Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
Fall Warbler migration has started, with some mixed results. Lots of leaves still on the trees, making it hard to see. I did manage the Wilson's Warbler I needed, and a bonus Merlin chasing some crows helped add to the year total. Still going to be a stretch to 200. Several trips with my dog to North Country Trail have brought that trail, Kimball Pines and Bridges Park lists to 97. I've submitted it as a new Hotspot area. It has had some good warbler activity, albeit at a higher altitude than Woodland tends to offer.
The Wilson's came along with 13 other Warblers at Woodland on 9/8. Relatively hoppy morning there. It also was the start to a new Big Day high for me in September with 76 birds. My previous being 60. It has been rather unexciting beyond that. O DR N pond may end up being the best place for shorebirds, which isn't saying much. Dunlin, Golden-Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper are going to be really hard to nail.
Video of a pair of Trumpeter Swans courting
Here is catch up on some other critters seen in the past few weeks. It has been pretty quiet for them around here. A few highlights for what appears to be relative rarity.
This Red-femured Spotted Orbweaver seems to be a relatively rarity this far North. You can see in the first picture where its missing 2 limbs should have been.
This Mournful Underwing isn't even listed in my Peterson's guide to Moth of the Northeast.
Some other interesting stuff to pop up.
While Chaos has take a new form, I've been able to get out more in August to offset any hazardous effects. Shorebirding has been incredibly frustrating with the WTPs not giving up much. A small fluddle on H DR S has been the lone decent spot. Wilson's Snipe, Semipalmated and Least Sandpiper have been the "highlights" for me there. Still no Pectoral Sandpipers for me yet this year.
This Caspian Tern was the highlight of August. I spotted it while walking my dog at Brooks Nature Area. I managed to catch a fish and eat it on the fly. As usual with Stuart Lake it is difficult to get decent pics out over that body of water.
On that same day I had a decent flight of hawks overhead. A couple of juvenile Broad-winged Hawks, and 4 Red-tailed Hawks. One that really is just super odd looking. Wings seem really long and the tail seems longer. The last three shots, may or may not be the same bird, it was a few minutes later.
Beyond the Tern, only Bonaparte's Gulls at Duck Lake WTP managed to move the "rare" radar. Even the Caspian Tern was somehow not flagged as rare. Some tweaking of the settings no doubt. I still have it as a Code 5 for this area. Other than that slow and steady managed to get me to 101 for the month. It did come down to the last day where I managed to pick up a Blackburnian Warbler and Blue-winged Teal.
I added 13 birds to my August total for the county. 4 on one day on August 24th. Still the lack of shorebirds is frustrating. Both WTP have water levels too high, or too many weeds. The O DR N pond may actually end up being my best shot at a Pectoral. I thought I had 3 in the dusk, but when they flew it turned out to be Lesser Yellowlegs. I knew the shape seemed not quite right, but I've had skinny Pecs before.
Some good news was finding at least one juvenile Osprey on the F DR N Cell Tower. I was able to see it take one of its first flights. Great to see after I thought it may be abandoned.
I've had an odd Red-tailed Hawk near 24 Mile Road in the past. Very light, even for an Eastern. Always had the "What if" regarding it and a Krider's. I finally managed to get some topside shots of it, and definitely not. It is just a really light bird compared to most of them we get around here.
Lastly for the bird is what could have been some decent shots of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at D DR S. The vine was not willing to cooperate though.
Very outside shot of 200 this year. It will end up coming down to the geese this winter more than likely. Will we finally get some Cackling Ross's, Snow and Greater White-fronted Geese to show up this year? We sit at 208 for the year, which is not a great pace but there are some birds that have seemed to be fairly regular that haven't been seen yet this year that could still show up. Along with the 4 rare geese:
With shorebird migration in full swing the possibility of shorebirds is not looking good. Both WTP water levels are way too high. I did manage a single Least Sandpiper at Homer on 8/10. Beyond that it is the typical Killdeer, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. No Yellowlegs yet or FOY Pectoral Sandpiper. The only FOY this past week was some Cliff Swallows at Duck Lake WTP. I knew eventually there or Homer they would show up mixed in with the other swallows. A Ruddy Duck at Duck Lake WTP is a decent bird for this time of the year.
Some really good days have me at 81 species already for the month. I'm going to try to shoot for 100. Will be nice to have the run from April to October of 100 species "Big" Months. Should be doable with some time off from Chaos. Shorebirds would certainly help the cause. Beyond finding 10 Great Egrets in the small pond on O DR N, the birding has been decent for variation, but nothing of great note.
I did run out to 23 and O DR N for an Olive-sided Flycatcher. I did not manage to find it, but I had this bird at Duck Lake WTP. It had the diagnostic white rump tufts of the Olive-sided, but then it was chased off by an Eastern Kingbird. From behind it screams Olive-sided Flycatcher at first glance.
Mothing has been very active, and I've been able to rapidly add to my iNaturalist lists. My first Tiger Moth being the highlight. Nice to see one of these and realize it was not a Painted Lichen.
Things continue to be relatively quiet around here. A Swallow-tailed Kite sighting in Kalamazoo had me checking out Kellogg Airport until it was clarified the bird was heading South-West not South-East. A Common Gallinule not far away has been quite the dipper for me. 4 times to this small farm pond, and it hasn't showed itself once.
Highlights for myself are a pair of Osprey still hanging around the nest at the F DR N Cell Tower. I'm still unable to discern if there are young on it. Checking out D DR S in hopes of the Virginia Rail gave me a brief and surprising look at a Marsh Wren. Photo lifer, and a new bird for the County's Illustrated Checklist. I also had a flyover juvenile Green Heron that had me thinking American Bittern at first. Streaking wasn't right, but it sure seemed a ton bigger than the other Green Herons that were flying around. My last highlight was an Osprey at Kellogg Airport that flew in over the airfield low. Allowing me to get some halfway decent shots with the low sun behind me.
On the non-bird front it has been relatively quiet as we have had much cooler nights around here lately. I've been forced to drag my kit lens out into the daytime to try for more "active" critters.
The one "highlight" would be this absolute nightmare of a creature. It is bad enough when one hauls up their garbage can and see the piece of fuzz move on the lid, it is another to find out the "fuzz" is actually pieces of dead bugs. This (Green) Lacewing larvae attaches pieces of legs and other leftovers to its back when finished.
Leading off the remainder of critters is what I thought was an odd dragonfly, but turned out to be what Ant Lions eventually turn in to. Very cool transformation. The third pic shows a moth that I don't have nailed down yet, but seems like it isn't very common around this area either way. I have it as a Black-patched Glaphyria Moth, but no confirmation yet on iNat. May end up posting to BugGuide.
Still not much happening on the bird front lately. The Virginia Rail has not made another appearance. It has been relatively dry, so there are no flooded areas to attack shorebirds now. August could be a long month until migration picks back up. The one highlight was the F DR N Cell Tower had one Osprey hanging out on it, while another Osprey was on the nest. I could not tell if the one on the nest was perhaps a juvenile. Hopefully there are some little ones up there.
An interesting sight was this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk that was harassed by a Red-winged Blackbird. Didn't quite catch the ideal moment where the Hawk flipped over to try to fend off the Blackbird. What I think was also interesting about this bird was I've never seen a RTHA with a buffy throat like that. The abieticola subspecies will have buffy on the neck but usually with streaking.
Mothing has been anything but quiet though. Another Imperial Moth showed up on the windshield of the Jeep.
Speaking of beasts. I ran across Godzilla while out on 23 Mile Road.
And now a smattering of the bugs, again mostly moths, over the past week. A very fruitful week with it being dry and warm.
As Chaos begins to change form, the birding has been few and far between. Yard birding, and the onset of Moths have worked to help the balance. I've become more of an iNaturalist contributor over the past month as the AI for helping to ID the moths is outstanding. I've also started a project that consolidates all the flora and fauna identified by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory as Rare/Endandgered/Special Concern.
The couple of bird highlights this past few weeks have been a Carolina Wren nest in my garage (concerned it may have been abandoned), a Dickcissel finally at 23.5 Mile Rd pig farm, and finally getting a Sora to show itself in the county. A Virginia Rail had been sighted at D DR S Flooded Field. It wasn't until July 20th I was able to check it out. The Rail didn't respond to the call, but two Sora immediately answered it. After about 5 minutes, out of the corned of my eye I saw movement. A Sora was crossing the road, then working its way down the road toward the Jeep. Twice it moved into the grass, but then came right back out. Eventually walking right by the Jeep until my camera case lid closed from the wind and spooked it back into the grass. Couldn't ask for a better chance at photos. I'm so used to always shooting at f/5.6 I never thought of going lower since it was so close. The Sora also helped to eliminate one more bird missing from the county Illustrated Checklist on eBird.
The Dickcissel was fun since I decided to bring my pup along with me. The constant panting made it quite the challenge to get to heard the bird singing. But she had fun, and that was really the point of bringing her with me.
As great as seeing the Sora was, it may not top the highlight of the moth season so far. I was ready to go back into the house and swept up into the rafters and saw this gigantic yellow splotch on one of the rafters. It took me a sec to realize this was the largest moth I had ever seen. I managed to grab some pics and starting trying to look up what it was. I initially thought it was a Pine Imperial Moth, but after getting a pic of its underwing it turned out to just be a regular Imperial Month. Nearly 4.5" across. Unfortunately as seen in the last photo sometime between 7/15 and 7/19 something likely made a huge meal out of it.
Another odd moth was this Dark Marathyssa Moth. I thought it was something that hit my antennae and was killed on it. It stayed attached as I drove most of the length of my road with the wings actually unfurling.
Here are some other insects, mostly moth, highlights from this season. None of which can top the yellow beast above.
It only took a couple of days of June to get to the 180 mark. I finally was able to pick up some "expected" birds.
June did have some moments of odd songs that I thought might be of some new birds. A really odd buzzy note was heard on 6/2 in the large field at Woodland Park. Took me a while to find the bird, but it ended up being an alternate song for the Blue-winged Warbler.
This was just one of the 86 birds I was able to see on 6/2. 16 more than the previous high for a day in June. Gotta love the Jeep, as my final bird that day was Chimney Swifts flying around Downtown just as the sun was setting. I would have never seen them without the top down.
With this start I decided my goal would be to get to 100 birds in June. Something I hadn't accomplished yet. Taking some time off from Chaos helped. I thought I had hit my mark with what sounded like a Prairie Warbler at Voorhees. I had heard, but not seen, the Fort Custer bird so had some familiarity with the call. It wasn't dead on, but I posted to a couple of sites and was told it was. eBird reviewer was questioning it. It was a definite rising call, but didn't go as high as the Prairie Warbler calls on eBird or Xeno-Canto. A Field Sparrow across from the parking area had a rising call also, but started and ended much lower than then mystery bird. The mystery song didn't have the buzzy call at the end. I had found one eBird checklist with a pic and a recording that were similar. I still wasn't convinced this wasn't a Prairie Warbler. On my third trip I had the bird close, and singing often over the 90 minutes I was there. A Field Sparrow flushed into a tree overhead. Even without it behind leaves I could see it looked as though it was cocking its head back the same time I was hearing the same song. Very frustrating but reinforces the lesson that the "plain" birds shouldn't be ignored and can still bring some "excitement" to every day birding.
Below you can hear, and see, the rising song of the "Prairie Sparrow" and then the song of the Prairie Warbler. Not as steep of a rise in the Field Sparrow. It did start out higher than most of the other FISP I had been hearing, or could find on eBird. Definitely an odd bird.
I'll do a separate post with some observations of various Field Sparrows I recorded around that time period. I dipped on Hooded Warbler at Whitehouse. I need to just find a day to go to the zoo, as Nate Spala has had more than a few reports from there this year.
The Osprey nest on F DR N has had one lone Osprey there, if I see any. I don't think it is being used. I had an Osprey over the house with a fish heading into the wind going West. Later in June I had another Osprey carrying a fish taking off from the tower and headed in the same direction. June did end up right at 100. Luckily a Red-headed Woodpecker showed up flying back and forth to a probable nest got me to that number without needing the Prairie Warbler to get me there.
I've decided to focus on iNaturalist sighting updates. The AI for identification on photos is extremely helpful for all the various moths/insects that pop up each night here. I'll have some highlights coming up including the largest moth I have ever seen. These should keep me occupied until the "bug" hits with Fall migration. Shorebird habit looks to be extremely thin again, so that will tend to be tough. I don't have extreme confidence in hitting 200.
May didn't quite end up where I would need to be too try to get to 200 for the year, ending up at 174. My best guess is that one needs to be at 180 by the end of May (Spring migration) to have a shot at 200 for the year. I would say even more this year considering how sparse it has been this year for some birds that have been fairly reliable.
I did manage FOY Least Sandpipers with a very quick few at Betz and Beckley, between and opening in the overgrown crops. May 18th I had a great show being put on by a Black Tern. I did manage some rough video of it flying around pretending to be a swalllow. A nice smattering of warblers in a spot I don't normally hit for warblers/migrants brought some first for that hotspot:
T DR N fluddle did pay off with a Semipalmated Plover and a Semipalmated Sandpiper mixed in with some Least Sandpipers. It was a fairly quiet end to the month with a late weekend away from Chaos outside of the county. June did end up having a bit more action to it though.
It took nearly 4 weeks but the Bio-warfare initiated as result of overwhelming Chaos has given way, just in time for Spring Migration. Quite a spectacular one even. The bulk of my birding in April ended up being "Big Yard" time. It puts me in great shape to top the 110 in a year as a high, even adding a new one in an Orchard Oriole.
As I was able to become less bio-hazard and more birder I was able to get back to the North Country Trail on May 5th. 57 species wasn't bad, but the warblers were few and far between. The cold and weather seemed to push things back a bit. Still this place is likely a future hot spot for the county. My Patch total for there and Bridges Park is at 81 species. Lower 2/3 of the hotspots in the county, but still has some promise for more.
Also on May 5th Dr. Kennedy alerted birders to some terns on Duck Lake. Turned out to be Forster's Terns. A week later I was able to find 2 Black Terns and about 9 other white terns on Duck Lake. Only there weren't 9 terns. As I observed a large flock of what I counted to be 35 terns fly over where the boat launch was, and head north. I managed some ID'able pics and they ended up being Common Terns. Crazy high number for this far inland. 13 Forster's Terns remained also.
On May 10th I decided to take a 1/2 day and see if I could try to play catch up. This turned in to probably the best day I have had birding around here. Really could have turned it in to a huge Big Day had I the whole day. Woodland Park was incredible. 80 species, with 23 warbler species. Not just the diversity, but the numbers. Cold weather have kept the leaves from being out as normal so looks were relatively easy. Over 100 warblers. I thought I didn't have any day close to this, but found on May 13th of 2018 I managed 22 warbler species. I still ended up missing a Hooded and Canada that were seen later that day. Hooded, still is a nemesis of mine as my one look was a very brief one. To top it all of what I initially thought to be a Chestnut-sided was a lifer Golden-winged Warbler. I saw it, dismissed it and then my brain kicked in and had to try to relocate it. Luckily the bird was noisy and eventually gave me some excellent looks at it. Pure bird, no hybrid mixed in. I did note that it had some yellow on its back, which Sibley guide says doesn't mean it is a hybrid. This made bird 236 for the county.
Since I started birding in late 2013 I've missed on 9 birds. Ruffed Grouse, Upland Sandpiper, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Lark Sparrow, Red-throated Loon, Connecticut Warbler, Least Bittern, and Common Redpoll (last "easy" one),
Saturday May 11th I managed to at least be able to go with the group I was originally supposed to lead at Fort Custer. Josh Haas thankfully was able to lead, as I wasn't sure I'd be up for it by then. I hit Woodland after that and it still had good numbers even for mid-afternoon. The next day, again at Woodland, I'm about 60% sure I saw Louisiana Waterthrush. I kicked up one bird and it was quite verbal with its alarm call. It wasn't even a quarter second look, and the alarm call was more LOWA than NOWA. But just not confident enough to call it. I didn't ever get it on recording. Still 18 warbler species wasn't too bad. Little was I to realize but this started off with another sizable "Big Day" for me. An odd Ruddy Duck at Duck Lake WTP, which turned out to be a female Surf Scoter that was a bit more white on the head than I'm used to, turned out to help push me to 100 species for the day. My second ever triple digits day. Within 10 days I managed 4 days over 80. Not bad when my previous Big Day highs, prior to 2018 was 81.
One of these "Big Days" was another 1/2 day on 5/15. I finally nabbed the Canada Warbler. Great looks, and listen to it. Blew the photos though. Philadelphia Vireos also made themselves known. One I wasn't expecting to be able to find as easy as it turned out.
It has felt good to be back out and seeing the birds. Some good birds have been seen this spring, but we really missed a lot of birds earlier this year that would normally keep a rolling 365 day count in between 215-220 birds. Hopefully some of those missed can be found when fall/winter starts coming around.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)