Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
Just a place keeper for July target birds this weekend.
American Woodcock - Baker
Great Horned Owl
Broad-winged Hawk - Whitehouse
Cliff Swallow - Duck Lake WTP
Blue-winged Warbler - Woodland
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - Woodland
American Black Duck - Division Drive Wetlands
Herring Gull - Landfill
Lesser Yellowlegs - Duck Lake WTP
Bonaparte's Gull - Homer/Duck Lake WTP
Least Sandpiper - Homer
On the heels of my last post, I now definitively have an Iceland Gull...from even farther back. I was going through pictures to try to gradually get checklists updated with pictures, instead of Flickr links. As I was going through the pics I had of the Lesser Black-backed Gull from December 20th, 2014 at the landfill. As I was looking through them, in order to get the LBBG pics exported I saw a Gull I have no idea how I missed before. Plain as day a white-winged gull. At this point it doesn't matter if it is Thayer's or Iceland, but it is definitely an Iceland Gull. County bird #192, and it pushed my 2014 total to 195. It just awaits confirmation on eBird now.
July 8th I headed to the D DR S wetlands. Other than the WTPs this place is going to be a place to hopefully get some shorebirds. The grass is pretty thick and high. Hopefully we don't get too much rain, as shortly after the 8th we had quite a bit and this placed filled up quick. This visit brought me a nice surprise with 2 Sora calling from the North pond. Unfortunately my luck with actually seeing them in the county continues. I saw some grass moving, but never able to see the bird. It could have just as likely been the Mink that was hunting in there. Spotted Sandpipers and Solitary Sandpipers were evident, and there was some decent mud visible on the East side, but I don't think there is enough to sustain any large groups like we had at 23 Mile Road 2 years ago. I had at least on juvenile Spotted and I think 2 of the Solitary were also, so could be a breeding spot for these birds. It was not a bad spot, considering I was there for 2.5 hours.
Next stop was Q DR S between 1.5 Mile Rd and W. County Line to check for Dickcissels. I found at least 3 in this spot. Not much else of note in this location, so I decided to head back towards town. On 2 Mile Road and Q DR S I ran across this momma Wood Duck escorting he little ones across the road. What struck me was how light coloring the female had. I'm calling it a blonde looking female Wood Duck. As I pulled up I was able to get a couple of decent shots close up of them in a small marsh area.
After this I took a bit of time off from birding, although I did pick up a Ring-billed Gull for this month on the 15th at Meijer. On July 20th Amy Lyyski reported a Common Gallinule at D DR S Wetlands. I came home from work and then headed out there for nearly 2 hours. It never made itself visible, but I thought I possibly heard the bird a couple of times. Not confident enough to confirm it with all the other noise happening out there. I did get to observe a Belted Kingfisher beating the tar out of a frog on a tree branch.
I returned the next day, again with no luck. Highlight was finding that the Pied-billed Grebes there are at least 2 (and later finding out 4) juveniles. Another Grebe looks like it could be on a nest.
Third time was a charm, albeit the worst look I have ever had at a rare bird in the county. As I scanned with my binoculars I observed a black shape, with some read on it. I watched for a couple of seconds and then grabbed my camera. Horrible shots, but one was at least good enough to even make out the yellow tip on the bill. Otherwise I could see it being as possibly a bad shot of a Red-winged Blackbird:-). I was tempted to continue on, but decided to call it a day with rain threatening.
I headed back out the morning of the 23rd. I wanted to see exactly what the Conservation Easement was on N DR S. It was a lively spot, but not in the Easement. All I was able to notice there was tall grass growing. So not any kind of shorebird habitat. I did manage to pick up a FOY Black-billed Cuckoo at this spot. I proceeded to head toward Homer WTP to check on the status of the lagoons there. Along the way I ran into another spot loaded with Dickcissels on M DR S. At least 6 singing in this spot. July Savannah Sparrow was singing out in the soybean field. I also had a very yellow bird, that resembled a female Scarlet Tanager, but it disappeared off the wire before I could get my camera on it. Really wish I would have snapped a pic of it. I don't think it was a Western Kingbird, but was an odd place for a Tanager to be. I also ran across a mother Turkey with 5 young.
Homer had not much to offer when it came to shorebirds. One very quick look at a Greater Yellowlegs I was unable to locate, and a Bald Eagle I spooked out of the corner tree. First House Finch for July boldly tried to block the Jeep's path. From there I drove past the pig farm on 23.5 Mile Road road. I counted 61 Turkey Vulture as this roost spot.
I next headed to Whitehouse in hopes of adding Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to the July life list for Calhoun. It took some time, but I was able to find the male, and possibly the fledgling (it was a really quick look as it flew). This was my 5th July bird today, so I had gained some ground on the 100 bird target for this month. I kept my eyes to the sky hoping the Whitehouse Broad-winged Hawks might show up. No such luck.
I swung by a possible old landfill site on Division Dr just North of Whitehouse. Kiehl Smith had Grasshopper Sparrow there, and that was missing from this month. Sure enough, within a minute I heard one singing in the field. Swinging by L DR N the Sedge Wrens continued there. Then to Duck Lake WTP...hugely disappointing. The water level in the East lagoon has been low for quite a while and the sides are full of plants, so no mud to be found there. It doesn't look promising this year beyond D DR S. I forgot about the place slightly North of here....will have to remember that next time. The WTP did give up a July Northern Rough-winged Swallow.
23 Mile Road and O DR N continued to have Dickcissels there. Worrying was a female Brown-headed Cowbird having out near a male and female Dickcissel pair. A juvenile Purple Martin is a first for this spot, I think. A July Least Flycatcher called and showed itself. Last stop was L DR N between 11.5 Mile and 12 Mile Road. Last new July bird for the day, with a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher showing itself. I am at 95 birds for July with another weekend to go. I have some targets, and have high hopes I can pull it off (weather permitting). Last check at the F DR N Cell Tower found both Osprey there, but I don't think they are having any luck with a brood this year.
Off-topic, and I wonder if I need to start a new page with something that is starting to catch my attention. This new interest being Butterflies, Moths and Dragonflies. I don't have the right lens for doing this, but I did manage some halfway decent shots of butterflies while birding. I'm finding they are way more frustrating to photograph than birds. Maybe if this continues I'll add another page for these.
The American Ornithological Society released changes to Classification and Nomenclature, and the ABA blog had a nice summary of the changes. One in particular has some impact to Calhoun County bird records, as well as my own. The lumping of Thayer's Gull with Iceland Gull puts to bed a somewhat controversial issue, and at times frustrating one.
One March 28th, 2015 at the CC Landfill I was checking out the gulls and managed to snap some photos of a pale winged gull. I submitted the ID as a Thayer's Gull. The tail band on it eliminated Iceland for me, along with the rounded head, dark pink legs, light primaries and only slightly bigger than Ring-billed size pointed me to Thayer's. After some discussion with the eBird reviewer I was asked to enter it as a Thayer's/Iceland Gull. Not a bad decision given how hard it is to nail these birds. Now that they are lumped to together I have to believe that this bird can now be changed to Iceland Gull.
Not only would this be a county first, but the closest other Thayer's/Iceland in eBird is in Kent County. This bird would be currently a Code 6, making it the rarest bird I have found in the County, by quite a bit. St. Joseph County had Thayer's Gull(s) and Iceland Gulls earlier this year, so that data will contribute to my 2018 coding. Should still put it as a Code 4 or more likely Code 5 bird when all is said and done. Once the Clements checklist comes out, (which eBird ties to)I'll approach Marc North about resubmitting this bird as an Iceland Gull.
If that is green lit Iceland Gull would become bird #197 for the County, with Dickcissel now becoming the milestone #200 bird. My 2015 total would move to 192. My new total would be 229 for the County. Yeah so the Mockingbird dip takes on some milestone significance as I try to get to 230 before the end of the year.
If you want to read more about the Thayer's and Iceland Gull "issue" you can find some excellent posts on Anything Larus listed below.
Evening of 7/2 I received and eBird alert that a Northern Mockingbird was reported on 23.5 Mile Road between H & K DR S by Dr. Dale Kennedy. This bird has been a nemesis for the past 4 years, but I had to wait for July 4th to try to chase it. This location is near the site the Dickcissels were first seen this year. Unfortunately the bird was nowhere to be seen while I was there just after 7 a.m. I had been at that same location on 7/2 about 12 hours prior, so almost a double dip. A single Bobolink made an appearance, a couple of days later than the "Big Day".
It was a nice day, so I figured I would check out some areas I've not been around too much. A little farther North on 23.5 Mile is a small farm that was extremely active. American Kestrels (4) were observed flying around, or perched in nearby trees. As I was there with the top down on the Jeep trying to get a speedy American Kestrel in the frame a Red-headed Woodpecker appeared on a nearby tree. A second one was seen minutes later on a telephone pole. Unfortunately as I had increased my exposure compensation to catch pics of the partially backlit Red-headed Woodpecker, I blew some potential great shots of an American Kestrel flying off with its bounty. If I had to guess I would say it was a House Sparrow in its clutches. This is my first time seeing a Kestrel with a bird as its prey.
From there I headed to one of my favorite spots. It hasn't necessarily yielded a whole lot of birds, but it is a dirt road with some decent habitat. N DR S between 23 Mile Road and 20 Mile Road. A nice surprise was a location I thought was going under some construction, the last time I was there is marked as a Wetland Conservation Easement location. Honestly not sure what that entails, but I will be keeping an eye on it. Always looking for potential shorebird habitat around here. I did manage 28 species within a 2 mile stretch though. Very lively down this road.
From there I decided to hit the extreme Southern end of the County. I drove along W DR S, picking to head into the sun for some reason. This is farmland with some mixed spots of hardwoods and drainage ditches. Tree Swallows covered the telephone lines. Another Red-headed Woodpecker made an appearance on a telephone pole. I've had some good luck with them in the past week. A very young Red-tailed Hawk was seen, and heard, with a nearby adult that was none too happy with me stopping. I was able to witness briefly nature at its most brutal. Life and death struggle of a small bird trying to evade a Cooper's Hawk. I've seen Coops in a flat flight, but this was a whole other experience seeing one zip from side to side and around a tree going well past 90 degrees on its wing plane. From there I went down S County Line road heading West again. Red-eyed Vireos, Willow Flycatcher and even more Tree Swallows were there, among the 22 seen.
From there I decided to head to Brooks Nature Area. I needed to get out and walk for a bit, and also was hopeful for some butterflies to photograph. A quick, and fly filled walk started out with Marsh Wrens closer to the first bench, but still no photos or birds seen. They remain a heard only for me. A young Yellow Warbler gave me some good looks, as did 3 young Baltimore Orioles. The sun was a little high but the Tree Swallows were teasing me to try to take pictures of them in flight. Managed a few halfway decent shots. Definitely would have been a bit better in a lower sun. I also managed a shot of a Widow Skimmer dragonfly, and a Baltimore Checkerpoint butterfly there.
After 2 days of July I had seen 80 birds. Never though that was possible, especially when my high for a single day during migration is 81. Guess things aren't so bad in July when it comes to the birds. Have to wonder if it is possible to see 100 birds in total this July. Of the 101 that I have seen in total for July (Marsh Wren being the latest), there really are not any super rare birds. Alder Flycatcher and Grasshopper Sparrow being the only code 3 birds.
July 2nd lined up to be a really nice day. I decided after a day spent trying to sort through and clean up my gigantic pictures folder, I needed to head out. I still didn't have Henslow's Sparrow for the year and had not checked on the 9.5 Mile road site that has had them the previous 2 years. The birds were extremely active as I started down 10.5 Mile road towards Division. I thought some Eastern Meadowlarks there would be new for Emmett Township, but I see now I had some just North of where I was at. Making my way down 9.5 Mile road I encountered more Meadowlarks along with a nice mix of other species, including 2 Pileated Woodpeckers. 17 species in 7 minutes in this small field near a farm was a nice precursor to the rest of the day. I started to pull away and a flash of red, white and black caught my eye. A Red-headed Woodpecker!!! Always a great bird to find, and one I know will tag as rare on eBird. Not a great photograph, but enough to get an easy eBird confirmation.
The 9.5 Mile Henslow site was only slightly disappointing. I had 1 very faint Henslow's call there. I was thinking maybe I was here early, but my first time seeing them was on July 3rd, and July 4th in 2015. I had them here in June of last year. Hopefully there were more there and just not as vocal. From there I headed to Homer to hit up the WTP/Cemetery. I had checked on timing for shorebirds in Michigan, and it shows that we may start getting some of them showing back up as early as the first quarter of July. It was a long shot, but at worst I could see what the conditions looked like. They don't look good. Water level is a little high in the main lagoon, and low in the lower ones. Not ideal, but not any worse then previous years we have had shorebirds there.
The WTP did give up a Bald Eagle there, and as it flew off an Osprey scouted out the lagoons. 21 Killdeer flagged as a high count there, and 3 Spotted Sandpipers accounted for the shorebirds this trip. I don't doubt there were more, as I didn't count the ones in the lower lagoons. I was hoping to try to snap off some pictures of the Cedar Waxwings catching insects, but the shadows from the trees made it difficult. From there I decided to hit up the Pig Farm on 23.5 Mile road the that had reported Dickcissels. I did have 2 there, but even more amazingly I counted 64 Turkey Vultures, either flying, roosting in the trees, or even on the ground. I have no doubt there were more there as I couldn't see all of the area where they were on the ground.
About this time I wonder how many birds I have seen, and what my July high is for a day. My eBird app showed I was at 54. I thought that had to be right around that high number. According to my file that high is 63. I tried coming up with options for birds to get to that number. I hit up L DR N to check on the Sedge Wrens. Again another spot with more species than minutes spent there. Sedge Wrens calling, buzzed by a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Swamp Sparrows and Baltimore Oriole were there also. I drove past Duck Lake to pick up Mute Swan, sure enough 2 adults and 3 cygnets were there as well as Purple Martins.
Duck Lake WTP had a few surprises there for me. A female Ruddy Duck was on the grass near the East lagoon. I spotted a Bank Swallow mixed in with the other swallows. A Wood Duck had 6 small ones with it there, as well as even more Turkey Vultures (17). After leaving there I ran across a small fluddle on 26 Mile Road and Hooper Road just barely in the county. This fluddle is fed from a wetland to the East, so it will likely stay wet through the summer. I don't think this would be a very travelled road, so hopefully there is a shot for some shorebirds in this spot.
Next stop was Voorhees Brothers Memorial Sanctuary to try for the Acadian Flycatcher. I made the walk around the loop, just under a mile for the whole trail star to finish. Nice tall woods with lots of open area under the canopy. Hairy Woodpecker showed up right at the start of the trail. Scarlet Tanager was loudly calling towards the West end of the Acorn Loop there. Other expected birds, including the Acadian Flycatcher, which showed up near the end of the Loop, were readily seen and heard. Red-eyed Vireo and Tufted Titmouse at Voorhees lifted my number to 66 for the day with plenty of day left.
Bobolink was next on my target as I eyed 70 for a number for the day. I headed to 23 Mile Road and O DR N, as that is my go to spot for Bobolinks. The Dickcissels were still out in force there including, at least 2 females. There were however no Bobolinks to be seen. Could be that at noon-time they had settle down already, and may be more focused on their nesting (hopefully). A Brown Thrasher and Willow Flycatcher did help to add to the list.
A short respite before heading out for a Marsh Bird survey, and I was back on the road a little after 6. I had not even made it a mile and a half and a Green Heron flew over, for #69 for the day. Just needed one more to break 70. My first stop at 3.5 Mile Road for the Marsh survey had a Veery calling from two different areas. I'm assuming the same bird in the area. Again no luck with Marsh birds. My next stop at S DR S I managed to catch #71 for the day, Rose-breasted Grosbeak. S DR S also brought me a whopping 11 Green Heron, including 4 roosting in nearby trees.
Unfortunately I had to cut my survey short as a storm moved in, and my last stop also had several people there fishing. I'll need to get back out there and try again. Despite that this unintended Big Day helped to push me to over 100 birds seen in July in Calhoun County. Dickcissel, Hairy Woodpecker and Sedge Wren were new birds for July. I now have 6 months of the year that have 100 birds in it, with June only 2 away. Hey I have a goal for next year now. One last sidetone to this entry I've started to try to take photos of Butterflies to ID. I'm not sure I'll ever get too far down that road of being an expert at Butterfly ID, but I might as well contribute to the Citizen Science while I am out there. My trouble is the lens I use makes it hard to get pics of them when they are so close. I don't have that problem with birds, but insects are a whole other matter. Looks like my 7D may come out of retirement with the kit lens, or picking up another small prime lens. Not sure my back could take hauling around the 400mm and the 70-200mm. I'll continue to try to make due with what I have for now.
As new county birds get harder to come by, I also track birds seen in the county by month. I happened to notice on my list that I have not had a Ring-billed Gull in the month of June. A side trip for dinner to Schlotzky's on 6/25, made for the unmistakable call of a Ring-billed Gull coming from the nearby Wall-mart parking lot. Birds are everywhere.
On June 27th I received an e-mail while at work. Kiehl Smith had relocated the White-eyed Vireo at Whitehouse, and Dr. Dale Kennedy also found it shortly after. I managed to get out of work on time, get home and then head on over there. On the way I usually drive by the F DR N Cell Tower now that there isn Osprey nest back there. Top down on the Jeep, I pull up and immediately see 2 Osprey on the tower. Great sign for some future Osprey. An even better sign not 15 seconds after I arrive there, one of the Osprey leaves the tower, flies around the tower and lands on top of the other Osprey. Definitely a great sign for future Osprey here. I am going to have to check back later in July to see if they are successful. Seems a little late considering I'm reading 7-8 weeks to fledge after 34 to 40 days incubation. That would put them fledged sometime in mid-September.
From there I headed straight to Whitehouse. I didn't have to go far as the bird was reported just past the footbridge over the river. Within 5 minutes of walking around near the River trail I heard an odd call. I'm not very familiar with the White-eyed Vireo calls. For me it is always one thing to listen to a recording, and another to hear them live and mixed in with other birds. I could see where one might not recognize this call as to me it is very similar to a Gray Catbird except for the repetition. It was calling from the North side of the trial, very faintly. I tried to search through the brush to get a visual. It was not coming out, even with some pishing on my part. After approximately 10 minutes and a few minutes of it not singing, I started to hear it on the South side. This side has a small section that offers a view into the lower wetland area. It was calling from not less than 30 feet away, but didn't make itself visible. It is a lifer, and Calhoun bird #228, but I always wish I could see the bird, or even better get a picture.
While I was there I stopped by to see how the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were fairing. I believe this pair is the furthest south birds in Michigan. They picked a nice spot for a nest. Right over the trail near the Nature Center building. I immediately observed a curious but wary small head in one of the holes in the tree. The female flew in shortly after and fed it, and it disappeared back into the nest. I could hear it giving little chip notes that intensified in volume when the male then flew in to feed it. Looks like they will have at least one successful fledgling from this nest. Something interesting about the call notes when I tried to clean them up in Audition. There was a distinct high and low part to the call. I'm not sure if it was a result of there being two birds in the nest, or if it was the bird using both sides of its syrinx.
After about an hour at Whitehouse trying to locate the White-eyed Vireo for a picture I left and headed to the small wetland near Rice Creek on L DR N, between 26 and 24 Mile roads. A Henslow's Sparrow had been reported near there, and is a new location in the county for them. I also needed one to add to the year total. I had no such luck there, but at least 1 Sedge Wren was heard singing here. I hit up 23 Mile Road and O DR N to see how the Dickcissels were doing. In the less than a mile long stretch of O DR N I counted 12 Dickcissels singing. Not far from there at N DR N and 20.5 Mile road I found 2 more Dickcissels singing. Definitely an irruption year for them here.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)