Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
Since flickr decided to go $$, I'll be slapping pics up here to host for second opinion looks. This one I could have sworn was a Cooper's Hawk when it flew at the feeder birds. Seems to have a mix of SSHA and COHA.
Birding has taken a back seat the last week with some unexpected...well can't even call it Chaos. Just some really crappy part of the realities of life. My attention has been elsewhere, with little more than therapeutic trail walks with my remaining dog. Prior to that I still had thoughts of hitting 300 birds for this year in the ABA with a trip to NC, but not now with me cancelling my trip. At this point my "max" effort would be trying to nab the pesky Eastern Screech-Owl for the year and tie my high of 206. Wasn't that long ago I thought the 208 needed to get me to a 5 year average of 200 was within sight.
Since the last update I picked up a fuzzy, distant Red-necked Grebe on Duck Lake. A less fuzzy, less distant Black Scoter on Duck Lake and a couple of stops to manage for one of the Peregrine Falcons downtown during the BC CBC. I sit at 205 now, and the Owl being the last likely culprit short of a Gull should I whip up the energy to chase one at the dump or Duck Lake. We had quick freeze, and long time to wait for a thaw causing most things to move on. I did take a quick look at the Landfill pond and found 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. I'm sure there was more mixed in, but nothing I can clearly pull out of the photos I managed. I thought I had a larger gull with yellow legs when I was looking through binocs, but it doesn't show in the pics. I'm guessing all the brush I was looking through was playing with the light.
December 8th I expanded my range with a trip to Gull Lake for the Barrow's Goldeneye. Thankfully Mike Cook and Todd Alfes were able to get ahold of me to let me know it snuck into the group of Goldeneyes we had been watching before I moved from that spot. That was lifer #334 for me. Oval Beach netted me some nice looks at a White-winged Scoter flying. I've only seen them at rest before, so the White on the wings were quite prevalent. Glaucous Gull and Great Black-backed Gull were also an expected species for me. No Iceland Gull though. At the time I was figuring I had to get to between 275-280 to get 300 with help from NC birds.
Some other highlights in November and December so far are:
Doesn't seem like Calhoun will hit 220 for this year. Maybe Surf Scoter, Red-throated Loon, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Saw-whet Owl or Northern Goshawk will show up. Even Grosbeaks look to have moved farther to the East. There is always next year.
As big as this bird was, and as much as the story behind it I am going to give the great Spotted Redshank of 2018 its own post.
On Saturday afternoon, 11/3 and e-mail went out about a Spotted Redshank sighted in Michigan. I knew this was a pretty rare bird around here (just how rare was shocking), and I follow Alan Ryff on Flickr so I went on there to see what the commotion was about. Sure enough excellent photos of a Spotted Redshank, apparently in some mudflat in Michigan. Unlike most of his other photos there was no location given. Rogue Birders posted on a pic asking for more info, but not response was there. Over the next 3 hours a few more e-mails came out with the bird finally being spotted just South-west of Ann Arbor by a couple of the big-name State Birders.
Later that night a couple dozen checklists popped up from the location with more information on the bird. I checked to see the status, and there had been one sighting in Michigan before. I also see it is a Code 4 bird for the ABA. Holy dang. Not realizing this bird was only an hour away from me I didn't think much about it. Wasn't really sure it was worth it, or not. Then I checked the Species Map on eBird. Whoa!!! This is even somewhat rare for an Alaska bird. No way I can miss this bird. I plan to get up before the crack of dawn and head over. Realizing now that I take 40-50 minutes to hit Homer or Duck Lake, and never leave the county.
I arrive at around 7:40 and was not prepared for what I saw. Easily over 100 people were staring out into the NE corner of the intersection, with a couple dozen walking North on Parker past the Jeep. I overhear a conversation with the people parked in front of me. I ask them "Did he just say it flew off?" Sure enough the bird had flown off just as I got there. I still get geared up, and just as I start to follow the small crowd, flying about 100 feet away from me is a long-legged shorebird calling "Tuuuuu-Tuuuuu-Tuuuuu". Like a Yellowlegs, but flat and evenly spaced single note (my Birds of East Asia calls it chui-chui). I say there it is, that was no Yellowlegs call. Onwards to the crowd we go.
The bird briefly set down just as I rounded the corner on the West end of the mudflat. I managed well enough pictures. I was happy enough with seeing it in flight, hearing it and getting ID'able pics. Still I hoped it would come back down to that end, as you can see above what one would end up wading in to. Eventually I ran into the Dodds and Jack Wykoff there, along with eventually Mike Cook. I was encouraged to move down a little closer and I was able, thanks to my height, get some excellent looks amongst some branches. I managed some happy enough photos and video. I still hoped it would move down to the West end as it would end up closer, but it never did.
I hung out there for 2.5 hours (didn't feel like it). It was an excellent spot. 24 species for just hanging around in one spot wasn't too bad for early November. One huge lifer to top it off. I decided to head back, and hit up Duck Lake area on my way home. That was when all the drama hit. Quite unbelievable stuff.
Hopefully these links work so one can read everything, if they haven't already.
It is really easy, and tempting to go down the rabbit-hole on this one. I have some thoughts I won't share cause it is really more just theoretical-psychology on my part. Ultimately this bird was made public on both Flickr and Surfbirds, but location was not given. Alan almost always give a location, either in his comment on the pictures or his caption. This bird was missing it. It was nearly 24 hours later that others guessed right about where this bird would be, and his partner posted to eBird with the location. Nothing about this shows any sort of willingness to share which Alan admits to.
What turned out to be a bird that, my last count was around 380 unique eBird individuals were able to see almost was none. These 380 don't even include those who don't eBird. So my guess it was somewhere between 400 and 500 people got a chance to see this bird over the week it was here. This included a couple of names I recognized from current and previous ABA Big Year leaders. Of which this bird became at least ABA lifers for them. As I said this bird isn't even that reliable in Alaska to get, yet hundreds of people were able to enjoy seeing the bird that almost weren't. It was obvious Alan wanted people to know he found it (Surfbirds is a world wide website and it was posted to a Stop the Press portion of the site), he just wanted the pleasure to be extremely limited.
Ultimately I agree with Marc, it does give birding a bad name. As does some of what I saw while I was there. Blocking half a road for other traffic......I just have to shake my head. I also heard about some other things that happened there, such as parking out in farm fields, and another e-mail was sent out about Deputies ticketing cars that were not completely off the road. It was definitely an "experience", and ultimately all worth it. I highly doubt I will get a chance to see this species again, and am thankful for those that did the hard work to track this bird down and got the word out about it. As with most things involving people, you get some good and some bad. If you are lucky you experience more of the former, and less of the latter.
Chaos has reigned supreme the past 4 months, both personally and professionally. The blog, and birding has suffered as a result. Now that the chaos is somewhat back under control I am going to get this thing caught back up.
May ended up being an exceptional month for me in the county. Unique bird to start the month was a white Swan at Duck Lake WTP. Dough McWhirter and I contend it is a Tundra Swan, but our eBird reviewer wasn't buying it. Would be an extremely late bird, and it was likely a juvenile that is one of those really fun tweener birds.
May 4th turned out to be a surprising great day. It was a Friday after work I decided to get some zen time and head to Woodland Park. Not 10 minutes in down the main path back to the footbridge I heard some odd chattering. It was loud, but not any call like a Mockingbird and it wasn't the same as a House Wren or Common Yellowthroat. It finally clicked in my head it could be a Yellow-breasted Chat. Dan Toronto had one in that same area in a previous year. It took a while to get an eye on the bird, but it finally hopped up in a tree and I was able to get a view of it between several leaves and branches. This bird was a lifer, and number 232 for the county. May 4th I also added Orange-crowned Warbler to my yard list.
May 5th was eBird's Big Day campaign so I hit up Woodland Park that morning and had 61 species. Kellogg Airport was showing 27 species including a male Hooded Merganser shadowing a female Wood Duck still. I hit up Meijer Retention pond, then D DR S flooded field, where I was able to get good looks at a male Orchard Oriole. I then headed home for some lunch. By this time I was at 82 species for the day, 1 more than my previous best. Grever's added Hermit Thrush and Pine Warbler. By a little after 5 Duck Lake WTP had pushed me to 100, a number I thought would be a real challenge to do in Calhoun in one day. A long continuing Long-tailed Duck, some other assorted late staying waterfowl and the above Tundra Swan certainly helped. I then swung through Whitehouse Nature Center, and then down to Homer WTP completing a long circuit of the county. On the way back with the sun nearly setting at 8:45 I spotted an Osprey flying overhead while driving down I-94. The Jeep is the best birding vehicle. An American Woodcock peenting behind Holiday Inn near Meijer topped the day at 108 birds. I think with a much more concerted effort 120 is attainable. I did no owling, and lunch cut up a couple of hours. There were several warblers I missed, I didn't get a House Finch, Bald Eagle, Kingfisher, Kestrel, Hairy Woodpecker, Peregrine Falcon or any Gull.
May 8th I had one of the best birding experiences of my life. At Voorhees Brothers Memorial Sanctuary I was walking near the back of the Sanctuary when I observed a large bird flying in the canopy. I knew this was the Barred Owl as this is a fairly reliable spot for them. Sure enough a large Barred Owl was sitting on a branch watching me. Shortly after a second owl flew into the area and sat observing me. You know when you have that feeling you are being watched? I had that feeling at that moment, and it wasn't just the two adult birds. As I turned and looked up over my left shoulder I had this looking at me.
This was most definitely not a place for me to be standing right now. I proceeded further up the trail and looked back to the tree I was standing under, when I noticed yet another fledgling Barred Owl eyeballing me. A few snaps of the camera and I got my butt out of there. It was still a moment I'll long remember.
As if that wasn't enough I was treated to peents and booms from Common Nighthawks flying overhead. May 12th I was treated to a Black Tern doing its best swallow imitation, while in full breeding plumage. If only the weather had been nicer. Not to stop with this tern, Duck Lake gave up 18 Common Terns, likely the same ones that had been at Kinderhook the day before. No future trips to Voorhees resulted in further sightings of the fledglings. Hopefully they made it through everything nature threw their way.
May 23rd I ran over to Kalamazoo to the Kellogg farm for a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that had been spotted. This bird was a lifer for me, and extremely rare for around here. Continuing the traveling theme on June 9th I decided to head up to the Flint area to a see a long-staying Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and nearby King Rail. Both birds are review species for Michigan, and naturally lifers for me as well. It took a while waiting out the rain, but eventually the bird popped up for myself and several other birders. The bird was heavily worn, so the tail length wasn't as "spectacular" as it could be. Regardless this was a great bird, and well worth the drive. The nearby King Rail is in one of the craziest places I've ever seen a bird. A house built right next to a farm field with a small wetland area. It couldn't be more than a 50 foot area. A King Rail had decided to take up residence here. After about 15 minutes this bird popped out in the front lawn area feeding. This bird was within 40 feet of the front porch of the house. It quickly returned to the overgrowth after nabbing a large worm.
On June 19th I received an e-mail from Dr. Dale Kennedy. A friend of theirs had observed some American White Pelicans out on Duck Lake. Luckily I was taking some time off from work that week and was able to beat feet out to Duck Lake. From the boat launch I saw 4 large white birds near the South-West end of the lake. They were very far away, and honestly if one was scanning quick they could have been easily dismissed as the resident Mute Swans. If it wasn't for those overly large bills that even from that distance stood out. I headed down to the South end, and as I got there the birds were in flight. One of the many fishing boats on the lake likely spooking them. I managed to get some decent shots off between houses and watched them gain altitude and head off to the West. Talk about impeccable timing. These were a first for the County, and #233 for me.
I came back to the North end of the lake after hitting up the WTP, and found a FOY Forster's Tern working there. This is almost as huge of a find for this county as the Pelicans. While I had the time off this week I headed to Ingham County to catch my lifer Whooping Crane that was in the area. I had notions of getting to 300 birds this year, so my travels outside of the county continued. I headed to Berrien County on 6/24 with some specific targets in mind. At Kesling Preserve I managed some decent shots of Louisiana Waterthrush, and heard Yellow-throated Warbler (both lifers). I also added Fish Crow and Brewer's Blackbirds in the area. I headed up to Allegan and finally found a Veery (a bird I never got in Calhoun), and Hooded Warbler.
Speaking of Hooded Warbler, and here is where we get a chaotic time warp, as from that day on 6/24 until well into September my birding was severely curtailed between chaos and more chaos. On 9/15 as I headed back to my car at Woodland Park I had a small group of birds working the trees between the two field. Mixed in it was a hectic Hooded Warbler, full hood one this bird. No mistaking what it was. It was a brief view, but I finally got the last "easy" (Code 1) bird for Calhoun and #234, one away from my goal to hit this year. It also gave me number 198 for the year. Now there is no way I am going to let myself get this close to 200 and end up short again like last year. On September 29th I decided to do some Hawkwatching at D DR S Flooded Field and found my FOY Sharp-shinned Hawk. The following weekend I finally got my FOY Broad-winged Hawk for #200. October 7th Lincoln's Sparrow at Baker, and a nice Baird's Sandpiper at Homer on 10/14. This same day an odd Canada Goose with a full white forehead had me thinking maybe a hybrid with Barnacle Goose. After some research I think it was just an odd Canada Goose. I think a first for me was a Hatch-Year Bald Eagle also. October 20th I found a very late, and rare for Calhoun, Common Tern working Duck Lake. Finally to catch things up to today, 26 Dunlin was a surprise for Homer. Previous high for the county was 8 Dunlin, so this flagged on eBird as a high count.
Geeking out by the numbers, since my last update I had high for Month of May with 155 species, and June I had a new high of 88. In addition to my new overall high of 108, I had a high for a Big Day in June of 70 birds. I ended May with 190, June with 197 that carried through until September. That was a high for yearly pace. All things considered it has been a good year, just not as good as it could have been.
April started off slow until April 9th when Duck Lake paid off with not 1, not 2, but 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Pretty rare gull for this far inland, let alone to have multiples of them. 2 Osprey returned to the nest at the Cell Tower on F DR N on April 10th.
April also saw extremely high counts of Lesser Scaup at Duck Lake WTP. I had a high of 606 on April 9th there. Doug McWhirter had 950 there on April 16th. The lagoons there were packed with ducks for an extended time period this spring. It was amazing. It made it even more challenging to try to pick out the Long-tailed Duck each time there.
April 12th Dr. Dale Kennedy located a Snow Goose at Homer WTP. Homer would pay off again on April 15th with a lone Caspian Tern there. A second Long-tailed Duck for the spring was at Homer on April 21st with a smaller group of Lesser Scaup.
Also on the 21st one of the more unique birds to show up in Calhoun County was found at Duck Lake WTP. Along with the continuing Long-tailed Duck, I noticed a very odd looking Blue-winged Teal. The crescent on the bill was unusually narrow, the bill was fairly large and its sides were extremely rufous. I put it down as a Blue-winged Teal, but took plenty of pictures. After some review of the pics there was no way it was a full Blue-winged Teal. My notes from my checklist:
Dan Toronto and Leah Dodd found a Black-crowned Night-Heron at Meijer retention pond. About 3 years after I found 2 of them in the same spot. This bird may have been hanging around for longer as another one was reported at the nearby airport on May 12th. Another excellent bird for Calhoun this Spring.
Because of the cold weather we endured for most of the Spring I was well behind getting the soft top on my Jeep to do some "mobile hawking". Luckily while leading a Kellogg Bird Sanctuary field trip on April 28th at Woodland Park, an keen-eyed observed noticed a raptor across Gethings Road in some trees. FOY Red-shouldered Hawk was in view for a few minutes before taking off. I was definitely sweating getting this bird this Spring (still have not seen another one as I write this in late June).
One last highlight for April was Yard Bird #136, Great Egret on April 18th. It was a good April, but lacked any extremely high numbers. No record High Day, or record pace. That was about to change with a truly great May for birds in Calhoun.
Here on the first day of summer I will try to play a lot of catchup. Chaos has ruled the day/week/months. It has been through some extra effort I've tried to get out there and not let the Chaos rule every day. It was a very good migration for myself and the County, topped off by a first county record in the past week.
Since my last update I've found 118 FOY birds within Calhoun county, quicker pace for the year 2 months in a row, 2 new monthly high numbers and 2 new Big Day in a month highs (including a milestone I thought might be possible).
For the rest of March some highlights:
I need to do plenty of catch-up, but wanted to put this up and see how the GIF looked. I was taking some pretty decent pictures of a Drake Mallard that was swimming by the Duck Lake boat launch dock. He was nice and close, with some great low sunlight shining through. After he swam by I got back on the scope, when I suddenly heard a loud commotion near shore. The Mallard was attacking a second Drake Mallard by the shore. I started to snap some bad pics of the altercation. It wasn't until about a minute later I realized there was a third bird at the bottom of this mix spending quite a bit of time under the water. The second Drake was intimately involved with the female, and this time of year that apparently didn't sit well with the other. It took quite a while until the three of them took off in flight, one pursuing the other.
The next day I arrived at work, and meandered towards the far side of the parking lot to check out the drainage pond in front of our building. I notice a small white goose, mixed in with some CANG. I head back to my Jeep, pull it around to the far side of the parking lot, and put my scope on it (luckily I had left it in there). Sure enough another Ross’s Goose (or maybe the same one as the two sightings were about 4 miles away). Best work bird ever. Unfortunately a couple of birders doing big years in that same county did not make it there in time before the visitor traffic likely spooked it.
Not much else during the week despite hitting up flooded field on D DR S once more. Wild Turkeys are back to being somewhat regular yard birds now that it is warming up, a little. Several nights of freezing weather have iced over most of the flooded farm fields, and many of the lakes.
March 10th I hit up the airport, hoping some Meadowlarks might finally show up. No dice there, and the ponds were iced over. D DR S was iced over, but did get a large flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds mixed in with Red-winged Blackbirds on the way there. Unable to pick out anything else. Finally nabbed Cedar Waxwings, and had a bird I thought might be a candidate for Brewer's Blackbird. When I was able to get the photo in Lightroom the rust on the feathers showed themselves. Q DR S had little to offer either. Was thinking maybe I could try for some groups of blackbirds to sort through. I might be a couple of weeks early.
Homer WTP was iced over, but a group of 19 Greater White-fronted Geese were hanging out in the grass near some Canada Geese. Gordon Lake just offered a nice opportunity to snap a pic of a pair of Trumpeter Swans, but did have some open water with little on it. Duck Lake also had little to offer in numbers, but some decent diversity. Surprisingly Wood Duck was a new one for me there. Lake of the Woods did give me some flushed FOY American Wigeon, but again heavily iced up.
A last ditch trip to Ackley Lake proved to be a great last trip of the day. Some minor icing up (was worse on Sunday), but lots of diversity and some decent numbers. The 159 Ring-necked Duck tagged as high. Finally got FOY American Coot, and Herring Gull. One interesting Herring Gull I have posted to Whatbird.com for help. Just seemed like a bit dainty for a Herring Gull, but I think too many other field marks rule out a thayeri (Iceland Gull). All in all I netted 55 species of birds today, besting my previous high of 53. Not a bad day at all.
The sunny days continued on Sunday, unfortunately it was DST (not a fan), and it just felt like I was later than usual to everywhere. There were no blackbirds on my usual spot of A DR S and 12 Mile Road, again I think I am looking to early. Upper Brace Lake had some decent numbers and diversity, but they were mostly in the back again due to icing on the lake. I hoped Stuart Lake at the Brooks Nature Area may have more open water. It did not. It did give me a decent look at a "Grey Ghost", male FOY Northern Harrier. Stuart's Landing was also a bust with only a pair of Swans and 4 Canada Geese on the river.
I headed to 23 Mile Rd and O DR N to see if maybe I could get some better pics of the Northern Shrike. I didn't locate it yesterday, and dipped again today. It may have moved on. I did manage a FOY Eastern Meadowlark. I almost was going to leave the area without recording it. There were numerous European Starlings in the area, and they do spot on imitations. I did put my eyes on one signing though, so was able to "count it".
Duck Lake, again, was quite disappointing. Long-tailed Duck was seen there last weekend, but it didn't stick around. Still no Common Loons for the year, and it remains the best chance for a county first White-winged Scoter. I hit up Ackley lake again, and it was about 80% iced over. The birds were concentrated, but had some really good diversity again. It was a little early for the Gulls to come in and roost though.
I've spent quite a bit of time trying to get the focus adjusted on my camera. Haven't been happy with several pictures lately. It seems to be front-focusing. I think I have it dialed in now, but have to get back outside and see if the adjustment improves things.
Didn't realize I never did any update in February. The beginning of the month started very slowly after adding a pair of Hooded Mergansers on the Millpond in B.C. on 1/31. A vacation day on 2/2 allowed me to catch a FOY Cooper's Hawk out the window. Birds were extremely sparse on Saturday 2/3. Bailey Park had 9 species, Grever's only had 8 species. One lone Northern Pintail drake at Bear Lake stood out of the day as a FOY. I still managed to escape the chaos and be home in time to get checklists put together, although some days tougher than others.
Spent the following weekend on home projects, and clearing out from a ridiculous amount of snowfall. Finally on the 17th I was able to get out and do some birding. The rivers were still somewhat open, but not so much on the lakes. Bailey Park had a pair of Hooded Mergansers that flagged as rare. Other spots including Bear Lake really didn't yield much in terms of diversity. I decided to hit the area around R DR N and 19.5 to 23 Mile road. I was missing Lapland Longspur for the year and decided to see if I could find some mixed in with Snow Buntings.
T DR N near a nice S Curve flushed a Red-tailed Hawk that I watched head to the North into some trees. When I put my eyes back on the road, there was a second Red-tailed Hawk on some road kill. Turned out to be a really nice abieticola specimen. I was able to grab some decent photo, of a truly gruesome nature.
As I moved down O DR N checking for Snow Buntings I had a thought "If I ever find a Northern Shrike, it will probably be up here". Here being at the East end of O DR N where it runs into 23 Mile Road. This is one of my favorite spots, that isn't a hot spot. It is my go to spot for Bobolinks, and was a huge spot for the Dickcissel irruption last year, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Eastern Meadowlarks. I also expect to get Upland Sandpiper in this area, when I finally get one. It is a hayfield on the North, scrubby brush-land dotted with small trees and bushes to the South, and on the East of 23 Mile road a large cow pasture with multiple smaller trees and a small cattle pond. As I get within 100 yards of 23 Mile Road I see a bird take off from one of the small trees along the south side. It looked like a Blue Jay, but didn't fly the same. I turned South onto 23 Mile Road where it looked like the bird flew. I located the bird at the top of one of the large trees in the cow pasture. Put my binoculars on it, and was not expecting to see a bird with the black mask. Finally my lifer Northern Shrike!!!
This is a bird I expected to pick up a while ago, but just was never lucky enough to run across one. It is a code 2, and ranked 195 through 2017 data. This bird was without a doubt my most "Birding Mojo" bird ever. I literally "willed" the bird into existence, at this spot <muwahahahahaaaaa>. Really wish I could have gotten better pictures of it at the time. As it turns out I probably could have considering as of today, 3/4 it was still being found in the same area.
Barnes Park gave me FOY Carolina Wren, and the Red-breasted Mergansers at Whitehouse were still present on the 17th. Prior to leaving for a trip out-of-state on the 20th I finally nabbed Sandhill Crane and Red-winged Blackbirds in my yard.
While I was gone the area experienced some heavy flooding, and turned many of the local farm fields into mini-lakes. On March 1st I was able to get out on time and hit up one of these large "fluddles" on Betz and Beckley road. 4 FOY followed here with Northern Shovelers tagging as rare to go along with some Canvasbacks, Lesser Scaup and finally some Killdeer. Beadle Lake gave up FOY Horned Grebe, along with Pied-billed Grebe the next day.
On March 3rd I decided to hit up Homer WTP hoping the influx of waterfowl would have this place teeming with potentially good birds. So very wrong. Just a handful of Canada Geese, Buffleheads and a lone Common Goldeneye. Barnes Park didn't offer up much else, except a FOY Common Grackle. From there I decided to hit up the spot on O DR N where the fluddle brought us the Long-billed Dowitchers, and Caspian Terns. I figured this would also be flooded, and boy was it. FOY Green-winged Teal, Gadwall and finally Ring-billed Gull. Not sure if there was too much other in there unique, as a juvenile Bald Eagle swooped in and kept harassing the ducks that did hang around. Duck Lake WTP gave up some early Northern Shovelers that tagged as rare. I tried for the Shrike briefly but was unable to relocate. FOY Rusty Blackbird flagged on P DR N, with some good looks.
With the sun slated to be out a second day in a row I headed back out on Sunday 3/4. I decided to check out the damage at Woodland Park. It was not good. Lots of flooding throughout the park. Much worse than I have ever seen it there before. A distant Ring-necked Pheasant called while I was there, but not much else there other than the normally expected birds (although Song Sparrow numbers here and at the airport flagged as high at 3 or more). Hart's Lake had the opposite with the water level down for the most part, and very minimal waterfowl there.
From there I decided to hit up the flooded field on D DR S. It was good for some waterfowl last year, so I decided to try it again. I noticed a small white bird mixed in with some Canada Geese, and my initial look I thought I finally got my FOY Herring Gull. As I pulled up closer and was able to get my scope on it I observed a small white goose with a very small bill. Ross's Goose!!!! Really nice find for the county, as it is a Code 4 bird. This site was not done yet, as I kept scanning there were 2 Cackling Geese mixed in with the small flock. 3 Tundra Swans, and 10 Wood Ducks added to the FOY count for this site. Upper Brace Lake and Brooks Nature Area, brought nothing significant so I called it a day. 17 FOY birds within the past 4 days was a nice jump to the number for the year.
We finally had the first Code 3 bird show up for the year this week...and I dipped on it of course. On the 24th two Snowy Owls were reported at Kellogg Airport. The checklist stated it was in a restricted area, but I recognized the buildings in the background. It was an odd location, but viewable from East Airport Road. When I arrived I was greeted by a cacophony of cawing American Crows. Approximately 500 of them on the near side of the runway. I drove to 3 different spots to try to look for them and found nothing else but a large family group of Trumpeter Swans do a flyover (2 adults and 6 juveniles).
Chaos seemed to take hold a lot this week as my feeder counts were extremely lacking in quantity and quality. Saturday morning, 1/27, I was awakened by a Great Horned Owl calling from the woods. Was worried something happened as it has been some time since I've heard one call from there (looks like I heard one on 10/22/17, and prior to that was nearly exactly a year prior on 1/27/17. I hit up Bailey Park trying for the female Gadwall that had been reported there, and I dipped on last weekend. No luck trying to pick it out there, but the Redhead and Ring-necked Duck were still there. I noticed a small, chunky bird hanging out in a tree over the river. I though accipiter at first, but when I got my glass on it I saw the heavy streaking on the chest. Turned out to be a Merlin hanging out there. Nice and unexpected find.
From there I hit Grever's Nature Preserve, where it was unbelievably quiet. Definitely no chance for any winter finches there. After traveling around some backroads I decided to give Pine Creek Wetlands a shot for some raptors. Talk about quiet, there was near nothing there (Crow, Jay, and Chickadee). The highlight was my first interaction with an LEO while birding. Nearly 4.5 years, and have been mostly left alone. Apparently this spot is a place "where people do, what they do". A couple of minute delay trying to explain, briefly, about birding, eBird, citizen science and I was on my way. I decided to give Marshall a shot since the weather had warmed up hoping for some open water. Stuart's Landing was extremely promising but just Mute Swans and Canada Geese on the water. I gave up on Brooks Nature Area after 19 minutes with the ice still thick enough to support a fisherman, and nothing calling out. On the way home I found 17 Trumpeter Swans in a farm field, with 8 adults and 9 immatures. An extremely large group together for this area.
Sunday I had somewhat of a plan, and it started with Grevers. Much more birdie in the morning this time. Finally snagged a FOY Brown Creeper. Also still nice to see a Red-breasted Nuthatch show up there. From there I hoped maybe some Gulls would be hanging around the Landfill. Again no such luck. From there I decided to try for Red-headed Woodpecker at Baker. I had a few calls and drumming that may have been it, but not enough for me to call it. I heard several Trumpeter Swans calling from the marsh areas. A couple of times I thought maybe there were Sandhill Cranes calling, but it was never clear. I swung by Lake of the Wood remembering that it is fed by a small creek so there was a chance for open water. A small patch held a small family group of Trumpeter Swans, 2 adults and 2 immature. Duck Lake was packed with ice fisherman still, and completely covered.
I received an eBird alert on 3 Greater White-fronted Geese (finally) and tried for them at Bear Lake. The curse of the sunshine was between the mirage and accursed back-lighting I couldn't pick those or Red-breasted Mergansers out. I decided to try to see what Homer looked like. Upon arriving on the south side of the Treatment Plant I scanned through the large clock of Geese and found 3 Greater White-fronted Geese (GWFG) hanging out there. Finally a rare bird for me for the area. Although not as apparently rare as I had thought.
Upon looking at my coding the Merlin actually ranks rarer than the Geese, by 1 (199 versus 198). Both are Code 2, but look like they are close to Code 3 birds. The Merlin surprised me that it ranked that high, and the Greater White-fronted Goose that low. Last stop was trying for Hooded Mergansers at the Millpond in Battle Creek. Again, dipped on those. The GWFG were my 48th bird for January. I don't have high hopes for picking up number 49 before the month runs out. Unless something magically appears at my feeder when I am home, or I get up the gumption to go after a Barred or Screech Owl one evening.
The Red-breasted Merganser and GWFG made 74 for the county so far this year. Again a great start considering there haven't really been any really rare birds pop up until this week, just early for timing on a few. At this time last year Calhoun was at 56 birds. Maybe we can get to 220 by the end of the year.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)