Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
Wow, it's only been 3 weeks since the last post?!?!? It has been a mad rush to see as many birds coming through the county as I could. A few obstacles thrown in the way also as the Rubicon was out of action for a couple of weeks. Not to get ahead of myself, I'm pretty sure I've burned off my birding mojo in those 3 weeks (more like 2 weeks).
May 8th finally brought me an Indigo Bunting at Woodland, and a random stop South of the Airport on Stone Jug Road netted me a Virginia Rail answering calls. Extremely lucky as conditions around most of the county don't seem to impressive for the rails this year. There have been no Sora at Woodland this year and the marsh trail at Binder Zoo has been flooded over. I'm hoping that doesn't portend for my attempts at Marsh birds this summer (and for the Marsh Survey).
May 11th started nice with a FOY American Redstart in the yard. Not long after that I received a call at work from Doug McWhirter. He had some Common and Black Terns on Duck Lake. A good hour drive from where I was, and 6-8 hours from me being able to get out of work to see them!! I finally managed to get up there just before 5:30, and Leah Dodd had not only those Terns but also some Forster's Terns in the scope. Mike Cook soon joined. The Terns were extremely active and some counts by us, and Linda Ar (who was unbeknownst us was on the other side of the lake) were somewhat inconclusive on the Common/Forster's split. I came away with 5 Black Terns, 3 Forster's Terns, 5 Common Tern's and 3 Common/Forster's. Unbelievably 3 Calhoun County lifers, and the Black Tern was a lifer period. 23 Mile Road Flooded field also gave me some FOY Least Sandpipers, surprisingly. Conditions still aren't great there for shorebirds. Lots of grass, and there is some construction going to happen there.
May 13th proved to be another big day for me. In fact my biggest May day in the County at 74 species. It took quite a few locations but I snagged a Magnolia Warbler, finally. The Closed Cereal City landfill paid off for Henslow's Sparrow for Dan Toronto, and for me with my best shots of one yet. 23 Mile Road and O DR N has been reliable for Bobolink and they didn't disappoint this time. Duck Lake still had some Common Terns on it, and the boat launch had a FOY Blackpoll Warbler. The Duck Lake WTP gave me the best bird of the day though. A late, dark-morph Snow Goose hanging out with some Canada Geese. I was really worried I wouldn't get one of these this year.
May 14th was a little less impressive, but did get me a FOY Canada Warbler that I knew would be a bit tricky to get. Ovenbird, and finally a Red-eyed Vireo were at Woodland Park also to get me to 169. May 15th Woodland Park gave up a long-distance calling Black-billed Cuckoo, Black-throated Blue Warbler, good looks at Wilson's Warbler and a lifer Mourning Warbler.
Cliff Swallows finally showed up at Fairview/Homer WTP on May 16th. The Cliff Swallow put me at 174 for the year, 1 ahead of my pace from 2014. I was lucky enough to catch a couple of them resting along the edge of the upper lagoon. I made my first trip to the Zoo only to find the marsh trail flooded. The trails there gave up FOY Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-Pewee (finally) and Veery. May 16th also started the hunt for a County first Worm-eating Warbler.
May 17th began the slow down for FOY, with a late, and heavily molting Broad-winged Hawk flying high over Woodland, and at least 1 Waterthrush. I initially thought the Waterthrush was a Louisiana since my quick glimpse of it showed a rather light face. The song gave it up as a FOY Northern Waterthrush. A bird I thought I might end up having to stakeout in the fall. This did manage to be the first day in which there were multiple birds in view at a time, instead of 1-2 and then quiet. It did manage to be a very good morning overall at Woodland with 69 species seen while I was there. Of those 69, none of them were the Worm-eating Warbler though. Also not among those 69 was a Hooded Warbler that Daniel Toronto and Leah Dodd had, but I never got a good enough look at. I had a/the bird but between the backlight and it moving around I could not call it.
May 18th I met up with Daniel Toronto at Harts Lake. Dan had a theory that Eastern Whip-poor-wills might be in the area there. We managed FOY Common Nighthawks flying low over the lake. About 5 minutes after some playback we had 1, possibly 2 Eastern Whip-poor-wills calling from the South side of the lake. The Whips were the first eBird reports in the County, and lifers for me. The Nighthawks also got me to 180 for the year.
May 19th I managed some great looks at an Olive-sided Flycatcher at Woodland Park. Another bird I thought was going to be hard to come by this year. It was obvious though that migration was settling down. Other than the 17th most of the days have been 1-2 warblers at a time. This settling down caused me to head to Homer on the 21st to see if some shorebirds were coming in. It did not let me down, with 2 Semipalmated Plovers and a Dunlin along the rocky edges. I was also worried about the Dunlin this year as the shorebird habitat just isn't there right now, and I know we won't have 16 species show up this year again.
May 22nd I finally snagged the Philadelphia Vireo at Woodland Park. I got a quick look at it flying with a Red-eyed Vireo. Yet another bird that I was nervous about being able to get this year. Which leads to today, the 28th. 6 days after my last FOY bird Homer gave up a Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Least Sandpiper. This put me at 187 for the year. Well ahead of where I was hoping to be....
However I have really missed on a lot of birds here lately. I had my gap to overall down to 9 at one point, but sit at 14 birds sighted that I haven't found yet. Not including 2 reports of Yellow-breasted Chat. One at Woodland, and one today at Whitehouse Nature Center. In May I have missed
Being greedy, I'm holding out hope I can get to 190 by the end of this month. It still will be challenging to get to 200 by the end of the year. Looking at the birds I'd still need to pick up, they are not going to be easy. I'll be focusing on the Flycatchers; Acadian and Alder should hang around through the summer. Barred Owl looks like it will require some Owling nights. Hopefully Dickcissels show up again this year, and some Marsh birds show up also. Good chance on the 190 in the next 3 days, but have to be able to get out there.
A bit of catch up before I get in to today's exploits. A Wood Thrush singing in my yard, (finally) White-crowned Sparrows at the airport and a Gray-cheeked Thrush at Woodland put me up to 145 for the year. I had high hopes of a good day to push me up over 150.
One of the better days this year started out early this morning with a new Yard Bird calling. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher singing it's Dawn song. That put my Yard total to 130, and along with a Warbling Vireo it pushed the yard total to 86 for the year. A pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks later in the day made it 87.
I then headed to Woodland Park to see if the night brought anything interesting in. It still seemed rather quiet for the most part. I staked out the footbridge area for about 30 minutes hoping to snag the Prothonotary Warbler seen on Thursday. I did get a FOY Great Crested Flycatcher calling from the wet area to the East of the bridge. Volunteers were out to do some maintenance work, there but they didn't bother the birds at all. After quite a bit of time I finally had some warbler activity with a small group of Black-throated Greens, and a FOY Chestnut-sided mixed in. Beyond that it was quieter than I was expecting it to be back there.
I then headed through the wooded hilly area (Beech Trail) out to the Grasslands to the East side of the park. There was quite a bit of activity after just coming out of the woods. Plenty of Yellow-rumped were moving around and finally FOY Blue-winged Warblers calling, but not much variety. I worked my way down to South pond, and was rewarded with FOY Blackburnian Warbler, and a very confused lifer...Prothonotary Warbler. This bird does not read the field guides, as he was feeding 50-60 feet up in the trees.
Woodland managed 50 birds for me, over about 3 hour time period and had me "pumped" to say the least. I moved over to the airport, and was able to observe an American Kestrel harass a Red-tailed Hawk. It has been a while since I've seen a Kestrel at the airport. Hopefully they will have some young around this summer again. I was also able to watch a second Red-tailed Hawk join the first, and observe both of them "hovering" over the North pond area. A FOY Grasshopper Sparrow was heard calling from out in the airport property also.
Not ready to give up yet I headed over to Hart's Lake. I had the entire area to myself. Great Crested Flycatcher were there, along with another Blackburnian Warbler joined with a FOY Bay-breasted Warbler. The Bay-breasted was one of the first reported in Michigan on eBird surprisingly. 37 species later Hart's Lake had also given me a flyby FOY Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
By this time I had to mosey on home. 10 FOY species had now pushed me up to 155. A good target for the full weekend. In the first 7 days of May I had managed 21 FOY species, including a lifer. That is the kind of start I needed to try to get to 180 by the end of May. Tomorrow is supposed to be nearly as nice, so cross my fingers that I can add a few more to the list.
I've really been trying to push as best I can, even as my pace slowed compared to 2014. It has been a good year for Calhoun County, and not just myself. As we sit here today on May 4th the count is 156 birds for Calhoun County. At this point last year the County had 153 (it was 142 on 5/3 as 5/3 and 5/4 totaled 19 new birds in the County.
I'm still heavily focused on hitting 200 this year in the County. I started April 19 ahead of my 2014 pace, and ended it up by 9 to 134 species. I thought it might be closer than that, but Woodland Park gave up 4 FOY on the 27th, I had 4 more FOY on the 29th in the yard (more on my yard number in a bit), and then on the 30th between Woodland, 23 Mile Road Flooded Field and Duck Lake WTP I had 6 more FOY. Best of those was getting my nemesis Orange-crowned Warbler out of the way. As I type this I am at 142, and I figure I need to get to 180 by the end of May to have a shot. Of the birds that I think will make up that 200, I have 4 birds so far I didn't expect to get that give me some swag. I think I still need to pick up more of those, as some of the 200 are going to be hard to find also.
A nice segue that ties in with something from my last blog post. I was able to find the elusive Brewer's Blackbirds, a female and 2 males. They were mixed in with a large group of Red-winged, Rusty Blackbirds and Common Grackles. Yes I snapped 1100 pictures of this group, as I kept seeing potential birds through the scope and then would have to try to find them through a smaller view in the camera. The female was evident through the scope, and had a bad picture and the male was not evident through the scope but was a decent picture at least. I honestly think if these are focused on, knowing where some of these blackbirds group together (12 Mile Road south of B DR N, and Pine Creek Wetlands), Brewer's is probably going to be something that might be more common then reported. Currently I have them as a Code 4 bird, and number 213 for me in the county.
Along with the Blackbird theme, that same April 9th I recorded the Brewer's I had tremendous flights of Blackbirds through Pine Creek Wetlands. You can see my checklist here for this. Conservative estimate of 600 Rusty Blackbirds, but when you look at the pictures and use ratios as sample size I think it is probably more than that. I think for next year, since I won't feel compelled to do a Big Year, I may focus on the Rusty Blackbird migration and approach it differently. Less focus on trying to get "perfect" shots and just get ID'able shots of the groups and do a more scientific count of them.
On the heels of the Brewer's rarity, we had another Ross's Goose show up at Duck Lake WTP on April 10th. This bird had no apparent leg injury, so I assume it was a different bird. I was trying to make it into a Snow Goose, but it came close enough to call it as a pretty clear cut Ross's.
April 30th ended up helping me get to not just the high pace of 134, but also gave me single day April high of 69, and pushed a new April month high of 120 birds. So I am 4 months in a row of High Counts for Month, High Counts for Day, and High pace. At some point I expect that to slow down, just hopefully not before May.
May is starting out good at least. On May 2nd I got a call from Dough McWhirter. He had 2 Surf Scoters on Duck Lake, on the south end. As soon as my work at home day ended (long non-birding story), I high-tailed it up there, nabbing a FOY Rose-breasted Grosbeak on the way. What I found was boats on the water, a monstrosity of a dual engine pontoon boat hitting the boat launch and maybe seeing the Scoters from the South end way out to the North. Could I find them on Monroe St.....No. I head back south, and watch them being moved around the lake by the boats (I want to say intentionally but that reflects more on my view of people than people actually may be). "Luckily" they moved to the South side for about 10 seconds and the Scoters could be picked out as a male and female. Yet a 4th bird that I didn't expect to see this year, and second year in a row we have had this bird in the County. I also finally scored the Double-crested Cormorant that I was starting to get nervous about.
This leads me to yet another bird, on May 3rd, in my yard that will probably have to be left as an Accipiter sp. Obvious accip shaped bird circling over the trees to the North of my house. Gave a call I've not heard before. I was unable to get any glass on it, as I was just outside with my ailing dog. I thought maybe I had my first Sharp-shinned Hawk for the yard count. I listened to the calls on my iBird app, and it didn't match. It didn't match Cooper's Hawk either. Never thought about Northern Goshawk until I went to put the checklist in, and my fuzzy auditory memory makes me want to say the call matched pretty closer for that. Knowing how rare the NOGO would be around here, I couldn't really say that is what it was. I have RTHA fly around this same area, and I just can't see that bird as similar size to them. Now that I am typing this I wonder if it was my long-needed Red-shouldered Hawk. I really wish I was better with my auditory skills....in general not just birds.
Last comment is that despite not making it a focus, it has been an excellent yard for the Yard Birding. As of this second I am tied for the most Yard Birds in the State of Michigan this year at 83 so far. Not bad considering I think I hit 100 last year. I added Osprey as a flyover, heading to F DR N, on April 26th. I'd like to try to stay in the top 10.
Now comes the push for 38 more birds in May to get me to that 180 mark. We shall see what happens. I have "plans" and "targets", and hopefully some luck. I still need:
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)