Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
Recorded what I am pretty sure is a Mourning Warbler at Woodland Park. Want to confirm this is Mourning Warbler before I submit it to this Song Mapper program for them. Habitat was right, although a little farther away from the water than my previous bird here. I increased the pertinent sections in Audition, and the sonogram on there matches the Warbler Guide app call B. It states that call is found on the Western range, which shouldn't be in MI.
May 13th was the Global Big Day this year. I decided to see if I could outdo my previous May high, and the high I just set for April. I started at Woodland Park hoping to get a big start with some warblers finally coming through. It was not to be. 7 warblers was not what I was expecting. I was honestly hoping for a minimum of 12. Just a rough migration this year it seems. I did manage a FOY Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart and Ovenbird while there. Indigo Bunting was a first, as well as finally a Ruby-throat Hummingbird and Least Flycatcher. After 3.5 hours there, it just wasn't happening so I decided to move on. 46 birds at Woodland was a good, but not great start to the day.
The routine when going to Woodland is usually heading to the airport. Top down on the Jeep always makes it much easier to bird there. You can get nice views of the trees on both sides of East Airport Road. Thankfully because of that view, I nabbed lifer number 293, Orchard Oriole. Excellent looks at a singing male. I heard an Oriole singing that seemed just a little different. I put my binoculars on it, and saw an Oriole with an incredibly dark red front. Yes I did audibly say "That's an Orchard Oriole!". I've dipped on them there in the past. It was nice to get this one checked off the list. Not to be outdone I observed a Baltimore Oriole going into a nest within 50 feet of where the Orchard Oriole was singing. The airport also gave me a FOY Grasshopper Sparrow with excellent looks at it.
After this I needed to head back to the homestead. I may be able to go the whole day birding, but my dogs cannot. From here on out it began a chase to catch birds that Kiehl Smith was finding. Cerulean Warbler at Voorhees Brothers Sanctuary was the first alert I received. I've never actually been to the Sanctuary before, just outside of it for Barred Owl last year. Before I get there though, there are plenty of excellent spots on the way there.
My go to spot for Bobolinks is 23 Mile Road and O DR N. The field on the North side of O DR N has always been a good place for them. A quick drive down P DR N near Lake of the Woods revealed nothing significant. Sure enough though at O DR N there were plenty of singing Bobolinks. This is one spot that I really should plan out to bird better. It's a nice spot with little traffic and some decent open field, and open fields with small scattered brush. Ideally it should be hit earlier in the morning as the scattered brush is on the South side.
Now at Voorhees there is a nice path with some large hard wood trees, but lacking in the heavy underbrush. There are some open farmland to the South that should help with some variety there also. My target bird, Cerulean Warbler, gave me some amazing looks. Number 226 for the county. I only spent an hour there, and did miss on some other birds there. Was hoping to nab an Acadian Flycatcher there.
From there I headed up 24 Mile Road with hopes maybe the open fields have some flooding with shorebirds in them. No such luck, so on to Duck Lake. Duck Lake is definitely a late Fall-early Spring place to bird. Once the boats are out there the birds move on. Even the WTP was lacking in birds, with only 14 species there. From there I decided to swing by the O DR N "fluddle" and see if any late shorebirds decided to show up. What it lacked in quantity of species, it made up for in quantity of specie. 9 Semipalmated Plovers tagged as a high count for this area. I had high hopes maybe there was another Plover mixed in there, but no such luck. Next alert had me running from there down to Fairview Cemetery/Homer Sewage Ponds to try to beat the sun going down. Kiehl had reported Least Sandpipers there. Despite hardly any open shoreline there were 9 Least Sandpipers there. I also managed to finally get my FOY Bald Eagle there trying to stir up things.
All in all in ended up being a pretty Big Day for me with 1 lifer, a second County lifer, 13 FOY and 81 birds in total. I know with a little more planning, and better timing it is possible to get 100 birds in 1 day within the county. The county overall had 110 birds reported.
On the heels of the Big April, I had high hopes for May. This was especially the case, as migration had seemed very weak so far. The pace for the whole County was excellent so far. I have hopes of a 220 species year for the county. Already some great birds found, but some somewhat easy ones still yet to be seen.
May started out with the Red-headed Woodpecker back for Day 5. Really nice having this bird hanging around the yard. I've also had good luck recently with Turkey's strutting their stuff in the yard. On the 2nd they were at the feeders with them so close, I had to stand 10 feet back away from the window to try to get shots of them.
On May 3rd I managed a quick swing by the Cell tower on F DR N and caught an Osprey trying to rebuild the nest. I've not been able to get by there again to see how things were progressing. Hopefully they get a 4th year in a row there of raising some young. The Dowitchers were still there on the 3rd, but the lighting was not any better, and the temps had warmed up enough to cause a horrible mirage effect. They also stayed well in the back of the field. I was unable to see them the last 15 minutes I spent there scanning. A quick trip from there to Duck Lake WTP netted me a huge flock of Ruddy Ducks. 189 of them flagged as a high count for this time of the year. They were all over the West lagoon. I also had minimum 30 Purple Martins with 26 of them posing nicely on the wires near the lagoons.
May 5th I managed a few better shots of the Red-headed Woodpecker in the yard, and spotted another one on May 6th at the airport. My 110th bird at the airport. May 6th was also my Field Trip with the KBS group to Brook Lodge. Not quite 50 species there, but we did find an invisible Blue-winged Warbler (luckily another one managed to actually show itself to everyone.) Surprisingly Warblers were still not showing up yet. We managed only 6 there. I also only managed 6 at Woodland Park after the KBS field trip was over. Got some decent shots of Yellow-throated Vireo and Black-and-white Warbler. You can see the tell-tale "arrowheads" on the undertail of the Black-and-white Warbler.
The O DR N "fluddle" didn't really present much for a short time after the last Dowitcher sighting. Duck Lake WTP always seems to be one of the best places to get photos of resting Swallows for me. They like to rest on the fence line, and you can get relatively close to them. Photos in flight, usually not so much as you are having to face South to see them. This Northern Rough-winged Swallow gave me some nice looks. You have to be a little careful this time of the year with making a snap ID on the "brown" swallows. As you can see from this comparison the juvenile Tree Swallow on the right has a dirty chest, almost reminding you of Bank Swallow or the Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Notice the fat wings on the bird on the right, and how the white runs up to a nice sharp line on the side of the head. The Rough-winged, on the left, doesn't have the same facial pattern, and a Bank Swallow will have narrower wings and a narrower body.
I continued on to Whitehouse Nature Center to see the very late Common Merganser that was there. Good news/bad news, the bird was there and allowed some excellent views and photos, but it had fishing line wrapped around its bill. Potentially with a hook in there, as there was a sinker on the line. I did manage a photo of it catching a fish, but I'm not sure if it managed to swallow it. It was obviously irritating the bird, as it kept trying to scratch at its bill. It continued from the 6th to the 9th, and then disappeared. Hopefully it was able to overcome this.
May 8th started a string of lifers getting reported, and me being unable to take time off to chase after them.
The Marsh Wren was a tough call for me to make. I spent a lot of time listening to it, recording it and then analyzing the calls. They weren't giving a full song, even to playback. On top of that the Geese and Blackbirds were making quite the ruckus also. It ended up being an accurate call on them. I add another bird, even if Heard Only. Brooks also gave me the FOY Green Heron and White-crowned Sparrow (finally). Another FOY happened just as it was getting dark. As I was finishing up with the Marsh Wren, there was a huge flight of 200 plus Swallows on the lake. Suddenly this lean, long-winged large birds comes swooping through over the cattails, prairie and the lake. This was by far my closest looks at Common Nighthawk. It was amazing watching (I use that term loosely as it was quite dark), this bird hunt. Deftly quick and maneuverable. My previous experiences have been them hunting at higher heights and not having to do turns in which their wings went perpendicular to the ground.
It stunk to miss out on the Least Bittern, definitely a bird high up on the want to see list. I dipped on Golden-winged Warbler at Woodland Park also. A very frustrating bird that should be much easier for me to find. 1 out of 3, isn't too bad though. I thought I'd have to try to squeak one of these out of Baker Sanctuary. Next up a really Big Day for me in the county, on the International Big Day.
I received an e-mail alert for Year Needs for Calhoun County in the late afternoon. The report from Dr. Dale Kennedy, unbelievably, listed 100 Pectoral Sandpipers and 250 Bonaparte's Gulls in a small flooded field on O DR N, near the Jackson County line. I thought I had to at least go look and see this sight with some many Pecs gathered together. It was indeed an unbelievable sight. An extremely large area of a farm field had been flooded over.
The field contained 106 individuals for waterfowl, including; Gadwall, American Wigeon, Blue and Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Buffleheads, Ruddy Ducks and Mallards. They were however dwarfed in scope by the number of shorebirds and Bonaparte's Gulls. The distance was quite far from the road, but I accounted for 189 Pectoral Sandpipers just along the closest edge of the water. I reported 215, but there could have been more.
As far as Bonaparte's Gulls I reported 270, but there could have been well over 300 there in that spot. I had 100 just on the South side of the road near my Jeep, and around 3x that still in the large flooded area. The Bonaparte's Gulls even gave me one of my favorite shots ever. I like to refer to it as "Double Vision".
This picture shows only a small amount of the Pectoral Sandpipers (and one Dunlin, middle right between Gulls, I caught as I write this in June) that were at this "fluddle". All Pectorals, with some Bonaparte's Gulls mixed in.
The Gulls, on the South side, allowed for some excellent shots and comparisons of the various stages of molting for the adults, and the juveniles. The first bird is transitioning to the full black hood of a breeding adult. The 2nd and 3rd birds are almost complete. The 4th picture the bird at the far right still retains much of the white of non-breeding, while the bird on the left appears to be completely transitioned. The last picture you can see the juveniles that still retain the nearly completely white heads.
This fluddle was not done with bringing in some really good birds to the county, more on that in a little bit. It did bring me FOY Dunlin, Pectoral Sandpiper, and both Yellowlegs as starters.
Chaos put a damper in the birding until a FOY Palm Warbler showed up on the 21st, and then on the 22nd I was able to lead a group from then KBS FOC class to Woodland Park. 48 species was a good number to hit. We had a Canada Goose that I called a Wood Goose. The crazy bird stood at the top of a downed tree like a Wood Duck would do. Some of the better birds unfortunately showed up shortly after everyone left. Migrating Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk (one was seen during the walk also), and Broad-winged Hawk flew over as I sat in the parking lot. Ruby-crowned Kinglets gave us a good looks as well as Palm Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. I blew the Sharpie ID in the field as it was not flying as I have normally see them. I noticed the heavy markings on the pics once I got them on a big screen.
I picked up 3 FOY birds on this Field Trip with Yellow Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler and the Broad-winged Hawk. Savannah Sparrow at the airport and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow at my house later in the day.
Things really started to pick up for migration later the following week. The FOY Rose-breasted Grosbeak on 4/27, along with what began as a long string of having Red-headed Woodpecker visiting my suet feeder until May 6th. 4/28 really kicked things off with 15 FOY birds, 8 at Woodland Park alone. I took a vacation day thinking we would have a decent day finally. Well it turned out to be the best day I have had ever. 79 total birds for the day in Calhoun County, besting my previous April high of 68 and May high of 74.
One of these 79 was added later on in the day. I snapped some pics of some sparrows at the airport. Blew this ID initially. Never looked close as I thought they were both Savannah Sparrows posing nicely so I snapped some pics and forgot about them. Never looked at the pics till tonight. The buzzing call I thought might have been Grasshopper Sparrow, or partial Savannah Sparrows (but due to constant Airplane traffic I never heard the entire song), turned out to be the Clay-colored Sparrows calling in the field. Still not the highlights of the month.
On April 30th Dr. Dale Kennedy sent an e-mail out stating they had spotted 2 Caspian Terns and 2 American Golden-Plovers at the O DR N fluddle. I immediately booked out there after these birds. Caspian Tern is a desperately needed bird for Calhoun County. As I arrived the Terns were right out there in the open, and shortly after I had spotted the Plovers. As I was leaving 2 additional Caspian Terns had shown up making 4 in total.
I remained scanning there and eventually located 2 Dowitchers. Short-billed is already on my list, but Long-billed would be a great find and an eBird first for the county. The birds stayed well out into the fluddle, and there was no way to get plumage to clearly identify. These two birds are notoriously hard to differentiate in the field. My initial thought was Long-billed in the field. One bird showed a very heavy, "swallowed a grapefruit" look too it with a long bill. I snapped as many pics as I could. My best bet was to get enough evidence on the GISS (General Impression Size and Shape) to justify it.
Eventually the birders who saw them had every possible combination covered. We had 2 Short-billed, a Long-billed and Short-billed, 2 Long-billed, and 2 Short/Long combinations. I kept going back to my pictures and trying to support the Long-billed ID. 2 shots helped to clinch the ID of one of the birds. The one bird showed an extremely long bill, and a small patch of white at the very front of the wings. These and the GISS all added up to being able to have Marc North confirm one as Long-billed and the other would go in eBird as Long/Short. An outcome I was more than happy with. Multiple new birds for Calhoun County hasn't happened since May 11 of 2016, coincidently it involved 3 Terns.
Duck Lake WTP was my next stop with a heavy hatch happening I counted 12 Purple Martins, 20 Tree Swallows, 5 Bank Swallow, 20 Barn Swallows, 5 Cliff Swallows (FOY) and 2 Chimney Swifts (FOY), along with 400 Swallow sp. I was unable to clearly identify due to the darkness. These birds gave me 125 for the month of April, besting last April of 120 birds. The Dowitcher gave me 223 birds lifetime for Calhoun and May would help to improve upon that number some more.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)