewick's Wren. This is a new record for the county I didn't have in my records previously. I also found some updated first county records for Warblers. I need to dig through these systematically and see what else can be found.
There is only a nearby record from Jackson County of Bewick's Wren in eBird from 1922/23. This makes it one of the rarest birds ever recorded in the county. This species also happens to be a review species. I may have to reach out to someone on the committee regarding this record. I didn't ever see it in the MBRC notes as accepted or rejected. This would make 280 birds for the County, and 7 additional birds that iNaturalist has listed with no records. In the course of this same research I removed Passenger Pigeon from iNaturalist only. Walkinshaw listed Passenger Pigeon as being common in the area in the 1870's, based on recollections from his Grandfather.
This record is from The Jack Pine Warbler Vol. 23 No. 2 - April 1945.
Personal highlights in the past few days was nabbing birds #29 and #30 in the yard for the month with a couple Brown Creepers, and a calling Belted Kingfisher. Another highlight was this Bald Eagle on Beadle Lake. It is not quite in full adult plumage yet.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk returned to spook up the birds from the feeder. I don't recall ever seeing a Sharpie with that much white on the tip of its tail. Very few Cooper's Hawks have shown that much white on their tail tip. The final highlight I was not able to document though. It was nearly 60 degrees the night of 12/26, and there was 1 possibly 2 moths outside that night. They/it spooked very easily, so they never settled long enough to get a snapshot. I was really hoping to get some documentation shots.
Things have been relatively quiet around here since the CBC/Big Yard Day. Snow has gone, and along with that chances for finding Snow Bunting and Lapland Longspurs. It has at least kept some water open on Duck Lake and Beadle Lake. Still nothing significant on either of those locations.
I still have the male and female cismontanus ssp. Dark-eyed Junco hanging out. The White-crowned Sparrow continues for a late date of 12/20. I had a Great Horned Owl calling in the yard on 12/19. This was the 28th species this month for the yard. Not sure I can get to 30, but we shall see.
I did a possible last run around the county hitting up Duck Lake on the 21st. I had an odd looking goose there. I had confirmation on Whatbird of Domestic x Canada, and iNaturalist I had the ID as leucistic Canada Goose, both from one person. I still think it has too many characteristics of a hybrid. I also had a candidate for a Lesser Black-backed Gull juvenile. Just too warm, too much mirage and too far out there to get really good shots at it.
High counts of Trumpeter Swans continue on Beadle Lake, as well as some quantity of Cackling Geese. Christmas Eve night had 2 Great Horned Owls calling. I tried to get some audio, but before I could hit record I heard a scream and then nothing. I'll have to keep trying for that. 5 Cacklers flew over on Christmas Morning on the tail end of a flight of 24 Canada Geese.
I have to believe the quantity of content will be hampered with the focus on the Yard next year. I've been noodling over some different things I can do. May get in to some more "research" or analysis. Nothing likely ground-breaking, but more of education for myself. Once I read through some more Dark-eyed Junco material I may start up with some posts on some current research related to identification. This White-winged Junco candidate had me doing quite a bit of research on subspecies ID in anticipation of documenting it for the MBRC.
I have started working on some posts related to the different Excel files I use. One file uses my eBird data for my own records. A second file is Calhoun County focused, using data from eBird for the 8 county area. This series will take a couple dozen posts, based on my initial draft.
Had a decent look at a junco with a very defined grey hood and red back, with grey/pink mixed flanks this afternoon. I've had some juncos in the past that have had grey heads, brown back and buffy flanks. This is the first bird I can recall that had a very defined hood with a clear convex shape on the chest.
I also had the first junco that immediately stuck out based on size. I didn't manage any other decent shots of it, especially when it took off. This bird was bigger than the nearby White-crowned Sparrow but too far away to get in the same frame. You can see some difference in the second shot below. I am hopeful the bird sticks around for some more shots. Unfortunately at this point it will have to wait until the weekend to try to look for it.
I had two Turkey Vultures flying over Lowes/Walmart making this a late date for them for me.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)