Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
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.
Been 3 months since I lost my mojo and Chaos has ruled so much of my time. I finally decided I need to just get out and do things. What really kicked me in the butt was the sighting of a Northern Mockingbird south of Albion. This and Common Redpoll (I dipped on those a couple of times when I went out just for them in Feb.) are the only "easy" Code 2 birds I am missing for the county. Normally I would have rushed right over to find it. Even after it was reported again 3 days later on March 16th...a Saturday. It wasn't until the next day I forced myself to head out and see if it could help calm the Chaos like birding has in the past. The Mockingbird gave horrible, backlit looks, but looks and some calls were enough. 235 for the county.
To catch up some of what I have managed in 2019.
March 23rd I managed 50 species of bird, as well as around that number on March 17th. Not bad when a Big Day high is 55 for me in March. It definitely helped the soul to get back out there. A Common Loon on March 24th, which flagged as rare was a nice find on my way to Meijer. Lastly to catch up to today I pulled off the highway on the way home to investigate the white bird in the fluddle on Betz and Beckley. It turned out to be a Trumpeter Swan, but upon looking at my pictures I noticed it had yellow legs. I thought that was odd for this time of the year. Upon some research I found that this was likely a leucistic bird. That made sense as I think it was a juvenile, but had no grey on it at all.
Over the last week or so I've had some interesting Juncos showing up at the feeders. At least one, possibly two cisomontanus ssp. One for sure adult male, and a grey-hooded probable female. Along with those has been this junco with faint white wing-bars. White-winged ssp. is not typically a vagrant, with no reports east of the MIssissippi on eBird except a 1994 sighting in Massachusetts. I have written it off as one of the rare Slate-colored that have some wing-bars. It still looks odd to me regarding its grey color. Finally I managed a very rough shot of its tail feathers. This is where it gets interesting now. It has 3+ tail feathers that are completely white. I cannot find out how often that occurs in Slate-colored. I'm going to post/host some photos and see if I can't get some third-party confirmations.
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:
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)