[Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
Last 6 weeks have just been a train wreck for birding. After returning from N.C. my back took a couple of weeks to recover. This was followed by a week of having to go back into the office, which lead to catching the Wuhan Flu. That lead to 2 weeks of cold/flu, followed by 2 weeks, and counting, of a persistent cough. This thing definitely was not natural. I had 12 hours of minor fever, and then it was lots of symptoms moving from head to chest and back. Never had that with a flu or cold. It usually makes a steady progression, not act like a tennis match. Needless to say the birding has taken a huge hit. It was the weekend prior to going back in the office for a week, and the weekend prior to COVID fun that I managed some FOY birds.
Really wanted to target for Henslow's Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrow and Dickcissel in June. Hit up my typical Henslow's spot on 9.5 Mile Road a few times with no luck. Grasshopper Sparrows were being reported from the Airport, so Herc and I headed there morning of 6/25. No luck again on that. We hit a few other spots with no luck. After returning home there was a report of Dickcissel near G DR N and 9.5 Mile. We headed there with no luck, but kept going down 10 Mile Road to keep checking for anything else. That was when I found a grass field and the unmistakeable song of multiple Dickcissels. I even managed a few shots as the sang from the telephone wires, and landed nearby. This spot is certainly closer than most other potential Dickcissels spots, so will have to keep trying this spot every year.
The morning of the 26th we headed back out to the airport. This time with some success as Merlin picked up Grasshopper Sparrow, and a short bit later I managed to hear it myself carried in the wind. I'm sure I'm getting closer to these birds being sight only birds. In addition there was an odd call coming from the swamp inside the fence. I thought that sure sounded like a Common Gallinule. Sure enough there was one tucked up in there calling pretty consistently. Another nice FOY bird. We then headed to Gordon Lake to try for Hooded Warbler, with no luck. Very frustrating bird for me in the county.
After this my next opportunity to feel up to birding wasn't until July 17th. Q DR S had Yellow-breasted Chat and Henslow's Sparrow reported weekend of July 4th. I had no such luck with either there. Just a ton of Bank Swallows flying around and up on the wires. We did go back out on July 23rd, but with not much really of note species wise. Experience-wise on the 23rd at Homer I spooked a Bald Eagle from right about my head. I also experienced an American Kestrel land on the algae sheet to pick off some kind of big chunky larvae. Shorebird spots are not looking good at all for this migration. Here are a few other shots I've managed in the few birding outings these past 6 weeks.
Due to all the Chaos the past 6 weeks I have gotten back into more of the wildlife closer to home. I was reminded about all the moth photography I used to do. I got some old school incandescent light bulbs to replace the LED in my porch lights and overnight was back to having a ton of moths show up. This has also led me down the rabbit hole of macro photography. I am the proud owner of a dedicated macro lens, and getting a few other things to try to take that to the next level. I've also focused on "listing" my moths similar to what I do for birds. Also trying to go back through old pics that need ID for moths. I've managed ~50 lifers so far this year (this assumes my ID's are correct), and am up to over 425 species seen. I know I posted Moth pics on here in the past, but honestly think I might do something a bit more dedicated, like a separate blog or pages to create on here.
Hercules and I headed down to North Carolina to visit with some relatives at the end of May. We had a brief stop in Virginia overnight and did some birding/hiking, and for Herc some swimming, at a small county park. Just enough to whet the appetite. Since I had some time to kill the next day I looked to see if there was any place on the way to find Swainson's Warbler. I know it is a specialty of the South-East, and I've never been in the area at the appropriate time. Sure enough Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center had a checklist from the previous day with GPS coordinates to that bird, and also some Kentucky Warblers!
Good news/Bad news. I did manage to record audio of a very actively singing Swainson's Warbler, but someone forgot to turn the heat down!!!! My poor little birding buddy is not made for temps like that. He had downed all the water I brought within 30 minutes and was panting up a storm. We only managed about an hour walk before we had to be back in the truck with heat cranked up. No time to go find the Kentucky Warbler. The Swainson's never shoed itself. I did get brief looks at a Hooded Warbler, and managed my first audio of that species along with first audio of Summer Tanager.
The following day we headed down to Fort Fisher hoping to try to find the Gray Kingbird, or any other numerous potential lifers or FOY birds. I was able to ID some Lifer Clapper Rails calling from the reeds. Even better though as we walked toward the rocks a Clapper Rail flushed up and walked on the dead grass for a minute. Giving really amazing looks at this bird.
We didn't dare venture too far out on the rocks, as I've had a bad experience on them before. Herc did manage a nice place to get in the water, as the trip to the beach he wasn't a huge fan of the waves. We ran into an older couple birding and asked what I had seen. They mentioned there is supposed to be a Painted Bunting in the area and were looking for it. After some sighing of various terns, a Common Nighthawk at 0930, and handful of other FOY birds we started to walk back to the truck. Our hour of roasting nearly completed. I started to hear an odd singing coming from the berm. Merlin pegged it as a Painted Bunting just as the couple asked if I was seeing it. Working way up the berm they eventually said they had it up in the tree. I was able to get great, if not shaded looks at a beautiful Lifer Painted Bunting male. What a crazy looking bird!!
Returning the next day to again look for potential Lifer Gray Kingbird I ran into another birder waiting on it, and another one driving around asking if I had seen it. Turned out the latter was Sam Cooper, the #1 birder in New Hanover. Herc and I did our roughly hour walking around, and then came back to the truck. That is when I saw Sam pull up to the other birder and have a brief conversation, and then they both took off. I figured Gray Kingbird must have been found. I located both of them down the road just a bit where Sam said it had popped up on the wire just long enough for a quick pic and disappeared. We waited there for a bit, and after a false alarm Mourning Dove I saw a bird perched on the lowest wire. Sure enough Gray Kingbird. I was able to walk up close enough to get ID'able pics and then backed off allowing the other birder a look. As we headed back up the road I stopped and looked into the bushes and lucked out. The bird was sitting right in the top of a snag nearly at eye level!!! With no traffic either way I was able to get some additional pics.
Another bird I really wanted to get was Mississippi Kite, and I found a spot that was more my style of birding in the heat. Driving down a dirt road, so we could jump in the truck and keep cool as needed. On June 1st we headed to Governor's Road where Swallow-tailed Kite (my favorite bird), and Mississippi Kites were being seen at times daily. Not far into the drive sure enough lifer Mississippi Kites were overhead, and a Swallow-tailed Kite gave me my best looks ever at that species.
Governor's Road continued to deliver as we drove down the dirt section of it. Prothonotary Warbler singing from the swamps, Northern Parula, and Pine Warblers were plentiful. I had my first look at a male Blue Grosbeak. I also had a very strange sound that I couldn't quite figure out despite its familiarity. Turned out I was hearing lifer Northern Bobwhites calling from out in the fields/woods. Never got lucky and saw them, but still something not likely to ever find around here now. Unfortunately it was so hot Herc was having none of it. He would only get out very briefly, and then jump right back in the truck. One of my excursions out of the truck I caught sight of two large white birds flying in the distance. Lifer Cattle Egrets!! Not the most satisfying looks, but I would make up for that later in the day.
We hit the railroad tracks and decided to turn back around as I also wanted to try Lee Bucks Road. A Red-shouldered Hawk on the wire started us on the way back. I managed to get some good audio of Yellow-breasted Chat and amazing looks at a White-eyed Vireo that responded to some "pishing". Amazing how plentiful both of those species are around there. Lee Bucks road offered up some very distant Prairie Warbler singing, and I believe my first "white-eyed" Eastern Towhee. Quite a different song than the ones we get up here. Neither of the Kites were continuing in the field I had them at the start of things, about 2.5 hours prior.
My much better looks at Cattle Egrets ended up being in a drainage pond in a residential area a short time later. Two birds allowed me to get some much better photos than that of my lifers above. That ended my first day of active birding.
North Carolina wasn't done, as my last night there an approaching storm brought out Mississippi Kites right above where I was staying. Pics are dark and grainy, but they put on a show catching food before the rain arrived. Such graceful and acrobatic birds. It was great way to end a week that saw 7 Lifers (5 with photos) and 8 new audio lifers. I know it could have been better, had it not been so blessed hot there. No way I was going to make Hercules have to suffer more than he did. He was a trooper about it, and was nearly perfect save the dive into the Koi pond.
Some other photos from the trip below.
When we last left off, a lifer Connecticut Warbler had showed up at Woodland Park on 5/18 and I managed to get some acceptable pics and video the morning of the 19th. Another highlight of that morning was some really great looks at a female Canada Warbler, a constantly calling Mourning Warbler, and a FOY Gray-cheeked Thrush singing.
That evening of the 19th, Hercules and I went for a walk at Brooks Nature Area and came across my best looks at FOY Common Nighthawks so far. It was relatively early in the evening and with plenty of light behind me the Nighthawks put on a great show allowing for some photographs that will be hard to top. Two Common/Forster's Terns were also on the lake, but disappeared by the time we made it out to the lookout.
I needed to try to start to look for Grasshopper Sparrow or Dickcissels, and Q DR S near 1.5 Mile Road is as good a spot as any. While I didn't find either of those, I did get a surprising Clay-colored Sparrow singing. This was a bird I wasn't counting on getting this year. More interesting than that was a Sedge Wren that was giving a very odd song. It had an almost Pine Warbler like trill at the end of its songs. You can hear the "normal" song until about 29 seconds into the below video where it switches.
I am really digging the new camera/lens combo. Getting shots I'd have never gotten, or even bothered trying to take before. Even these Red-winged Blackbirds shots are something I am proud of for my skill level.
The 21st I tried for Grasshopper Sparrow at the airport with no luck, so headed back to Q DR S. I did manage a FOY Cliff Swallow there, which was surprising. I also had very brief looks through my windshield at an odd-looking female blackbird. It looked very yellow near the head. Unfortunately it bolted before I could get a clear look at it. Since I was looking through the windshield I can't rule out some weird reaction with the tint/angle causing the color. No way I could call it a Yellow-headed Blackbird with certainty.
I then headed to Homer to try for shorebirds. No luck there, but did manage a tie for late Horned Grebe. The Grebe continued to the 24th, so a new late record for this bird in the Spring. It was while there I got notification that Dr. Dale Kennedy had Black-bellied Plovers on 21 Mile Road. This was a far more interesting bird for the year than the Horned Grebe, so I booked up there. So begins one of the craziest moments of rarities I've can ever recall.
I did swing by B DR S, since it was not far out of the way to check the fluddle there. FOY Semipalmated Sandpipers were holding court with some Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpiper. FOY Bank Swallows were also buzzing over the dwindling fluddle. Once I arrived at 21 Mile Road I had an eye on the reported Bonaparte's Gull. I snapped some pics, just since it was a late record and jumped right back in to trying to find the Plovers. More to come on this in a bit. It took a few minutes to finally locate them as they have moved farther back into the field. I got better photos than my previous Calhoun County bird. I then headed to the R DR N fluddles and was surprised to find a White-rumped Sandpiper within 10 feet of the road feeding alongside a Dunlin. The bird was incredibly accommodating giving me by far my best looks to date of this species.
Now back to that "Bonaparte's Gull". I got home and started going through my pictures and realized this bird didn't have orange legs, the hood was very extensive, and just looked off for Bonaparte's. It turned out this was a lone Franklin's Gull. This put 3 extremely rare birds for our county within 1/2 mile of each other. Just incredible!!!! Not just birds that tagged as rare, but truly rare species. All 3 of these birds were first eBird records for the Spring. The last Black-bellied Plover (Code 4) was in August 2016. The last Franklin's Gull (Code 5) was November of 2015. The last White-rumped Sandpiper (Code 4) was October 2017.
But wait...there's more!!! 3 days later on the 24th I was diverted from jumping on the highway by a traffic backup, so we hit up Grevers on the way to trying Homer again. While no FOY were there, I did have at least 3 Pine Warbler singing there. A good sign they may be breeding in the area. After we did a short walk there, we finally made it to Homer. As I was scanning the edges I came across a bird on the shore with an incredibly rufous head. I thought "Wow that is a very bright Least Sandpiper!!". Shortly after this the shape came more into focus as the mirage was maddening and the bird was on the distant shore. It was a Phalarope!!!! Now to try to nail the ID on it. I know these guys can be tough to ID sometimes. I decided to hook up my phone to my new scope (wow this new scope is great!!), and try to get some pics. Turned out this was a great idea as the below horrible photo was the best I managed, when compared to my pricey new camera setup. From this pic I was able to confirm the county's 1st Red-necked Phalarope, and a lifer for me to boot!!! Needless to say I was shocked by this find. The next day it was sighted closer to the near shore, so some better pics were obtained by Brendan Klick.
This flurry of rare birds bumped up my year total to 205. I had hoped to try to gather one more FOY before the end of May, but it wasn't meant to be. Nothing really too much of note after this bird. The county sits at 216 as of today, 7 ahead of last years place and at a whopping 231 birds in the past 12 months!! Not sure we can keep that number up for the rest of the year. I'm going to try to see if I can get 5 more FOY this month and be at 210 for the year. As good a goal as any.
I don't ever remember a time when we have had so many unbelievably great rare birds as we have had in the past week. This included 3 super rare birds I saw within 1/2 mile of each other, and a first county record bird!!
I will bounce back to where I left off last with 5/11. Woodland Park started out the day with 70 species including FOY Philadelphia Vireo, Acadian Flycatcher (new bird for me there), and Black-billed Cuckoo flying around the woods. After quite some time there, I headed over to B DR S over by Albion for some Least Sandpipers reported the previous day. I found the peeps, and a Dunlin, and as I was sitting there I heard a odd noise. I looked over the fluddle and a Black-necked Stilt was landing in the middle of the fluddle. I couldn't believe it again finding this bird in the county was unreal. This bird gave me much better looks than I could have asked for. My new R5 was firing away, as I am still trying to get the hang of it. The bird, unlike last year's, was in a position to have the sun at my back when I was snapping pics. Super cooperative bird and much closer than last years. A bird I definitely didn't expect to pick up again this year.
May 12th back at Woodland got me FOY Wilson's, Bay-breasted, Canada and Prothonotary Warblers. This got me all the expected warblers on eBird, except the frustrating Hooded. American Pipit and Willow Flycatcher would round out that days FOY birds with the Pipit being a very shy bird that would only show its head.
5/13 I took a quick trip to Whitehouse Nature Center in Albion and managed to find the White-eyed Vireo that was reported there. It never showed itself and was singing from quite far back. B DR S gave up a FOY Savannah Sparrow. 5/14 at Woodland again I managed both Alder and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Both very hard to find birds, but they were very vocal. I also managed my first time seeing a female Golden-winged Warbler. I spent probably 15-20 minutes trying to get good shots of this bird. I did this because I thought the bird was a hybrid. I had no idea until I finally looked at my Warbler Guide app, that the female GWWA looks different from the male. 5/14 was also Global Big Day. I feel like a put in a solid effort, but nothing too earth-shattering with 91 species. 5/15 Hercules got me up at 5 a.m., just in time to hear a Great Horned Owl calling from the woods. Haven't heard it since.
5/18 began the absolute craziness of rarities that popped up in the county. Early that morning an alert came out on eBird of a Connecticut Warbler at Woodland Park. I spent the rest of the day until a package finally arrived at 5 p.m. I had to sign for, hoping the bird would still be there. When I got there a few other birders were also trying to locate the bird, with no luck. I walked around to some other places in the park trying to see if maybe it had moved spots when my Discord app started to ping that the bird was singing. Sure enough once I got over there this incredibly loud noise was coming from the tangles close to the entrance. The bird was tantalizingly close, but never was able to see it. I have to thank Jerald Britten for 1.) having his contact info on his eBird profile, and 2.) responding back to my e-mail asking where in the park he located the bird. The next morning I was right back out there as soon as a conference call was finished. The bird popped up a few times allowing me to at least get some decent looks and pics of it. This was a lifer, and bird #248 for the county. 1 more closer to my goal of getting to #250 by the end of the year.
I'll have to do yet another breaking up of this post. This May has just been so overloaded with not just good birds, but lots of birds. As of today, 5/26, I've seen 165 birds in May. 10 more than my previous best, and sit at 205 birds for the year. Almost as much as my high for a full year, prior to last years excellent numbers. I know the county is well ahead of last years pace also.
I may have to break this update into two parts. Since last post I have had 45 FOY birds, with a possible review species, and a repeat review species thrown in there for good measure. It took a while for things to get going, but the week of 5/9 it really took off and took off quick.
Hercules and I have been able to get in some good walks at Brooks Nature Area. He loves to go swimming in a section that is open to Stuart Lake. I did get a FOY Marsh Wren that was very vocal from the lookout on 5/4. 5/5-5/6 I had a Red-headed Woodpecker show up to the feeders in the yard, which is not a very common sight. Also on the 6th I had a FOY trifecta of 3 birds I can't always count on every year. Especially when all 3 are breeding plumage males. Black-throated Blue Warbler, Purple Finch and Orchard Oriole (first time with fully-dressed Orchard Oriole).
May 7th, as we finished our walk, I saw a hawk gliding north. It struck me as somewhat Cooper's hawk-like, but I decided to snap some pics to confirm. I looked at them closer, and sure enough it was a FOY Broad-winged Hawk. I never really got a chance to get out and do any hawk-watching to see any big flights. May 8th got FOY Blue-winged Warbler, and the D DR S Marsh area paid off with a Sedge Wren calling. I also came across a juvenile Bald Eagle with what appeared to be a fox, or a cat. Very orangish color of whatever it was that it caught.
Monday May 9th started the first day that really flagged high for migration. That night of 5/8-5/9 BirdCast estimated almost 3.5 Million birds crossed the county. That morning also brought me a hefty 15 FOY birds. The most I have had on a single day, outside of January. This included 18 species of warbler including FOY Blackpoll, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Northern Parula, Cape May, Redstart, Tennessee and the highlight a Golden-winged Warbler. I also was able to catch a pic of an American Crow with some heavy-duty molting happening. I think this explains the Crow I saw prior that I thought had some leucistic markings under the wings similar to a Golden Eagle. I'm surprised the thing can even fly.
May 10th was another stellar day with 20 warbler species including great looks at a FOY Cerulean Warbler, and managing to snag a new bird for Woodland Park with a White-eyed Vireo briefly calling. Other FOY were a Mourning Warbler that gave me a brief view, and a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Made sense it would be a good day with 4.1 Million birds passing through overnight.
One other really great potential find during this time period was a very yellow Palm Warbler at Brooks on 5/4. Every since my submission to the MBRC was shot down in 2014, I make sure to try to get shots of any heavier yellow Palm Warbler. This bird stuck out for sure. It seems to tick all the boxes, with only concern being maybe some small patch of white in the vent. I looked at pics, and posted to Whatbird, and this doesn't seem to be an issue with Eastern (Yellow) Palm Warblers. It has the bright yellow supercilium, and the yellow eye-arcs along with yellow wash all the way down the body. I just need to take the time to do up the paperwork for it, and cross my fingers.
Will work on further updates for what was a great week for birding for me, and the county.
I went back out in a snowstorm on 5/18 to check on the Whimbrel status. The bird was much closer this time and I was able to get some better shots of it. I think around 15 people showed up for it. It being rare to have one in April helped and it stuck around till the 20th. The evening of the 19th Hercules and I went to Brooks Nature Area. I missed some stellar shots of a Bald Eagle as we weren't to the lookout yet when it was gliding around the lake. Another cool birding experience was watching a Merlin maneuver to pick off a swallow right along the surface of the lake.
After some significant rain the night of the 22nd I went back around N DR N/20.5 Mile and up 21 Mile to R DR N and over. There were fluddles all over the place, just not many birds. This would pay off in the following days though. I did manage a FOY Sora in the small cattail marsh that is on R DR N. I think I have had them in that spot a few other years. It is such a small spot for them, but it has been pretty consistently calling when stopping by there.
Hercules and I hit up Brooks the night of the 23rd and FOY were abounding with Yellow Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, House Wren and some very surprising Terns. Orange-crowned was a new early record for me. The light was not great on the Terns, but I could identify some really long tails on a few to make them Forster's Terns. I had 1 that I was pretty sure was a Common Tern. I went back on the 24th and got such better shots so put it in as a Common Tern. The body was grey looking, and the tail looked dark. Apparently the field guides don't reflect that the darkness on the tail is on either the outer web, or the inner web as a difference between the two.
The night of the 23rd I was really hyped for the next day. Between all the fluddles and the BirdCast forecast being high for that day I didn't sleep much. We had winds coming from the south, so I was able to "sleep" with the windows open. That combination lead to YardBird #158 as I heard a Greater Yellowlegs call out as it flew over. The forecast paid off with over 1.6 Million bird estimated to have crossed the county, and a peak of 239K birds in flight. I had 9 FOY birds on the 24th with Black-throated Green Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Warbling Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, early flagged Eastern Kingbird and Green Heron at Woodland Park. The fluddles started to pay off with notification of 21 American Golden Plover on 21 Mile Road. The count ended up being 23 with one bird in full breeding plumage. That bird felt like a Lifer. Crossing back and forth checking for birds brought notification of a Dunlin right back across from the Plovers, and a Semipalmated Plover back on N DR N and 20.5 Mile. The fluddles continued to pay off with 2 different groups of 4 and 2 of Long-billed Dowitcher. I had 2 of the 4 as Short-billed, but they are so far away it is just based on their shape and size. I just received and e-mail tonight from Adam Byrne that they should probably go in as Dowitcher sp. It makes sense. Hard to give up those birds, but with rain all day today, maybe we still have a chance at some.
Chaos started back up, although honestly not as chaotic as what used to be, so yard birding was the prerogative on the 27th with a FOY Black-and-white Warbler giving good looks. Quick trips out to the fluddles showed them losing water quickly, and Brooks Nature Area was prioritized for walking Herc. We did manage to check out a marsh on D DR S that Brendan Klick had posted about on Discord. It paid off with 3 Sora and a Virginia Rail. He thinks it might be a good spot for American Bittern. I need to prioritize checking it out late at night, or early in the morning. Several Wilson's Snipe put on very active flight displays. 28th brought FOY Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a partially leucistic female Red-winged Blackbird. FOY Blue-gray Gnatcatcher showed up in the yard on the 29th. One other neat observation around this time was a Yellow-rumped Warbler actively eating from the feeder and on the ground under the seeds. Not too surprising considering how cold it got at the end of April.
The 30th ended up bing another big FOY day with Swainson's Thrush, Gray Catbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, at Woodland Park and Spotted Sandpiper at Homer. 4 more FOY on 5/1 with Woodland again providing 3 of the 4 in a Northern Waterthrush that was really very Louisiana-like, Wood Thrush and Ovenbird all within first 20 minutes and 100 yards of the entrance. Bobolinks were back at 23 Mile and 0 DR N. Latest FOY was Baltimore Orioles showing up in the yard on 5/2. One last very cool observation was a Blue Jay making a perfect Broad-winged Hawk call. As you can see in the animation below the yellow is an overlay of a snapshot from a Broad-winged Hawk call on MacAuley library, and the grey is the Blue Jay making the same call. The Merlin app can usually do a good job distinguishing the Blue Jay hawk imitation, but it even called this a Broad-winged.
Trip with Hercules to Brooks on 5/1 showed off 3 more Terns with much better looks this time. All 3 were Forster's Terns with on in non-breeding plumage, which I think at this point means it was a bird born last summer and hasn't reached maturity yet. The tail was also very short compared to the adult breeding plumage birds. Hercules also spooked up a Spotted Sandpiper which was a new bird for Brooks. Looking at birds Brooks doesn't have I think Kiehl Smith's prediction it could be the #1 hotspot in the county could probably come true with some focus during migration as it is 14 behind Whitehouse. I managed another Dunlin out on the large flooded area on 5/1 with a Pectoral. It was really the only spot with any water on that day. May have to run out tomorrow and see if today's rain filled them back up.
Quite a few records this year have been new early records for me. Weird migration weather has really caused some spurts and then long days of less than ideal conditions for the birds.
The past week has been surprisingly filled with some notable milestones, and ending with a truly incredible find. I've passed 1200 days of checklist streak on eBird. I've passed 5,000 complete checklists. I've focused on getting some audio updated and passed 100 species with audio uploaded. Finally managed a 40 species day in the yard, with 43 on 4/5. Best of all I managed a county first Whimbrel!!! Could not believe I found that bird here.
Mid-April should be the start of shorebirds showing up. D DR S is filled up, so no shot there. On 4/9 I checked out the N DR N/20.5 Mile road fluddles and managed a FOY Lesser Yellowlegs. Also finally had Osprey show up on the F DR N Cell Tower. There isn't much of the nest there, but I've now had 2 of them there. Managed to catch them in the act also. So hopefully they have another successful nest this year. On 23.5 Mile Road fluddle there were no shorebirds, but there was a young Tundra Swan on its own. I found it again there this weekend, and it isn't for a good reason. The bird apparently has an injured leg.
A jaunt around the county on 4/10 I managed first Yellow-dumped Warbler for the year at Woodland Park. The Airport also gave up a Virginia Rail. A drive down P DR N I caught sight of a raptor soaring over the farm field. I thought for sure it was a Cooper's Hawk as it had a longish tail. It bowed its wings though, so I started trying to get some snaps of it. It never really showed pale crescents underneath, but it did show them up top. It was a FOY Red-shouldered Hawk!! Just down from there I listened to a Brown Thrasher singing, and a very odd Sparrow song. It didn't sound exactly like a Song Sparrow, so I grabbed Merlin and recorded it. It ID'ed it as a Vesper Sparrow. I may not know there call, but I could tell it was different. A quick run to Woodland Park on 4/11 netted me a FOY Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This got me to 110 species for the year. Still well behind my pace of last year.
The Wild Turkeys have started showing up in force, and the males have been putting on a show right under the bird feeders this week. That has been a nice distraction for both Hercules and I. On 4/16 I headed to Woodland Park hoping to catch some early migrants. I ended up getting a little too frustrated with the constant airplanes circling overhead, so left after less than 90 minutes. I hit up the airport for FOY Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Great Egret, and then ran out to N DR N/20.5 Mile road. I was rewarded with some great looks at American Wigeon pair, multiple Yellowlegs and Wilson Snipe. There was a smaller shorebird way out in the distance. It was likely a Pectoral Sandpiper, but nothing else came near it close enough to gauge size. I also had a FOY Ring-necked Pheasant calling in the distance.
Duck Lake gave me FOY Barn Swallow and Purple Martin, but not much else was on the water. Hercules and I then headed to Grever's Nature Preserve as I wanted to try for Pine Warbler. It didn't take long and we located one singing. Shortly after that Hercules made me super proud. We were walking back by the Bluebird nests and I caught sight of a falcon taking flight. I said "Stop" and he immediately stopped, allowing me to get my binoculars on the bird and confirm it was a FOY Merlin. He used to just keep pulling and inevitably I would lose sight of whatever I was trying to look at. He has been getting really good at stopping and coming back to me. We then ran down to Homer and caught sight of a FOY Double-crested Cormorant. This was my 8th FOY bird for the day. After getting back home I realized I was tied with my high for a Big Day in April at 82 species. We ran out again, late and headed downtown figuring I could nab some Rock Pigeons to get to 83. No dice. Went to the airport thinking maybe some Trumpeter Swans would be there. No luck. Last chance was D DR S as there have been some big groups reported there. Luckily before I got there, 15 Trumpies were having out in a farm field. Long day, but for mid-April with no big migrant push I thought 83 was still impressive.
This morning I almost didn't go out. There were some things I could do around here, and was a little tired still from the day before, plus a rough night of sleep. I eventually decided to at least run out to N DR N/20.5 Mile Road just to check on it. Birdcast didn't show any movement through the area. It didn't show the night before, but I still had 8 FOY yesterday, so figured I would try for it. I pulled up on N DR N and scanned and nothing. Not a single shorebird, except some Killdeer were to be seen. Plenty of Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler. I moved over to 20.5, and still found not shorebirds. I did have a nice moment where the trip wasn't a waste, as I had FOY Northern Pintail pair. I was worried I'd have to struggle to locate them in the fall. I did get a couple of Yellowlegs that flew in. I pulled up to the parking area on the curve and got out one last time to just scan things. I noticed this really large shorebird wandering around way out in the farthest mudflat. I initially thought maybe it was a duck as it had a very different gait to it. Looking more with my binoculars I thought maybe it was just a Greater Yellowlegs, even though it looked bigger. It didn't move around like a Yellowlegs though. I got out the tripod and snapped some pics to try to see if I could get a look at it. One pic managed to show a down curved bill. A freaking Whimbrel!!! My pics were horrible, but at least identifiable.
This is the first time time this bird has been seen in Calhoun County, and the only nearby county to have a report is Kalamazoo. Later after looking through eBird it came in to focus how very odd this bird is being here right now. Looks like this is only the 3rd April record for Michigan in eBird. The Species Map for this year is also very bizarre as a Tiscornia Park bird from 4/5 is the only other far inland record this year. This bird would be the farthest north bird for the Eastern half of the U.S. There is no reason for this bird to be here, especially after the less than favorable winds lately. Just an amazing bird to find now. Wasn't even on my radar. To cap things off our walk at Brooks Nature Area nabbed an FOY, and early record for me of Palm Warbler.
I managed to end the weekend with 11 FOY, and 89 total species. This vaulted me up to 121 for the year, even with last years high pace. Things will slip up this week as some birds I've already seen are going to add on to last years numbers. Now sitting at #247 birds with the Ruff still waiting a MBRC vote, so one more bird closer to my goal of #250.
Doesn't feel like over a month since last post, but there has been quite a bit that happened in the past month. Still running behind last years pace. Not sure it is entirely lack of effort on my parts. Last year by end of March there were 127 species seen in the county. This year, only 117 at end of March. I think that may be the case for most of the state, with the crazy weather we have had. If we had 127 species this year, we would be around 7th in the state.
March 2nd I may have had a Red-shouldered Hawk flyover the house. The bird was moving so fast, and in a tuck I couldn't count it. I continue to see occasionally white-winged variants of the Slate-colored Junco. Feels like it might be more than 1 out of every 200, as I seem to get at least one every year. On March 10th an e-mail came out from Christopher Peet that a Snowy Owl was at the airport. I booked out there at lunchtime and drove to E Airport Road to see if it may have moved. After not seeing anything there, I went over to S Airport Road where it had been seen. After driving up the road and seeing nothing I turned back around, and just happened to notice a rounded top of a small snow pile. Sure enough this Owl had found a very small snow pile to hide from the crows. It has been a long wait to get another Snowy in the county.
On March 12th I caught a quick glimpse of a Cooper's Hawk going after some feeder birds. The birds came right towards the picture window, and up over the roof. I'd heard recently about Cooper's Hawks having learned to steer birds towards windows. Another interesting raptor interaction was this young Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead with its alula feathers spread out very prominently.
March 16th, right on schedule Brooks Nature Area was full of American Woodcock calling. I counted at least 7, which flagged as high on eBird. I took Hercules back with me the next night to try to get some night vision pics or videos, but had trouble getting them spotted.
March 20th brought one of the best experiences of birding so far. I checked a fluddle on 23 Mile Road, north of J DR N. It has been there for a while, so thought I would just check if there were some early shorebirds. I was shocked to see a small sandpiper bobbing up and down in the small fluddle. I had seen reports of Spotted Sandpipers already showing up in Michigan and initially I thought I had one. When I got the scope on it, I realized it had spots on its back. It was a Solitary Sandpiper!!! About 10 days earlier than the first March record in Michigan we had last year at D DR S. Crazy early bird, obviously helped along with all the southerly winds we had been experiencing.
Not a whole lot of other highlights lately. Was able to record some audio of Blue-winged Teal, and it was the first audio of them on eBird for Michigan. Things are going to pick up more with Chaos in the coming weeks, so probably will keep things slowed down. Hopefully the birds don't hold up for too much longer.
Not having a confirmation on this bird has bugged me for over 6 years. Similar size to nearby HERG, but a definitively darker mantle no matter what angle it was at. Pink legs, or I'd question if it was a California. This bird was sighted on 11/10/2015. I have two versions of most photos, one underdeveloped to show there is some streaking on the head.
I've been putting this off longer than I normally would have. Especially when an incredibly rare county bird shows up. The morning of Saturday the 19th I lost my long-time little girl, Angeline. After we got back from the U.P. she started have some more issues related to her heart murmur. After a week on the medicine she seemed like a new dog. More alert, even doing some running. Like she was a back to only having one bad leg, not too. We battled through a UTI a couple weeks after and seemed to have that behind us. About a week prior she started to cough again, and a couple days later found out she had pneumonia also. We tried antibiotics to get it kicked, but she gradually went downhill to where she wouldn't eat. Saturday morning after trying to get some medicine in her she went to meet Big Sis Abby in Doggie Heaven. Even more than a week later I still miss her so much. She was the sweetest dog I have ever known. She really deserved a better life than she had. Herc has been doing a good job trying to keep me distracted and seems to be much more attached to me this past week.
My birding continued to be very limited as I didn't want to be very far from her while she was trying to fight through everything. White-winged Crossbills have showed up nearby, and those haven't been reported since 1923 on eBird from historical records. I have checked the Burr Oak Cemetary in Athens a couple of times as there is a good cone crop. No luck there, but I did get this really different Red-tailed Hawk on 2/12. Not sure this is an abieticola, as there isn't much streaking. That super buffy coloring under the wing though is not normal for the borealis around here. I've gotten no third party feedback on it though.
On 2/13 I finally got my FOY Red-headed Woodpecker. On 2/17 I briefly caught a glimpse of a Cooper's Hawk nabbing a European Starling in mid-air. Some rough pics of it on a branch with the bird. On Monday the 21st Amy Lyyski had White-winged Crossbills at Huntington Hills subdivision. I tried for them but it wasn't meant to be. A Cooper's Hawk greeted me at the entrance. A vehicle was behind me when I saw a glimpse of a bird at the top of a tree, so I couldn't stop. Then when I turned around a couple walking their dog down the road were blocking me from trying to get there. Once I did, no bird. I did manage a FOY Red-winged Blackbird back home though. The Eastern Towhee continued through the 15th (and then again today I heard it calling).
A therapy walk on 2/23 got a FOY Great Blue Heron at Bridges Park as it flew in to roost for the night. Finally on the 24th Herc and I took a lunch and went back to try to see the Crossbills. We pulled into the tennis courts and I spotted a bird at the top of a tree across the street. Put my binoculars on it, and sure enough a White-winged Crossbill!! I flew as I started to snap pics though. I started to drive out, and then decided to make another lap around. Stopped again at the tennis courts and this time I saw 4 birds, and 1 stayed right at the top long enough to get some decent enough shots. This made bird #246 for the county. Never imagined I could get that many birds here when I started. My potential goal of getting to top 200 in Michigan may take a backseat to trying to get bird #250 for the county.
Finally on the 27th at Riverside Cemetary/Albion Millpond I spotted 6 Cackling Geese mixed in with some Canada. I thought maybe I missed out on this bird for this season. I did not manage to see the Snow Goose that has been here off and on. That may be a tough one to try to get still this year. I'm still way behind my pace for last year (72/83), and missed February high number from last year, by quite a bit (61/73). Both those numbers are still well above any high prior to last year. So if I don't insist on traveling all over the state to get to 300, I should still be able to get around 200 in the County again.
As I stated above though, I think my focus is going to be to try to get #250 this year. I do still have the "Ruff" that hasn't been voted on by the MBRC yet. I'm not counting on it though. That would mean I need to try for 4 more birds after the Crossbill. Target species according to eBird are:
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)