Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
Since last update the microscopic menace has combined with Chaos on steroids to diminish my birding output. Since my last update the yard has only brought me a Great Crested Flycatcher and Yellow-billed Cuckoo to put the number at 126. Since May 30th I have had no additional Yard Birds for the year. The summer are typically the height of the doldrums, but this year seems especially so. I think the lack of additional birds in the yard, and the craziness of Chaos has piled on to extremely de-motivate my birding.
May I missed 100 birds for the month, ending at just 99. I did have some highlights with some decent shots at a female Orchard Oriole at the feeders. The Red-tailed Hawk made a few passes at the feeders. It eventually got better as I've seen it take at least 3 squirrels from near the feeders. I picked up a trail cam to try to catch some pics/videos. It didn't capture one successful attempt, so will have to play with it. On June 24th I thought I was going to have to rescue one of them from being tangled in vines. From my eBird checklist:
Details: First one caught something black under the feeder. Possibly a Grackle. Found a couple of feathers. Flew up into a dead, broken tree and struggled with whatever it was. It ended upside down mixed in with vines. After about 5 minutes of struggle it dropped to the ground, then spooked up into a tree by Turkey, empty taloned. Second one snagged something reddish. No feathers, so possibly tree squirrel or Cardinal.
I beat my June Big Day Yard on day 1 with 32 birds, above previous of 29. Several Wild Turkeys have been nearly daily visitors with one large male showing off a few times. I managed 51 birds in June, above my high of 39 previous. A huge Thank you to the new eBird setup. Much easier to look up summaries like this now.
I tried to push things by going out on June 20th to see if I could kickstart things. I managed 7 year birds for the County, but nothing too special. It still didn't help. July 6 I did the same, with 3 additional year birds for the County, but I still didn't feel normal. July 8th I caught the bug. I was at 68 birds after just stopping at a few spots in the morning. I didn't realize my July Big Day was only 71, so I headed out for the evening to try to chase down more. 6 FOY helped to contribute to a new Big Day for July of 81 birds. Felt really good to be on a chase like that. I think if I head back out some more I should be able to pass my high of 100 for July.
One of the birds on the Big Day of July 8th was a blue bird, with very reddish markings on its wings. I have some audio recordings, that may or may not be the same bird. There was definitely Indigo Buntings around there. This bird really stuck out up on a wire with sun behind me. I know INBU can be very mixed in color, but this looked just like Blue Grosbeak markings. It didn't look chunky enough though. I tried to find it the next day and just found INBU still. Just really frustrating as my camera lens had broken earlier in the day so I couldn't get a pic of this bird on the wire. I may not give up on it, as it is at the same spot as what I hope is active Osprey nest on F DR N.
I did manage to add Vesper Sparrow and Black-billed Cuckoo (decent looks) to the 5MR patch on 7/9. July 6-9 trips out and about did manage to add new birds too the current Patchs I have on eBird. So not only were these trips food for the soul, but adding to some lists also. I don't see how I am going to get to 150 for the Yard for the year, so I think my only real goal, outside of Days/Months, is to see if I can pick up 1 more Yard Bird to get overall to 150.
May had been absolutely terrible for the for the last 2 weeks. Very few birds trickled in since May 2nd, with only 7 FOY through May 13th. It was a struggled to get above 40 species as the temps dipped well below normal. Birding required wearing the same clothes I would wear in winter. The highlight was a first for the yard, with a Blue-winged Warbler singing high up in the tree tops on 5/10.
May 14th and 15th the floodgates finally opened. 5 FOY on the 14th, and 13 FOY on the 15th. The highlight on the 15th was a Yard First of a Gray-cheeked Thrush to push the yard to 149. I thought maybe I had a Purple Martin but it flew behind the trees too fast. May 15th helped me to set a new Yard high of 68 birds (19 warblers), which also pushed me past my month high of 90, and pushed me past my previous high from last year of 117. I have sights set on hitting 100 for the month in the yard. I do think it will be hard to get to 150 for the year though. Lots of easy birds I've missed so far. I had no Hermit Thrush, Green-winged Teal or Greater Scaup. Fall/Winter will have to be better. In hindsight the absolutely terrible week of Chaos the previous week was worth giving up to get the 14th and 15th available to bird.
Not really great weather for photographs, but I do have a ton of audio I need to go through at some point. I think I have some good audio of a very vocal Orange-crowned Warbler that gave me great looks. Tennessee Warblers have been very vocal, as well as more Ovenbirds then I can remember. Baltimore Orioles are also extremely plentiful in the yard. I have reported up to 7, but I'm sure there are more. They are all over the place with up to 3 males fighting it out at a time. I think I can get to 130-135 by the end of the month. A few more easy ones that I should be able to pick up. Some really good birds being seen in the area. Maybe I picked the wrong year to Yard Bird.
The last 10 days of April really started to bring on the birds. It also brought on a trip beyond the driveway or the first time in over 4 weeks. April 20th brought the FOY Osprey flying over. April 21st a Red-tailed Hawk took a hard pass at the feeders and had to do an abrupt pull-up about 20 feet away from the house. I finally was able to see quite a bit of exactly how it goes after the feeders. It does dive down from a high soar at the feeder, not just waiting in a tree and attacking.
This spring also bring about some surprising aggressiveness in species. I've seen the following aggression this past couple of weeks.
April 26th I escaped the driveway and went to 12 Mile Road to check to see if the flooded pasture was shorebird viable. It was way too flooded. It did get me a County FOY Blue-winged Teal and Barn Swallow. Beadle Lake had some FOY Ruddy Ducks. I just cannot get them on the backwater though. There was also a FOY Double-crested Cormorant. I decided to keep driving since I was out, and hit up D DR S Flooded Field. I located a Lesser Yellowlegs on 1/2 Mile Road on the way. D DR S Flooded Field gave up a FOY Ring-necked Pheasant, American Wigeon, FOY White-crowned Sparrow and FOY Eastern Meadowlark. I then hit up the fluddle on H DR S and found a FOY Dunlin, Greater Yellowlegs and Horned Lark. It was nice to get out, but very eerie. Even for a Sunday it was extremely quiet out.
Chimney Swift on the 24th and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on the 25th seemed like a weak weekend for FOY for the yard. The real big wave of migrants wasn't until I was still in the midst of the busiest time of Chaos. Partially normal busy time, but also the microscopic menace caused Chaos. Squeezing time in very early, and late, after the Chaos had been dismissed brought in 7 FOY between the 28th and 29th.
The 28th brought FOY Palm Warbler, Warbling Vireo, female Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a nice flyover of 6 Double-crested Cormorants. The 29th had Black-throated Green Warbler calling, Gray Catbird and a Green Heron calling from the backwater. These birds brought the April total to 77 birds. Above the high of 68 previously. I continued to push new highs for April Big Days. April 23rd I managed 45 species, and then amazingly I managed 48 species on April 28th!! I really was hoping I could push that to 50 species, but it wasn't until May 1st that I broke 50, with 53 and then 51 on May 2nd.
April 29th had 44 species, of which were a Cooper's Hawk that came straight down at the feeders. Again I heard a smack on a window right after it came down, and I went to check out the front door. The COHA had nabbed a female Cardinal and was covering it, but took off as I opened the door. I have belatedly tried to remedy that situation this weekend with some parador strings across the windows now. Hawk need to eat, but they should earn it. As the COHA took off it looked like something smaller was chasing after it. I walked out there a little after the incident, and sure enough a Sharp-shinned Hawk was perched up in a tree in the direction the COHA took off towards.
May 1st turned on a FOY switch with 6 FOY popping up.
While May did bring some good birds, they didn't carry over to today, May 3rd. It was extremely quiet this morning. I was expecting way more Warblers to start showing up. Also no FOY showed up in the yard today. Still it is a good start to the year, and a good start to May. I sit at 63 birds already for May, with a target of 100. 97 birds for the year. A really good start on the target of 150. With Chaos being home-based for at least another 2 weeks, and probably extending beyond that, and a mandatory absence of Chaos due next week, I should be able to catch prime yard migration timing.
April has been pretty good, despite an excessive amount of snow this past week. At least it cleared up for the weekends. It really is amazing what happens when you focus on birding one very small area. I've had 2 more Common Loon sightings of birds flying over. On 4/12 I had only the second Broad-winged Hawk sighting for the yard, and then today I had 4 of them fly over.
4/12 ended up being a new big day for me with 43 species for the day. 3 birds that day for FOY, in Pine Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Broad-winged Hawk. Chaos ruled most of the rest of the week, and the cold temps and snow prevented much else beyond a FOY White-throated Sparrow. Waterfowl remains mostly Ring-necked Ducks with a few Lesser Scaup mixed in. 4/10 I had my first big group of Turkeys show up, with one trying to strut his stuff, despite the strong wind at his back. On 4/12 I had a very weird observation with 2 Tufted Titmouses chasing after a Red-bellied Woodpecker. RBWO are usually the most dominant birds at the feeders, but it apparently doesn't translate to the rest of the yard during spring. This wasn't just chasing away from one spot they chased it all over the yard.
4/19 I spent over 5 hours out in the yard in the morning. It was very active, and a nice southerly wind gave me some hope for some migrating raptors. I did manage the 4 Broad-winged Hawks, 2 Cooper's Hawks, 1 Sharp-shinned Hawk, and mid-afternoon finally had 3 Red-tailed Hawks. The best bird during that time period was 1-2 Bonaparte's Gulls. I recorded it as 2, but it could have been a single headed West the first time, and then East maybe an hour or so later. This was a new yard bird for me to put me to 147 lifetime. It also helped to contribute to 43 birds during that time period. A number I thought was a new Big Day high or April. It wasn't until I sat down to right this I found it was a tie. Luckily 2 Trumpeter Swans started calling at around 2125, making it 44 species for the day.
I should be able to set a high for April as I sit at 67 birds, with 68 being the previous high. Still a lot of birds missing potentially. It is really weird to see reports of Red-necked Grebe or even just Blue-winged Teal and not be chasing anything. I've gotten so comfortable just going out my door and birding I don't even desire to go chasing after anything like that. We shall see if it continues that way for the rest of the year, or even into next year. Chaos is beyond chaotic, and the Microscopic Menace continues to impact all facets of life. At least the birds just continue on like they normally would.
I had 90% of this post finished up when the tab decided to crash without saving anything I had written. This will probably end up being a "long story, short" post then.
February I didn't manage to hit a new high for the month. The water stayed frozen over so waterfowl ended up not being an option for the backwater here. I also only managed a tie of 22 species for a day. For some reason I was thinking I hit 25 in a day, but eBird doesn't reflect that in my summary. Maybe when I pull the data I can get it to make sense.
March turned out much better. 60 species for the month, and a new high of 40 species in a single day on March 8th. Well above the 50 and 33 as my previous. I also finished the month as the leader for the year, and the month in the state. Not that it will/would last for long.
April has started out good as well. I have been a little disappointed the waterfowl hasn't been as diverse as I expected. Still high numbers of Ring-necked Ducks, but no Northern Pintail, Greater Scaup, Canvasback or Ruddy Ducks have shown up in the backwater.
Highlights from the past 8 weeks since my last post.
January continued to be exceptional for me in the BY-squared. I finally sighted a female Hairy Woodpecker to go with the fairly reliable male. A flock of 22 Cedar Waxwing and 4 Eastern Bluebirds helped add to the FOY totals for the yard, on the 25th. On the 27th I watched a Carolina Wren trying to break up a peanut it pulled from the feeder. On the final day of January I heard a faint Northern Flicker in the distance, and just after sunset a pair of Great Horned Owls were heard calling from the woods. The owls pushed my month to 35 species. Really well above what I thought was realistically possible. It made me hopeful for February.
February so far has been pretty uneventful. I've added zero FOY the birds, and only managed 21 species so far. The 1st started out not too bad with 17 species. My high for a day in February in the yard is 21 species, with other highs of 20 and 19. I thought 4 more species would be fairly easy to add. I've added them but it has taken 9 days to add those 4 to my total since the 1st.
I did manage to swing by the Millpond and added Hooded and Common Mergansers, along with my first tagged Trumpeter Swan. I googled the tag and it popped on another eBird checklist from Ontario. Other "highlights" this month have been a very drab Chickadee that I thought was maybe a candidate for Carolina, a Sharp-shinned Hawk sitting on the feeder when I came home from Chaos, and the male and female cismontanus are still pretty regular at the feeder.
I still need 12 more bird this month to try to beat the high for the month of 32. Seems easy when I hit 35 last month. I doubt I get another Chipping Sparrow, or Cackling Goose or Bald Eagle with the lake frozen over. Mallard is doubtful with the freeze also. Chaos is really trying to intrude everywhere now and hindering doing too much.
I've been trying to get caps of Junco tail feathers. I think this is the cismontanus female. It looks like maybe 3 nearly solid white on the left side with just a thin line on r3. It's been so dark hard to keep up the speed.
This Slate-colored is mostly white on r6-r4 with a small strip on edge of r4.
Chaos ruled most of the week, but Monday the 13th did allow for some extended viewing time of the feeders. The male and female cismontanus Dark-eyed Juncos continue to be here. Adult Bald Eagle made a flyover also. The rest of Tuesday-Friday involved late evening sightings of the typical end of the day feeder birds; Northern Cardinal, Junco or Canada geese flying in to Beadle Lake.
Friday morning I spooked a Cooper's Hawk off the branches over the feeders when I was trying to check out the sunrise. I did manage also in the afternoon to catch the Cackling Geese flying in. I even managed to hear them call as they flew directly over, flying inside the "V" of the larger Canada Geese.
The Cooper's hawk returned on Saturday with a few weak passes at the feeders, inbetween snow showers. It gave me some excellent views and I took this 2:24 video of it searching for more prey.
The "highlight" of the week was bird #30 for the yard this year. A European Starling showed up on the suet feeder. I had this as a likely bird, even though apart from 2016 I don't get them on a regular basis. There is usually a small flock I've seen within .5 mile of here. I'll not complain unless it gets too many more to show up. The snow and cold kept me from doing too much outside time this week. I also had a very strange Raccoon show up. Very lethargic, didn't react to me walking outside towards it. It spent from 10:40 to at least now walking a mere 100 feet from one side of the valley to the other. I have a feeling it may be rabid. A couple of the symptoms fit; lethargic, walking in circles, out in the daytime, tipsy, falling over a couple of times or just laying down where it was. I took a video of it, but not sure about uploading a Raccoon just slowly wandering around in circles.
Today ended up being an inadvertent Big Yard Day. In the morning I managed 18 species mostly looking out the window. 3 Rock Pigeons were FOY on the flyover, along with the normal feeder birds. The unbelievable 40 House Finches flagged as a high count. I know I have a lot of them but never this many. Ring-billed and Herring Gull flyovers helped to add to the list, and the cismontanus female Dark-eyed Junco showed up again.
The little surprise was a small sparrow that settled not 12 feet from my eyes outside the window. I thought "That is awfully small for a Tree Sparrow", and put my binoculars on it. Sure enough this bird had a pink bill (not yellow lower, black line through eye, not spot on chest and a weak mustache. A rather lost Chipping Sparrow was in the yard. It flew next to the house and I lost it. Never saw it again the rest of the day, nor when I went outside to see if I could find it next to the house. It is a first eBird January record, assuming it is accepted.
I went out later in the afternoon to see if I could beat the high day of 20. Trumpeter Swans flew past calling and I knew I'd get to 20 with the Canada Geese that would fly in. Now I had to just get out and find some additional bird to get to 21. It wasn't long before a Brown Creeper was seen out the window. Now I just had to see how far I could push it.
Sure enough Canada Geese did show up as well as Mallards flying in/out of Beadle Lake. A Cooper's Hawk streaked across the backwater shortly after. To top it off I saw a large flock of birds flying behind the trees. They turned back towards me and land right above and in front of me. 29 American Robins had looked to potentially roost for the night in the yard. They did eventually move on, no doubt due to my presence out there. The Robins pushed me to 24 for the day. Not bad considering coming in to this year my high for the month was only that. I now sit at 29, and should be able to get that 30th bird with more than half the month still left. Still have fun with the Big Yard and looking forward to seeing what else shows up.
Grabbed the card from the camera. Snagged these birds trying to stock up on seed before all the ice/sleet/snow hit.
The birding continues to be very quiet around here lately. Winter has not arrived, until this weekend's "Icemageddon", so the same birds are still around. I was able to add Brown Creeper to the Month/Yard list today. I grabbed some of the old The Jack Pine Warbler journals and started to read through them to see what birds Lawrence Walkinshaw has reported.
I've been able to come up with a solid 210 species. Most of them coming from the 198 species he reported from the Baker Sanctuary Area. One within that list was a little less clear if he had seen the Long-eared Owl, or was just reporting a continued report from another observer.
2 additional species on that list were Blue Goose and Traill's Flycatcher. He does report Willow Flycatcher, and I have to believe he likely had an Alder Flycatcher at some point also. Willow and Alder were not split from Traill's until 1973. He does report Snow Goose and Blue Goose, which were once considered separate species. So these species that are not currently "countable" would get one additional with an assumption he likely had Alder in Calhoun to get to 211.
Other hypotheticals are:
With the hypotheticals he would be at 225. I'm sure there are plenty of others in his field notes. He definitely has plenty of very rare birds that he found, so have to believe many of the easier ones would still be ones he has seen.
The current Code 1 and Code 2 birds that I've not found records of, apart from the hypotheticals above:
Code 4 he has listed
I have little doubt I will be adding to this list in the future. If I can ever get my hands on his 1978 book Birds of the Battle Creek, Calhoun County, Michigan area I'm sure there are confirmations on at least some of the hypotheticals. The man was an amazing human with so many birds in Calhoun County, and as he stated in another article 290 species in the state. Most of this before any of the modern transportation we take for granted now. No eBird, no Twitter, and no Listserves, just getting out there and looking for the birds. Not just looking, but banding, recording, reporting and helping to create places like the Baker Sanctuary.
Some references used:
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)