Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
I didn't realize, until last night, exactly how rare the White-rumped Sandpipers were for this area. I updated my spreadsheet information, and did some sorting and was amazed by how rare this bird was for this area. I went on eBird to look at the recorded sightings prior to the irruption the Great Lakes has seen this year. In the 8 counties I use for my data (Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Eaton, Hillsdale, Jackson, Kalamazoo, and St. Joseph), there have been one sighting of White-rumped Sandpipers. That was in 1972 in Kalamazoo County, by Karl Overman.
That rarity of sightings puts the WRSA ranked at number 259, out of 269 birds sighted in Calhoun County (291 out of 294 eBird confirmed birds in the 8 counties). The only birds I show as being rarer for Calhoun County, prior to this year:
I'm thankful to all the area birders that reported their sightings, and giving me some hope we would get in on the fun.
I almost wasn't going to go out today, due to some heavy duty moving around of my office and studio, but the sunshine was just too tempting. We had a good dumping of rain yesterday, so I thought I would just try the flooded field on 23 Mile Road on my way to make the WTP rounds (Duck Lake, Homer and Tekonsha. White-rumped Sandpipers were still being reported North and South of here. I was surprised to see that the deeper pond, that 2 months ago had housed a Pied-billed Grebe and some Teal was now almost nonexistent. I could see some movement, and upon getting my scope on it I could see 5 Pectoral Sandpipers along with a few Killdeer. Not bad, but I decided to keep looking. Scanning North a little more I ran in to another Pectoral, and a slightly smaller Peep that had a promising profile to it. Long wings, black legs and not buffy like a Baird's Sandpiper. It was indeed a first for Calhoun County White-rumped Sandpiper!!! Finally after what seems like forever with these guys showing up all around, this little flooded field comes through one last time.
I decided to still check out Duck Lake and theWTP at Duck Lake. Duck Lake offered little besides a large group of American Coots. Upon arriving at the WTP I was pleasantly surprised by how far drawn down the water was on the East pond. I thought for sure there would be some more shorebirds present. Alas, it was not to be. Nothing by some Killdeer that flew out with some Starlings when I pulled in, and a handful hanging around the pond. I thought I was hearing and seeing some American Pipits but without my bins, and the bright backlit sun I was unable to get good looks. I caught one bird heading North towards the Farm Field, snapped a pic and turned out to be an American Pipit. Turned out to be a new bird for this location.
I decided to not hit up Homer, or Tekonsha, and headed back home. The Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpiper had disappeared about 15 minutes into the 20 minutes I was at 23 Mile Road, so I swung back by for another quick look. Nothing but the Pectorals and Killdeer were there. I now regret hitting up Homer as Tom Pavlik had 4 of the White-rumped Sandpipers there around the same time I would have arrived there. Dr. Dale Kennedy, later in the day, also had the first Snow Goose of the year for the county. The Snow Goose would have been a nice pickup for the year. Especially when I consider that last year at this time I was only 1 bird ahead of where I am at this year (it will be 2 birds tomorrow).
Doug McWhirter swung through yesterday and spotted a very wayward Red-necked Grebe at Brooks Nature Area/Stuart Lake. I figured I would swing through there on my way to try, yet again, for some White-rumped Sandpipers. The weather was supposed to be more cooperative for pics...not so much.
I checked the small wetland area just after the turn off from Homer Road. Lucked out with some looks at a nice flock of Rusty Blackbirds. My previous sighting was an extremely lucky sighting last year of a lone bird. It was good to see this bird showing up in some decent numbers. I recorded 20, but there were likely more than that. Right place, right time as they were shortly replaced by a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds in the trees there.
Once arriving at the parking lot I noticed a Rock star pull-in. Scott Jennex was riding shotgun with Mary Trombley, who I met for the first time. They were looking for the Grebe to add to some already great 2015 Michigan numbers. Birding with (much...much...much) better birders than yourself really shows one there is a lot left to learn. We saw some good sparrow activity along the trail out towards the lookout. Shortly after the trail turns South-west to run along the lake we took some looks out on the lake. Some Pied-billed Grebes were out there in the lake, along with Mute Swans, but it didn't take long until the Red-necked Grebe showed itself. Pretty unmistakeable with very evident red neck on it. Unfortunately the additional time I stayed after Scott and Mary left didn't get me any better shots at it. It moved closer to the lookout, but that put it into the reeds in the lake.
I have Red-necked Grebe as a Code 3, and the 209th ranked bird for the County. It is actually probably a little more rare for Calhoun than that number even. First county report is Dec 2011 from Scott Jennex at Duck Lake, and March 2014 brought a bird to Albion and one to 11 Mile Road near Battle Creek. The Polar Vortex pushed in quite a few of these in to the inland waters that weren't frozen over in 2014.
This chart below shows this to be the first far inland bird for Michigan this season (light pink square in south-central Michigan). These guys would normally want to stay on the bigger lakes. Prelude to another Polar Vortex perhaps:-). This "guy" definitely is ahead of the rest of them, and a welcome visitor to the county. Hopefully he sticks around, although a later in the day checklist from Doug McWhirter didn't have it on there due to a jet skier on the lake.
The remainder of the day was less than spectacular. A Cooper's Hawk chasing a Red-Tailed Hawk at Duck Lake WTP made that a new bird for there. Homer WTP did have a decent mix of some FOS birds, with a Northern Pintail causing me some consternation (first time experiencing a male not in breeding plumage).
Two County Year birds for me, and I look to see that I'm only 2 behind my pace last year without really doing a targeted "Big Year" this year. I think 200 is definitely possible for the county in a year, but it won't be this year.
Oh the White-rumped Sandpiper irruption is driving me crazy!! Reports from North, South, West and skipping a county to the East (Washtenaw) are all coming in with multiple numbers of White-rumped Sandpipers. The only white rump I can see is if I turn around and look in the mirror. I decided Saturday to give it another shot, and hit up the drainage ponds at Kellogg Airport. There was some nice shorebird habitat there in the Spring and maybe the ponds are low enough to attract some.
No luck though. A nice mix of sparrows were there, Chipping, Song, White-crowned and a lone Savannah. Some Trumpeters didn't mind me getting out of the Jeep, walking up to the fence, snapping some pics and getting back in the Jeep. Apparently rolling up the window some crossed the line, and they flew off. I did get a briefly cooperative Nashville Warbler, a first for the Airport. 33 new birds added to this site so far this year. Really became a great spot throughout the year.
On my way to Duck Lake I swung by Lake of the Woods, to no avail. Instead of the normal route up 19.5 Mile to R DR N, I went down P DR N hoping for some open farmland after seeing reports of some Longspurs in Berrien I thought maybe I'd get lucky on some "lost" birds. No suck luck, except some good looks at a good sized group of American Pipit. Long-story short there was nothing at Duck Lake WTP, and I decided not to make the loop to Homer and Tekonsha. Choosing rather to swing by and sort through the Pipits again. No Sprague's, but I did come across 14 American Pipit, a couple Yellow-rumped and a very cooperative flying Cooper's Hawk.
All and all, a great day for birding and some nice finds along with finally checking off the OCWA from a very long 2 years of frustration. Hopefully within the next couple weeks we can get some White-rumps within someone's glass around here.
If you are following, even remotely, the goings on in Michigan Birding you know that White-rumped Sandpipers are showing up in some huge numbers throughout the state. Kinderhook Sewage in Branch, and Olivet Sewage in Eaton both had groups of them show up. Unfortunately probably the best habitat dried up 4 or 5 weeks ago. I decided to make a run around the county to see if any landed here. I stopped at Woodland in the morning to try to see if the Orange-crowned might show up. It was okay along the Juniper trail again, but much quieter than it had been.
So off to do the WTP loop I headed. Tekonsha offered my one moment of excitement, when I see a small shorebird that wasn't a Killdeer. Alas, just a late season Spotted Sandpiper bobbing his away between the two ponds. No Phalaropes, or other shorebirds in sight.
Down M-60 I go to Homer, hoping the shoreline has improved. Alas, no such luck. Still very weedy with very open area near the water. Plenty of Canada Geese there this time, and a high count of Killdeer, with some Ruddy Ducks and the first American Coot reported there. All by its lonesome. One more bird closer to getting Homer to 100 species.
Last desperation, Duck Lake WTP with much hope in my mind. Let down again:-( Redheads showing up, and a lone Ring-necked Duck male show that Waterfowl migration is starting to move in. No White-rumped Sandpipers though.
Sometimes you get something like 23 Mile Road that can help to spoil you and make you think Birding can be easier than it really is sometimes. It wouldn't be any fun if it wasn't a challenge though. Maybe someday I will loosen up, and actually follow the birds instead of hoping they come to me.
A nice crisp morning at Woodland Park was a great reprieve from the chaos of work (although I'm sure in a week the chaos will be compounded). The place was much birder than it had been the past few days, and relatively early. Unbelievably I caught a view of the first White-crowned Sparrow seen here. Found it hard to believe that was the first.
A plethora Cedar Waxwings were out in the Juniper trails, along with some Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows. A few of the latter trying to practice their typical "Sam Peabody" song. Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also in some abundance out there. It was quite active within the first 15 minutes I was at around 20 species sighted.
I moved back into the Hidden Loop trail hoping to catch the ever elusive Orange-crowned Warbler, or any other warbler that may desire to show itself. Back near the lower growth in the South-west corner (near where I am 60% sure the OCWA teased me) I came across a nearly impossible to see bird. It moved quickly, and deeply in the undergrowth. Too close for me to get binocular focus on it, yet to deep to get any auto focus to work on the camera. But there is apparently a little bird-mojo left in me.
Looking back through my photos, and a little Lightroom auto-correction, I got enough of one very fuzzy focus shot (along with its behavior and size) to ID it as #206 for Calhoun County...Winter Wren.
The mild jubilance I expected to experience in the field, was a bit muted with the confirmation of what the dark derriere proved. I'll take it and proceed to keep trying to bird the heck out of this county. There are plenty out there to still find, and learn to ID.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)