Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
40 degree temperatures, sunny skies, and right in the middle of the "Chaos" at work necessitated a "field trip" today. I decided I would hit up the Northern parts of the county today, looking for a Snowy Owl in some of the farm fields <spoilers> didn't see it. I thought, given the great weather, I would try Bernard Baker Sanctuary to see what the Savannah Restoration has created. It has been since September of 2014 that I have visited there. It was hard to see it as "bare" as it was, but I have faith in what Michigan Audubon is doing there. The highlight of the hour there was this juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker. By far my best looks at this rare (per eBird) Woodpecker.
After this....well it was mucho driving,and driving and driving. I managed to wander into Eaton County for a bit and found a large group of approximately 200 Snow Buntings in a farm field. I stopped at a random location on 21.5 Mile road to see what I could call up with a mobbing call recording. Turned out, I really didn't need to alert the birds all that much. A Cooper's Hawk went racing out in front of me, and across a field into some woods.
I thought I'd swing by the Landfill to see if there was any gull activity. Nada, Zip, Zilch!. The drainage pond is frozen over, and the few birds I did see were mostly Crows and Starlings. I thought I'd check one of my "secret" spots on L DR N, before heading home. Great looks at the "normal" winter birds around here. I know this spot is going to give up something good one of these days, but probably not in January.
Instead of my normal route from this area, to home, I turned down 11 1/2 Mile Road and headed back east on Verona. There is a spot down G DR N, just south of I-94, that turns in to 13 Mile Road. It has some excellent open areas that are part of a wet area. There are houses nearby, but the east side of 13 Mile Road is relatively unpopulated. I drove down through here slowly and noticed this small "abnormal" looking object on a tree. Backed the Jeep up a little bit and put my binoculars on a small raptor on a limb. Very promising for a Sharp-shinned Hawk. No doubt about it when it turned its head the nice round head, bugged out eyes, and those skinny legs all lined up. Finally a decent look, and picture of a Sharpie. A second eBird rare bird for the day today.
The day wasn't done yet though. Upon returning home I found Pine Siskins on the feeder again. Nice to see it wasn't just a one day wonder with them. Some quick math in my head and I got to thinking that I was having a really good day. Surprising considering how horrible the waterfowl birding is around here right now. Some quick math and I figured I was getting close to 30 birds for the day. I know my record for January was around 30 birds. The sun was still shining so I thought I would hit up 1/2 Mile and Marl Lake road. Maybe some late evening raptors, or owl would make themselves known. This site has been fortunate enough to show Roughies, Red-shouldered, Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Red-tailed and Goshawk. I had also some hopes that maybe it would make a good habitat for Short-eared Owl.
On my way there I swung by some open water on Beadle Lake, and was able to catch 16 Trumpeter Swans on the lake. Not out of the norm for there, but still flagged on eBird as rare. In addition one lone American Coot was hanging out in the open water. A nice bird to pick up in January, especially since I missed all the waterfowl on Duck Lake earlier in the month that included around 250 Coots.
While 1/2 Mile and Marl Lake Road only offered up a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, there were also some Trumpeter Swans that flew over along with some Sandhill Cranes coming in to the open water areas. It looks like we might end up having Sandhills hanging out through the whole winter now. Sandhills would normally be pushed out of this area by frozen over water, but the milder winter has left some open and farm fields clear enough to feed in. As it is they still flagged as rare in eBird for this time period. A 4 rare bird flagged day is not bad at all. A calling Great Horned Owl through the whole time I was out there. This pushed me to 56 birds in this location. Enough for me to submit it as a hotspot for the area. This area is yet another area that deserves to be birded more often.
All in all today put my day total at 33. My highest total for a January in the long history of Januarys I have birded...a whole 3. It's definitely not one of the higher numbers you will see in other areas of the state, but not bad for around here. I also now have 44 birds in January, matching what I started out with last year (2015). No this does not mean I am doing another Big Year, just enjoying being away from the Chaos. That, after all, is what it is all about.
Yes, both of these pictures accurately represent me at 10:54 this fine sunny, Sunday morning, January 24th, 2016. After more than 2 years, and more than enough envy to last me, I finally have my Calhoun County Pine Siskins.
Let me back up a little bit though to my escapades yesterday. Was in a position finally to take some time and head out. I decided to try to hit up some of my spots that tend to still have open water this time of year, and can lead to some waterfowl congregation. Along with maybe finally getting an ID'able Red-tailed Hawk (yeah 3 weeks in to the year and don't have a confirmable Calhoun RTHA).
Beadle Lake had a small opening, surrounded by resting Canada Geese and some Trumpeter Swans. 10 Mile Road near G DR S, had open flowing water, but nothing but some extremely skittish Mallards. Lee Lake was Beadle Lake Redux. Biggest disappointment was Marl Lake Road and 1/2 Mile was completely iced over, and a gentleman and his dog were doing....not quite sure what, so I wasn't going to try for any of the possible raptors that might show there.
I decided to head over to 6 Mile Road and W DR S, since there was good light, to see if the Roughies would give me a good shot. On the way there I caught what usually can be dismissed as a Broken-limb Hawk, but didn't quite look right to me. I backed up, and headed down 5 1/2 Mile Road. I really wanted to make this into a Juvenile Sharpie, but after looking closely at the pics it was "just" a juvie Cooper's Hawk.
The pair of Roughies didn't disappoint at 6 Mile. I was able to watch them hunt for a little bit until I decided to continue on. This is the 3rd winter (every winter I have birded) in which this spot has hosted at least one Rough-legged Hawk.
After that I was able to pic up Red-tailed Hawk x 4, with 2 of them within 20 yards of each other. Mobbing calls gave me a very rosy sided Junco, but not enough to call it anything unique. FOY Robins, with a large flock of 20 on scattering across the road as I drove past. Open water continued to elude me until I got to Saylor's Landing. While the waterfowl were non-existent, save Flyover CANG, the Belted Kingfisher was a nice addition. By far the best bird of yesterday though, was this "Hoss" of a Yellow-rumped Warbler at Saylor's Landing. While most of his peers are hanging out in much nicer climates (well prior to Snowmageddon), this guy was working the trees along the river. My first winter Warbler ever, and only the second Calhoun Record for January in eBird.
It's amazing what listing can do, negatively, to you sometimes. I had 7 new year birds yesterday and still felt somewhat disappointed. I had to be reminded that 2 years ago, I would have been ecstatic over a day like that. Especially with the Cooper's Hawk, and Yellow-rumped being on that list.
Which leads me to today. I had thought about getting up early and trying to hit up some potential Northern Saw-whet Owl spots again, but my dogs had other ideas. Ended up sleeping in and deciding to focus on more "adult" activities today. I spent much of the morning kicking myself for not going out. Especially after seeing multiple Pine Siskin reports coming in yesterday from around the county.
It's nice to know that there still is some Birding "Mojo" at work (okay so some call it luck). I happened to look outside at the nearly empty nyjer feeders and thought "that doesn't quite look right for a House Finch hanging from there. A quick look through the binoculars revealed this lone bird hanging there with that wonderfully narrow bill, and split tail. It was soon followed by Goldfinches (for size comparison), and some obvious males with the yellow on the wings, and those lovely plain brown streaks I've been wanting to see.
10 Minutes later there were all gone from the feeder, and never came back. I went outside to listen for their calls, and was able to catch some calling back to me in the distance. Imagine how many times I have possibly missed them in the past, or could have easily missed them today but for that casual glance outside. Great reminder of why birding is really a part of me now.
P.S. in regards to a debate on whether the term "Lifer" can be used for a bird you have already seen in another location...I was right. The Pine Siskins seen in Calhoun was soooooooo much more meaningful than my lifer Siskins last year. Having them be a yard bird now is just a bonus.
This is what I mean when I talk about "Balancing the chaos"...not keeping up with things, or taking the time to do the things you need to do to balance life. My birding has suffered a bit so far this year, having completely skipped one weekend I could have gone out. I need to come up with goals to drive me I think:-) I'm going to get in on a quick (not likely) recap on 2015, with a focus on the 32 lifers I had this year. Hold on to your Butterbutts.
The year started out with a 3 lifer day during the Barry County CBC, with an early and very cooperative Northern Saw-whet Owl. That was followed up later in the day by Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Yeah, a 3 bird day of Calhoun County nemesis birds.
A couple of weeks after this I decided to take a run up the coast of Lake Michigan, from Tiscornia Park in Berrien, to Holland in the North. Oh what fun Gulls are!! You just know there was more interesting birds I was able to see, than I was able to identify. Howard Dunton Park in Holland gave excellent views of this lifer Iceland Gull.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)