Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
I received an e-mail from Dan Toronto late afternoon of the 15th saying he thought he had seen a Merlin at the KCC campus area. This would be a perfect bird for #200. I had tried to chase the Albion College bird with no luck, and had yet to run in to one at the airport. I had thought about skipping my 1/2 day vacation on the 16th due to the rarity of tying to get something prior to American Pipits showing up, but Birdcast.info had called for the morning of the 16th to be a good migration day. I still had hopes of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Golden-winged Warblers have popped up all around here, so I headed off to Woodland Park the morning of the 16th.
There was a pickup in activity since my last visit, but the leaves are still so thick it made it hard to ID quite a few of the birds on the main trial. After that flock disappeared, and my pants were soaked from snaking through the unkept meadow trail, I headed back across the footbridge and started playing YBFL calls to see if I could get something. Nothing. I had a few American Redstarts and a Magnolia Warbler work there way through, along with the normal woodland birds. I headed back and decided to walk through the woods in the middle of the park that lead up to the Eastern meadows. Finally a place that was hopping.
Quite a few birds speeding through the thick brush in there. Cape May, Black-throated Green, Tennessee, Bay-breasted, and several others I was never able to get a good enough look at. I thought I had something that was not quite normal, but pretty sure it was just a Black-throated Green. I was also treated to a Cooper's Hawk circling overhead with the Blue Jays sounding the alarm. Unfortunately no YBFL.
As I left Woodland I paused at the entrance trying to figure out where to go next. I could head to Hart's Lake, a potentially good spot for a YBFL, I could head to the airport, or I could head to KCC. I needed gas for the Jeep, and Meijer was closest and right next to the airport. I decided to head there, and then to go through the airport quick and then check Hart's Lake out.
I pulled in to East Airport Drive and noticed something "small" and white handing in the small trees on the edge of the North retention pond. Way too small for a Great Egret. Could this finally be a Snowy Egret for Calhoun County? As I put the scope on it, it definitely showed as a Hawk. I zoomed in and the bellyband was visible. For some reason one of the Red-tailed Hawks was about 6 feet off the water's edge in the tree, looking like it was hiding. I'd never seen anything like this from a RTHA before.
I pulled down Airport Road more and with the top back started trying to see if any warblers were working the trees there. Nothing, but a Warbling Vireo, and the "normal" birds. Proceeded down to the end and there was an American Kestrel just to the North zipping by another Kestrel sitting on a fence post...only this was no Kestrel. It was a Merlin being harassed by the Kestrel (a turn on what I've normally seen out there). #200 was in the bag, so to speak!!!! Couldn't have asked for a much better bird to hit that mark with. Especially as I moved closer it continued to sit there and give me great looks at it. The Kestrels out there didn't act intimidated by it, as the continued to hunt the grass and land within 1 fence post length of the Merlin. The Merlin only moved once, and went about 5 fence posts further to the North. I was also able to observe the American Kestrels hunt, getting a decent pic of one as it held a Praying Mantis in its talon!!
So now that #200 is behind me I am focused on seeing how far I can push this above 200. I think I have a good shot at 4 more birds:
There will be likely a lot of trips to Duck Lake trying for the waterfowl and the gulls (along with the dump for the Gulls). I don't think I have any chance to pass any of the numbers from the counties nearby as far as Big Year totals go (taken from the Michigan Bird Listers State & County Compilation Totals)
August nearly ended with an excellent bird. I had a group of shorebirds fly around Homer WTP and then head to the Southwest. One in particular was very interesting. It lacked the legs extended beyond the tail, like the Lesser Yellowlegs show (and the Stilt Sandpiper that was with them), but showed a white rump. The white rump ruled out Solitary Sandpiper. This left me with a White-rumped Sandpiper. After posting on Whatbird.com and Facebook ABA What's that Bird, and some e-mails with our eBird reviewer Marc North, turns out Lesser Yellowlegs must be able to fly with their legs tucked under. Who knew?
Fall Warblers started on the first weekend on September with some good looks at Blackpoll, Magnolia, Wilson's, Chestnut-sided and American Redstart. Nothing new of note though, but was on the lookout still for Cape May and Northern Parula. These two being the only two warblers that I expected to get and missed. Whitehouse Nature Center in Albion turned out to be especially good. I was over there hoping to get a glimpse of the Merlin that was reported there the day before. Again a dip on that bird. I have a feeling I may be spending every morning at the Airport, before work hoping one makes itself visible there.
Friday September 9th gave up a Cape May Warbler prior to going in to work. I had to wait till the end of the day for confirmation though I had a quick look at it, and it showed the requisite streaking, but the pic of the tail pattern clinched it. Luckily it has a unique pattern on the tail to confirm my initial visual ID. Number 196 for then year. Later that day I got a Need Report from eBird for Red-breasted Nuthatch seen by Doug McWhirter at Winnipeg Lake, along with a slew of warblers. I thought what an odd place to find those birds. I contacted Doug and got a few more details. This would definitely be a spot I would have to hit on Saturday.
Saturday had a decent showing of migrant warblers coming through at Woodland. Bay-breasted and Tennesse being the ID'able ones. At least 3 others that were so hard to see what they were. The canopy seems to be thicker than we have seen the past two years in the fall. It was then on to Winnipeg Lake. Turned out to be a great place to view migrants coming through. The opening of the lake brought a nice breeze that keep the mosquitoes at bay, and it was open enough to get looks at the birds. I snapped some confirmation pics for the Orange-crowned Warbler Doug had seen also. Black-throated Green, and Blackburnian were there along with a Nashville. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was flitting through the pine trees. An Olive-sided Flycatcher provided some entertainment as it did some fancy maneuvers trying to get at the various flying bugs around there boat launch. Finally after about 20 minutes the Red-breasted Nuthatch made an appearance. Always making itself as inconspicuous as possible, but there it was. I didn't even have this bird as an expected bird for the year due to how rarely reported it is around here. I think in the last 2 plus seasons the report of this bird are countable on one hand. #221 for the county, and #197 for the year. I think I finally relaxed some on whether I could hit 200 for the year now.
To keep the string going Sunday September 11th I had my first decent sized flock of warblers coming through. 6 confirmed species and 4 others I was not able to get enough of a look at to confirm. One of the 6 turned out to be the Northern Parula I needed!!! Looking back at historical sightings for this bird, they all were later in the month. Thought I would have to wait on this one. That being said it kind of hit me that my birds for September that I had targeted as "easy" finds were now completed. I honestly thought, "Well what do I do until the American Pipit shows up in October?". I'd say something about "Be Careful what you wish for", but it turns out to be a good thing.
I had a 1/2 day on Monday the 12th, and thought I might just cancel it and go in to work since I didn't expect to find anything new that day, beyond a rarity. A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher had been reported on 30 Mile Road, so I might as well try for that one. As I drove there there morning I thought I would see if the R DR N flooded field had filled in some with the rains in the prior days. This was a total sidetrack from my original intended route. Along the way there is a flooded field on N DR N that I decided to check. It was nicely flooded so I had some hopes of seeing some shorebirds. As I am scanning through the dozens of Killdeer, I spot that unmistakable shape of a Plover. Second year in a row we have now had an American Golden-Plover!!!!! Another bird I had not expected to get this year. Especially with so many flooded fields no longer being flooded this year. #199 with a shot to get #200 in the same day with the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
After this high, I headed to R DR N hoping maybe a Baird's or Buff-breasted could top this bird. Alas, it looks like yet another flooded area is being worked on to prevent flooding. There were several pieces of machines there along with reels of hosing, and the land completely cleared down to the dirt. I made my way down to N DR N between 23 and 24 Mile Road checking for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in this area, with no luck. Drove to Duck Lake WTP to check out and had a moment of excitement with another bird, very white in color and similar in shape to Plover. I thought I had another American Golden or Black-bellied there. Looked at it more in the scope and it was smaller than either of those, less stocky. I had a quick second of thinking maybe I finally had a Phalarope, but seeing the short bill on it....and then in flight the double bands on the neck I knew what I had. My first leucistic bird. A leucistic Killdeer!!
30 Mile Road yielded no sight or sound of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. My excitement there was a warbler I was unable to ID at first. Broken eye-ring, no wing-bars, some yellow-mixed in to it. Had forgotten what a female Black-throated Blue Warbler looks like. Was nice to end the day with some intrigue, and to be sitting at 199 for the year. Just once more to go.
August did end as the first month this year to not exceed a Monthly high, or a daily high. I ended August with 84 birds, short of the 89 record. My high day was 45, compared to the 53 previous high. I have a feeling I will be seeing similar scenarios the rest of the year as I start to target areas for need birds, and not general areas as I have prior.
Being this close so soon, now has me getting greedy and wondering if I can pass the 205 number that, prior to last year, was the lifetime high reported for the county. Possible, but will still need some breaks here in September.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)