Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
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.
I redid my checklist from Whitehouse Nature Center from last week. The White-throated Sparrow I thought I had, could have possibly been the Swamp Sparrow that Kiehl Smith had a couple of days later. Very similar look from the front, and I now think it probably was a Swamp Sparrow based on behavior I observed prior. But with me being unsure of it, I changed my checklist to sparrow sp., thus making my "Big Day" for January only 32 birds.
A cold kept me from doing much this past week. I did manage to run to a couple of places on Saturday that I could hit with just sitting in the Jeep, and not walking around. Bailey Park had some decent waterfowl show up. I dipped on the Gadwall, but managed FOY Trumpeter Swan, Ring-necked Duck and Redhead. This pushed me to 44 for the year so far. Still a chance to surpass my high of 48. Still quite a few birds I could have chased had I been able to get out more, and actually do some walking. Pine Siskins have shown up, off and on, throughout the week at my feeders, but not Redpolls yet.
Similar to last year the year is starting out good for the County overall. Top 15 currently in the state, and really without any rare birds, in terms of other than timing. This time last year, which was a fast pace to start, Calhoun had a count of 54 species. With 3 unconfirmed species reported this weekend (Sandhill Crane, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Northern Pintail) we are up to 71 species seen so far this year.
After a few day of warm-up, melting of all the snow, and then a small storm and quick drop in temps I worked from home on Jan 12th. Occasionally checking the feeders I spotted 2 Pine Siskins at the nyjer seed feeder. They were there just briefly, and have yet to appear again. Nice pickup for early in the year, but about 12 days too late for last year's count.
After just feeder counting on the 13th I hit the road on the 14th. As I headed out I noticed a bird flying across a small farm field. It flapped continuously like a Crow, but seemed way too big. Shortly after it glided a bit, and the white tail and head started to appear. Nice way to start the day with a Bald Eagle. Reports of Red Crossbills in Jackson had me hoping that maybe we had a chance for some here. I checked Grever's out in the morning. Found yet another trail there I've never been on before. Overall it was relatively quiet there with only 10 species seen. However some Red-breasted Nuthatches were noisily calling in the pine trees. Nice to have a somewhat reliable spot for these birds nearby.
I drove around a few other of my familiar haunts around the R DR N/19.5 Mile Road area. I was hoping to find a Snow Bunting group that might have some Lapland Longspurs mixed in. No luck, but I did get some decent shots of another abieticola Red-tailed Hawk near 23 Mile Road and O DR N. O DR N also brought me FOY Mute Swan flying out over the field.
Having seen some open water at Bridges Park and 11 Mile Road, I checked 25.5 Mile Road and B DR N for waterfowl. Plenty of Canada Geese, Mallards and Common Goldeneyes. McClure Park had a FOY Common Merganser. Barnes Park had a much smaller area of open water, and only gave up a small group of Canada Geese. From there I hit up Whitehouse Nature Center. In recent weeks that area has had Common Redpoll (nemesis lifer for me), White-throated and White-crowned Sparrow, and a Hermit Thrush. I stalked the feeders for a bit, and spooked up over 200 Canada Geese that were on the river. Did manage to briefly spot the White-throated Sparrow. A short walk down the main trail and a bird moving around in the bush I initially passed off as another American Robin based on size and shape. A closer look as it turned toward me, and just as it started to call, I realized it was the Hermit Thrush.
All in all Whitehouse turned out very well for me with 23 species there. A Common Goldeneye with what initially looked like a very odd bill caused me to give it some closer looks. The head feathers flattened contributed to the bill looking much bigger than normal. In addition to the Hermit Thrush and White-throated Sparrow, I spotted FOY Great Blue Heron and American Robins. This put me at 42 birds for the month/year so far. High being 48 previously, and 2 more weekends to go I think I'll try to see if I can break 50 for January. The Hermit Thrush also put me at 32 birds for the day, tying my high for a day in January. Driving through downtown Albion I didn't manage a European Starling, to get above it. As I stopped for gas I yet again was unable to find one in a typically reliable spot. It was as I neared home that I spotted 5 of them in a tree near the train tracks. 33 birds for the day for my unintentional Big Day for January.
Maybe we will get some more water opened up before the end of the month so I can try to score some waterfowl. I probably need to hit up Kolb Park for Carolina Wren. See if I can nail the Peregrine Falcon downtown. After that Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Brown Creeper, and Trumpeter Swan are probably my best bet, outside of trying for some owls.
Hard to think about goals for this year for the county, knowing the available birds are getting harder and harder to locate. As I wrote last time I saw 8 new ones, and dipped on 7 others. So I do believe getting to 235 is within reach. Not sure I am going to stretch that too much farther. I also think I will try to get to the #300 ABA, and with no out of state travel plans this year I will need to be more willing to just head somewhere else in the state to pick up those 6 (or less) birds. So 235/300 will be what I am aiming at for the year.
Most of the beginning of the year was focused on trying to achieve my other goal of seeing daylight at home every day. It did allow me to catch birds on the feeder, and start out the year with an eBird checklist every day. It brought nothing very interesting except the normal winter birds. It wasn't until Saturday the 6th I went to head out and spooked a Red-tailed Hawk into the trees. I watched it fly up, and then stepped back inside after turning the Jeep on remotely. I looked back out in the yard and saw what I thought was a pile of leaves, which was odd considering the amount of snow we have. Suddenly a second Hawk flew up from the ground and headed up into the trees. I grabbed my binoculars and observed a dead squirrel in the spot the hawk had been. So at least one of them had some good hunting.
After heading out I decided to check out the state of the river in the area. Very frozen everywhere I looked. Not much hope for some winter waterfowl. I decided to continue to try to find my first self-found Snowy and hit up the G DR S area. Upon heading down E DR S I observed a Red-tailed Hawk in a tree, possibly abieticola, but too far away to tell. A little bit farther down I had a large bird with a dihedral flying above a farm field. Now oddly enough the expected bird this time of the year that would be similar would be a Golden Eagle. Which of course I'd have to say "Where were you a week ago?". Alas it start rocking slightly in flight, and the bright flight feathers meant I had a January Turkey Vulture. Something I never expected to see this time of the year. It beat my earliest sighting by over 2 months. Shortly after that a Bald Eagle came floating across the same field.
On January 7th I stopped at Bridges Park after seeing some Mallards in the small amount of open water there. FOY Mallards, and a very hardy Belted Kingfisher were there. I then hit my main target of Grever's Nature Preserve. I will likely be hitting this area up at least once every weekend this winter. Red Crossbills were observed in Jackson county, and this Preserve has a small collection of conifers. It is likely my best bet for any of the winter finches. I took some trails I've not taken before, and one took me back to an area overlooking a large wetland area, where I had a FOY Song Sparrow. This Preserve has some very promising areas I've not been too before and I look forward to hitting it up this Spring and Summer. I'm especially intrigued by the wetland area. I knew there was one back there, but didn't realize the Preserve had trails that could take me back to it. Always trying to think of places to find American Bitterns, Least Bitterns and other wetland birds.
Grever's gave up a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches and a Pileated Woodpecker. A large group of Crows near the Landfill caused me to stop there and see what action, if any was going on. The Crows were joined by Starlings, a lone Red-tailed Hawk and Bald Eagle. No Gulls there at all. Hitting up the northern part of the Count of Snowys brought me a FOY Rough-legged Hawk on T DR N. The nice spot on O DR N gave up a flock of Snow Buntings, but not Longspurs.
From there I worked my way down to the Kalamazoo River and 25 1/2 Mile Road to try to finally get a Canada Goose for the year. I was sick of the eBird alerts for one of the easiest birds. That and to check to see what else may be on the River. On B DR N, near the Longspur spot from last month I found no snow birds, but did locate a group of Mallards with one American Black Duck mixed in. The River did give up a single Goose and some Common Goldeneyes. One last bird of note was a Hairy Woodpecker in the yard on the 7th. It never stopped on the suet, just landed on the tree long enough to ID it, and then it was off.
Sitting at 35 birds for the year. Not a bad start, and maybe a chance for hitting record of 48 from 2016. Something potentially to shoot for. Would probably take quite the effort though, especially with little to no open water.
Warning "number-nerd" stuff ahead. Going to do a review of my year, the year for Calhoun County and some updates to the data I use from the 8 county South-Central Michigan area from eBird (Branch, St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, Barry, Eaton, Jackson, Hillsdale and Calhoun).
My goal for the year was to get to 230 birds for lifelist for Calhoun. I managed to do this with the help of an armchair add, and 8 other new birds found this year. The 9 new birds I added to my list were.
The first 3 were all found on the same spot on O DR N in a flooded farm field that Dr. Dale Kennedy first located. Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Black Scoter were firsts for the County. As far as potential County lifers I missed out on last year:
35 birds I go new Earlies dates in 2017, not including the 8 new birds for 2017. 38 birds with new late dates in 2017, not including the 8 new birds for 2017.
Calhoun County had its best eBird year yet with 218 birds reported, 2 more than last year. There were 3 County firsts added over the past year, including the Iceland Gull. I now have the overall list at 274 birds (I think I need to take out Blue Grosbeak and add Passenger Pigeon based on some information I found today). There have been some historical records added to get eBird to 255 birds listed though. So a good year for Calhoun overall.
For data for my area there were 8 new birds added to the eBird data, to bring the total for this area to 309 species. I know the number should be much higher as Kalamazoo Nature Center has over 330 for Kalamazoo alone, but I'm just going off eBird data. Birds added to the dataset:
The freeze hit hard here, with very little open water starting in mid-December. Any chance for something like White-winged Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoter, Red-throated Loon, or any unique Gulls was all but eliminated. Trying to get to 200/220 was going to rely on winter finches showing up...which <spoilers> they did not.
December 23rd I took my first shot, after getting a break from the Chaos, at a Winter Wren at Bailey Park that had been seen on the 19th. Weather had been considerably colder with snow since that time period. I had no luck there with it, but did find first December Gadwall for me on the Battle Creek River. I decided to head to Grever's Nature Preserve after this. Along the way, just East of 11 Mile Road I came up on a bird sitting on a telephone wire. It didn't immediately strike me as a Red-tailed, so I turned back around, passed it, and then turned around so I could be just to the West of it on the opposite side, and get a good look in front of me at it. The streaking up the chest immediately led me to see it as a Red-shouldered Hawk, juvenile. A nice random find.
Grever's did give me #199 for the year, with 4 Red-breasted Nuthatches coming to mobbing calls, along with a plethora of other typical winter birds. Nice to know this site may be a bit more reliable site for these as I typically have a hard time locating them. I did not however manage a Pine Siskin, Redpoll or any Crossbill. From there I headed to Duck Lake which had some water still open, but not really enough to attract anything of significance. Barnes Park in Albion had open water, and I managed another Gadwall, and a late Northern Shoveler. The Cemetery side of Barnes Park also gave me an oddly-pigmented Canada Goose, and some more Lesser Canada Goose candidates.
Taking a chance I swung by the extremely frozen over Homer Water Treatment Plant. That site is done until we get a major thaw, which does not appear likely after nearly week of lows below zero. Pine Creek Wetlands was my last shot for the day with hopes of maybe a Golden Eagle. Again, no dice on that but a couple of Roughies, and an abieticola Red-tailed Hawk with an extremely thick belly-band were seen.
Got back out Tuesday December 26th after an appointment, and headed toward Albion again trying to see if any open water was available. 25 1/2 Mile Road and B DR N had some water open, with just Mallards and Canada Geese in it. After a lap around the area I headed back toward Albion on B DR N and came across a group of birds alongside the road. Mostly Horned Larks, but mixed in were 8 Lapland Longspurs. Thought I would get better pics than I did, but most of them just really didn't seem to turn out very sharp for some reason. McClure park had nothing but same as 25 1/2 Mile Road, and Barnes Park was frozen over with just Canada Geese resting on the ice. Heading North from Albion I ran across another abieticola Red-tailed Hawk in an area I don't normally hit, if I ever have on Hatch Road.
That pretty much stopped my birding for the year in Calhoun other than a few attempts at the airport, a quick look through some pics for Blackpoll Warbler (which is surprising), hoping for Pine Siskin or Redpolls at feeder, and a last minute try for Northern Saw-whet Owl near where I live. Was a little disappointing to end at 199. Considering I really didn't try as hard as I could have it is an encouraging sign that it is possible to get consistently 200 birds with some effort in Calhoun on a regular basis. The county still only finished with 218 birds. 2 more than last year, but I really hoped we could hit that 220 number.
I ended the year in 15 degree, and colder, weather walking train tracks for nearly 3 miles, and the Kalamazoo River valley trail for about 1.5 miles for the Kalamazoo CBC. The birds were few and far between, with a highlight being the first Golden Eagle for the count. It was right near the Northern edge of the count circle. A great looking first year bird. Of course it was in the wrong county for me :-). No pictures as the conditions really didn't warrant risking taking my camera with me. Periods of fairly heavy snowfall, a wonky knee (didn't need the added weight), and a foot of snow on the ground made no sense in bring the camera. The battery in it probably would have done the same thing my phone did, and nearly get drained to zero.
The next day was a very early morning as I helped out with the Barry County CBC. The owls in our area were extremely shy as we only had 3 Barred, 1 Screech and 1 Great Horned. No Northern Saw-whets were to be found. The highlight bird for the day was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in a very random, yet birdy stop we tried. All in all it was a 29 species day, so not too bad.
Tomorrow I will do a wrap-up on the year, bird missed, new birds to the area, significant code changes, ranking changes and all that other nerdy stuff.
One of my birding goals this year was to get #230 for the county prior to the end of the year. The later in the year not only is time starting to run out, but the list of potential candidates dwindles quickly. At this point in the year it really comes down to some wild waterfowl, or winter finches. The waterfowl likely requiring runs to Duck Lake, and the finches potentially being as easy as picking them up at the feeder.
Runs to Homer on 11/25 showed the Cackling Geese continuing, and Duck Lake gave up another Long-tailed Duck. This is the 4th one this season. One other candidate would be a Snowy Owl, from this year's irruption to show up. On November 27th, one did show up in Albion. Unfortunately there was no way for me to run over there that day, so I had to take the following morning off to try to chase it (I had to burn a 1/2 day anyway). After over 46 miles of driving around the area that morning, I had no luck. I kept searching on the way to Homer, and back up to Duck Lake with no luck. The Long-tailed Duck continued this morning. The Snowy did make number 217 for Calhoun this year, making it the best number for the county ever.
Got up late on the 2nd of December, and rather than my typical route of Homer and back up to Duck Lake, I decided to hit Duck Lake first. Mojo seemed to be back, as I pulled up to the boat launched, glassed a group of Buffleheads and saw an odd looking duck mixed in. I recognized that odd billl, lighter cheeks with darker crown and realized we finally had a county first Black Scoter. For me, #230 for the county. It also started out a big day for me as I tied my high for a December day with 42 species.
The Scoter continued into Sunday when I found it along with the Long-tailed Duck, and was reported as late as 12/9 with 10 other people getting the chance to see it. I was able to witness the diagnostic wing stretch the Black Scoter does.
My next chance to do birding, after a family trip, was the Battle Creek CBC on 12/16. 29 species wasn't too bad of a day. Most important of all was picking up the Peregrine Falcon downtown on my second attempt. After spending 30 minutes with the Freedom Top off of the Jeep in the morning, I swung back down there around 11:30, pulled back the driver side, looked up and off the building flies on of the Peregrines. Mission accomplished. Some other highlights were 2 pair of Carolina Wrens, and a Swamp Sparrow. After heading back home for a bit, I headed back out to try to see if Duck Lake had any open water. Especially after hearing the birds being seen on Gull Lake still.
Beadle Lake had very little water, but there were over 360 Canada Geese, and 3 Bald Eagles feeding off of possibly another. On the way to Duck Lake, I finally snagged a flock of Snow Bunting (mixed with Horned Lark), and a single Lapland Longspur mixed in with them. Duck Lake had a very small patch of water surrounded by over 400 Canada Geese, 5 Mute Swan, and a lone American Coot trying to keep its food away from the Geese. 2 FOY birds pushed me up to 195 for the year. Not bad for not really trying for a Big Year this year.
I still wanted a Snowy Owl, so I headed out this morning, heading to the South as I hoped to also snag a Rough-legged Hawk for the year. The Mojo continued as I took a chance down 8.5 Mile Road that dead-ended, and happened upon a FOY Merlin perched atop a telephone pole. That was followed shortly by a Rough-legged atop another telephone pole, not quite in my normal spot on 6 Mile Road near Branch county border. 2 FOY again, not bad at all. I still hoped to find a Snowy, so worked some of the farms around that area with another Roughie showing up around W DR S and 2 Mile Road. I went to Pine Creek Wetlands to see what would show up....and....it was nothing.
I decided to head back home searching along the way for a Snowy. I briefly thought I had a Bobwhite, or some other quail. Quickly realized it had to be something domestic. Especially after I noticed the red domestic chicken behind it, and an unfortunately flattened one in the middle of the road. After doing a lap around that area, I came up on the same bird, but with now the other chicken also flattened in the road. Turned out this bird was a Helmeted Guineafowl.
Shortly after this, on the way home, I had an e-mail message saying a Snowy Owl was sighted near R DR N and 20.5 Mile Road. Naturally in the opposite part of the county I had been looking. I busted tail up there, took P DR N deciding to check around the area first to see if it may have moved. On 21 Mile Road I scoped for it, as that road is a bit less traveled, with still no luck. Decided to go to the GPS coordinates and sure enough this very dark shape was sitting out in the farm field about 100 yards from the road. A heavily barred 1st year Owl was just sitting there moving occasionally. 5th FOY bird in the last 24 hours. Sitting at 198, it will still be hard to catch 2 more (especially with Duck Lake frozen) and hit 200 the 2nd year in a row.
They aren't really boring, but they have become very consistent birds for Homer since October 7th. I'm not completely convinced that there are a few different subspecies of Canada/Cackling there, but I've yet to get the banding information from the one bird. I'm definitely learning quite a bit about the two species.
Skipping Chaos on 11/13 I hit up Beadle Lake, which I neglect way too much, and found Tundra Swans and a group of 4 Trumpeter Swans. After checking Lee Lake, and a few other backroads I was heading down R DR S on my way to check 6 Mile Rd for Roughies. Just West of 8 Mile Road I heard quite the racket coming from the trees. I pulled over, got out and was greeted with the deafening calls of hundreds of Common Grackles. This spot was not far from the large group I had located previously, so I think this may be where they were roosting. I followed some of them to an open field where they were feeding, and was able to observe them doing some murmurations that sounded like thunder as they flew.
Not far from this spot I finally had my FOY Wilson's Snipes, with 2 in a small fluddle on 6 Mile Rd near U DR S. I finally got to the spot I wanted to be at for the Roughies, but found a large group of Ring-necked Pheasants. At least 3 males and 8 female/juveniles were right near the Branch County border.
Homer had the continuing Cacklers, a flyover of 28 Tundra Swans to go with the 2 on the large lagoon. Duck Lake WTP also gave up a pair of Wilson's Snipes and a tagged high count of 160 Buffleheads and 9 Killdeers. Duck Lake had an interesting Merganser group. Usually the Red-breasted and Common Mergansers I've seen are in their own separate groups. This was a very tight group of 2 of each. I was still unable to refine the dilute plumage Sandhill Crane (probably a better description than leucistic).
November 18th Duck Lake finally gave up a good bird this year. It is going to have to give up a few more I think if we are going to get to 220 Calhoun birds for the year. There was a Long-tailed Duck relatively close to the South shore diving for extremely long periods. 3rd time in the last 4 years we have had Long-tailed Ducks show up in the county. The next day Beadle Lake gave up a pair of them but not for long. They quickly disappeared as I tried to find them again around a large tree. I did manage some ID'able pics. Wish they would have stuck around longer. That gave me bird number 159 for Emmett Township (barring anything popping up from a location I don't have listed in that patch yet). There was also a large flyover of 75 Tundra Swans there.
November 20th I thought I'd give Grever's and Baker's a chance, seeing as how they are a couple of the few locations which I'd have any hopes of seeing Red Crossbills that seem to be moving through the Great Lakes region. Both locations were relatively quiet. Baker had a late Song Sparrow, and 2 juvenile Bald Eagles along with an adult. I missed some excellent photo opportunities of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk dive bombing one of the juvie Eagles.
The days prior to Thanksgiving started to see multiple reports from Southern Michigan locations of Snowy Owls, including Kalamazoo Airport. I decided to hit up the Airport in BC, with no such luck. In fact most places I tried on Thanksgiving had very little to offer. The Cacklers continued at Homer, along with a couple of very small "Canada", or maybe some sort of hybrid. One juvenile bird was maybe 10% bigger than the larger Cacklers in the group. That along with the narrow sharp tip bill could make it a candidate for parvipes. There also continued a few Canada Geese sporting partial of full white collars around their neck. Unfortunately I couldn't locate the banded bird while they were close by on the main road. For 11/24, it was rinse and repeat, except with some pics I'm pretty happy with of Cackling and Canada Geese in flight. Other than surprise sighting of 6 Turkey Vultures today was extremely quiet. Duck Lake was impossible to see much of anything with the warmer weather, the mirage was a disaster. White blobs and brown blobs were aplenty.
Long-tailed Duck helped push the count to 216 for Calhoun overall this year. Still need 4 more to go. Hopefully at some point we get some combination of 4 of the following:
Another weekend, another run to Homer for any oddballs that may show up. Plenty of geese continue, but was a bit harder to pick out the Cacklers in the concentrated groups that were present. The drive along the berm was packed from 1/2 way, until the North end of the drive. A l-o-t of birds ended up moving into the water. I was able to pick out at least 6 Cacklers between small group, and another group that flew in and landed close. Another bird was smaller, had a stubby bill, but was same size as nearby birds that were obviously not Cacklers. Either a Canada on the extremely small end of the bill size scale, or puts the other birds within discussion of parvipes.
I thought I had another Red-shouldered Hawk at a previous sighted location at 25 1/2 Mile Road, but it turned out to be the first abieticola of the Fall/Winter. Even with the unexplainably crappy pictures the extremely dark patagials, blobby belly-band (even though on the lighter side), rufous down the neck and underwing coverts, and completely dark head clicked off the boxes for this Northern subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk.
Duck Lake WTP had a checkmark quantity of Buffleheads with 117 I was able to count. A lone female Ring-necked Duck, and 5 Killdeer being the other "highlights" there. The big lake (Duck Lake) is the place the waterfowl are favoring for now. Mallard, Black Duck, Redheads, Lesser Scaup, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, Hooded and Common Mergs, Ruddy Ducks, Pied-billed and Horned Grebes along with a small contingent of Coots made up the vast majority of bird on the water there. The mirage played havoc with getting any long distance looks at anything.
At Lake of the Woods I had a lone American Black Duck mixed in with Mallards, but an unbelievable amount of Sandhills flying around North of there. I decided to drive over to 19.5 Mile Road between R and T DR N just to see if maybe an elusive Whooping Crane would show up. Hundreds of Cranes in the farmlands on both sides of 19.5 Mile Road were present and as I sat there I sighted out my front window an obviously white bird take off with a small group of Cranes. I snapped a couple of quick pics through the windshield and got out to track the bird. It looks like it was settling down North and East of where I was. I took a quick look at the preview pic and tempered my excitement. It lacked the black wingtips one would expect of a Whooping Crane. I drove farther up and found an easy 600 plus Cranes in more farm fields. After about 10 minutes of searching through the birds, from the other side of a small hill 6-7 birds took off and the white bird stuck out immediately. Definitely was not any trick of the light. A nearly all white Sandhill Crane, with a slightly orange bill, and washed out brown on the wingtips. One of these days a Whooping Crane will hookup with some birds heading into the Baker Sanctuary and be spotted.
Having the day off on Monday November 6th, and a cooperative forecast I decided to try if I could try for more than 52 birds, my high for a November day. I set off for D DR S Wetlands, wanting to work my way down the right side of the county first. The small pond on Carver Road had a large group of Swans, that in the dark I thought were all Trumpeter. Upon closer inspection it turned out there were some Tundras closer to the the road, with some Trumpeter's in the back of the pond.
The wetlands at D DR S started out slow, but picked up pretty quick with 25 species sighted there. I reported one as a rare Clay-colored Sparrow, but have been told it is a Swamp Sparrow. It is the oddest Swamp Sparrow I've ever seen with very clear facial markings on it. Could be the sun and the position of its head, but it sure looked like it matched Clay-colored. Dark-eyed Junco, Fox Sparrow and Gadwall were first for this hotspot. Pine Creek Wetlands offered up very little, it was incredibly quiet there.
Short Road I didn't pick up an early Rough-legged Hawk as I hoped, but did get a group of 7 Ring-necked Pheasants there. It has been a great spot in the past, for 1-2 birds, but never a group of this many. Shortly after this I came across a scene from Hitchcock's The Birds. An incredibly large group of Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, and a ridiculous amount of Common Grackles. I reported it as 600, but I'm sure there were way more than that. The group of birds was so large in the corn field across from the below yard, that is sounded like thunder when they lifted off. I wasn't able to discern anything but the above birds, and one Brown-headed Cowbird. No Rusty, or Brewer's Blackbirds to be found.
Homer still had Cackling Geese there, but the other Geese were much less abundant in the larger lagoon. A nice other mix of waterfowl, with a lone Northern Shoveler, some Gadwall, Mallard, Redheads, Buffleheads, Ruddy Duck and a couple of Canvasbacks. Double-crested Cormorants continued at this site also. This is the latest they have still been in the county.
Duck Lake WTP had a large group of Buffleheads with 87 there, but nothing else on the water. 4 groups of ~50 birds flew over, with them being mostly Rusty Blackbirds. Duck Lake gave me some good looks at a pair of American Coots, and a lone Ring-necked Duck, Common Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Horned Grebes and a Common Loon to add to the day count. A small fluddle on 21 Mile and R DR N brought the latest Dunlin to the county.
Last stop for the day was a walk around Baker Sanctuary. I had hopes for White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, but neither were to be found. A juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker was a good sign for there. 2nd year in a row I've seen a juvenile there. It was a great bird to end the day with. 62 birds for the day, 10 more than my previous high for a day in November. Bonus it was a day away from Chaos.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)