Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
Quick post today as it is almost game-time. Was just about to leave Homer WTP when several large flocks of geese flew in. Mixed in there were some extremely strange calls I've not heard before. I decided I better go ahead and scan through them just to check. As I looked through them I ran across a small group of Greater White-fronted Geese mixed right in!!! #12 off my list, and a bird I last had in late December of 2014. Thought for sure I would be freezing trying to find more. Stopped at Whitehouse after I received an alert on Marsh Wren. I think this is my newest nemesis bird. 2nd time I have dipped on this bird this year. Made my way to Duck Lake and found 7 Surf Scoters I tried to make in to White-winged. One day we will get some White-winged for this county. The Scoters made it 100 birds for October, well above my previous high.
2 and a half months of trying to pick off relatively rare birds is what I am up against for the rest of the year. I thought Snow Bunting is probably the most likely to get picked off before the end of the year. According to eBird Red-necked Grebe and Franklin's Gull are just as likely.
The 15 birds that eBird has, in order of likelihood (underlined would be new County birds for me, in red would be new birds for the County):
Other ones I'd throw out there are:
Busy week with the chaos, but I managed to get out on Friday to look for a potential Short-eared Owl off North Avenue at the far North-east corner of the county. I had no luck with finding one. That would be one of the few potential birds I could still nab. The road is pretty busy, and I had to fight headlights messing up my night vision. Had several of what I thought were white flashes, but they always accompanied traffic. Hard to say if the lights were helping me to see something, or if they were the cause. I had no response to playbacks.
That led to my plan for Saturday. Get up early, head up to the farms around P and R DR N for American Pipit, come home and then head to Cranefest for Northern Pintail. I had plenty of American Pipits there last year off P DR N around this same time. The fields there were still filled with corn. I decided to swing around R DR N to the field that brought us the Black-bellied Plover. It has been cleared away and some irrigation was being added. I hoped maybe I could find some there. My late start made it tough, as we actually had sun in Michigan and it was backlighting everything. Plenty of small birds moving around. Horned Larks as best I could tell. There was a small marshy areas there, so I thought I'd try my luck at Nelson's Sparrows. That brought out some Savannah Sparrows. Eventually I managed to get an American Pipit, #202, to show up with some calls. Just one, nothing else there of note.
I was still on the lookout for any late shorebirds. White-rumped Sandpipers showed up in late October last year. So I started to head towards Duck Lake from there. I was heading West from R DR N and 20.5 Mile road, so I swung north on 19 Mile Road to hit T DR N. Very fortuitous decision on my part. I ran across a newly cut field with some action in it. Larger flocks of Killdeer, and I continued to look amongst the smaller birds hoping for more Pipits or even an early Longspur. We have had heavy winds coming from the North -west and who know what could have been blown in. I ran across some American Kestrels in the field spooking up Horned Larks. As I continued to scan around I spotted a small raptor spinning tight circles chasing Horned Larks in flight. My best look at a Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight, and my best pictures also. Just as described in the guides, it soared in extremely tight circles scanning the fields below.
Next step was to do a scan of Duck Lake from the boat launch. The sun made it hard to scan the whole lake, and the cool temp didn't help the mirage much. There were plenty of gulls on the lake. Again the sun was making it look like I had everything from Glaucous to Lesser-blacked back...depending on which way the Ring-billed or Herring Gulls turned. Hard to get a read on the gray on the back in the sun as it was. At least it was good to see some gulls showing up there already. There will be many a trip for me out there over the next 2 and a half months. As I made my way back up to the Jeep from scanning off the docks, there was plenty of movement in the pine trees along the parking lot. I also started to hear the distinct sound of Red-breasted Nuthatch. In 3 years I couldn't find one in the county, and today I had a minimum of 6 of them flying around the boat launch. Birding is so unpredictable, and thus fun (for the most part).
Next stop was the Water Treatment Plan at Duck Lake. Not really much to report there, other than another Sharp-shinned Hawk soaring out in the distance. This one an adult. A new bird for this hotspot at least. Now to head on to Homer, again trying to find some late shorebirds. I made a quick stop at Barnes Park to sort through the Canada Geese there. I'm on the hunt for a Greater White-fronted Goose at this point also. It only gave up a new October Pied-billed Grebe.
Home was not going to add to my total for the year. Decent amount of birds there, but no shorebirds besides Killdeer. Lone highlight a first of October adult Bald Eagle scattering the ducks around. A Double-crested Cormorant was still hanging out there along with some increased numbers of Ruddy, Readhead, and Ring-necked Ducks.
A short trip back home and then off to Cranefest it was. This is such a great place for birding. I wish it was open more often. I really need to take advantage of the time it is open. A ton of birds there!! Northern Harriers patrolled the marsh throughout my time there. 2 Bald Eagles posed nicely on a tree branch next to each other. 5 Trumpeter Swans were in the marsh also. These included my first look at a leucistic Trumpeter Swan. This bird was completely white with an all orange bill, and orange feet. I assumed it was an adult, but with leucism it could have been a juvenile. After spending a ton of time scanning through all the ducks there I finally managed to find a bird with a white chest, and dark back of the neck. 2 more shortly made themselves visible nearby. Would have been much easier to ID in a month or two, but sure enough they were Northern Pintails starting to move in to their breeding plumage. #203...check.
All in all October 8th brought me 12 new birds for October. The Red-breasted Nuthatch being #84, breaking my previous high of 83. In addition to some of the birds named above, American Coots, American Wigeon, Mute Swan, Herring Gull, and Horned Lark also contributed. A work lunch in downtown Battle Creek on October 7th, allowed me to catch one of the Peregrine Falcons circling around Heritage Tower. 89 Birds so far for October. Very small chance to hit 100, which would be a pretty decent amount of birds for October. Now what to focus on, is probably going to have to be another post. 2 of the fairly easy birds left in one day, leave a lot of time for hunting around to scare up some more.
After my whining on October 1st about what to see next, I still headed out on October 2nd. I intended to hit up some of the Pine Creek Marshlands for some Nelson's Sparrows. There were plenty of Swamp Sparrows and Song Sparrows that responded to the Nelson's calls, but no luck. I hit up 3 1/2 Mile Road where Pine Creek crosses it first. Not much of note there, besides the aforementioned sparrows and a Belted Kingfisher. I then hit it up at S DR S, with nothing at all of note there. I then swung back up to Q DR S and 1 1/2 Mile Road. I remember a small marsh there, and figured what the heck. I was not prepared for what I found.
Down the dirt road at the point where the marsh was, the trees were filled with Starlings, Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Rusty Blackbirds and what I submitted as Brewer's Blackbirds. It was so loud it made no sense to even try to do playback for the Nelson's there. I just focused on the Blackbirds. As I was looking around to see what I could spot, I kept hearing what sounded like distant thunder. I looked at my weather app radar, and only saw some small rain clouds South of me. I finally realized that it was huge flocks of birds taking off repeatedly that was making the sound!!! I reported 600 Starlings and 200 Red-winged Blackbirds. I am probably 1/2 what it actually was. I also caught a late Bay-breasted Warbler at this spot.
After this I went to the 1/2 Mile and Marl Lake Road Hotspots (Pine Creek Wetlands), to try yet again for Nelson's. Not a bad tally of birds there, but again Song and Swamp Sparrows in abundance. My next stop was going to be 6 Mile Road, but I turned around and headed back along S County Line Dr, to West County Line Road. I thought I would check the cornfields for American Pipits. Turned out to be somewhat fortuitous, but not for my target bird. Excellent flocks of Yellow-rumped Warbler and Palm Warblers flying from corn fields to trees and back. More activity than I have seen most of the Fall. Some Savannah Sparrows showed up along with a lone Rusty Blackbird. Also a migrating Broad-winged Hawk appeared well overhead. My first experience with Fall Juvenile Indigo Buntings. I honestly dismissed them as House Sparrows, as they were fairly plain looking. More looks at the pictures convinced me to ask for some confirmations. Turned what I thought would be a quick 5 minute detour into nearly 50 minutes.
6 Mile Road didn't produce anything of note. Most of the corn fields still have corn in them, so trying to catch American Pipits there is difficult right now. I decided to take some back roads on the way home just in case, and swing by Lee Lake. Nothing panned out as the fields continued to be still full of corn. The Creek under 10 Mile Road produced nothing either (again looking for Nelson's potentially). As I pulled up to G DR S (this is the part about why I love birding in my Jeep) at the stop sign I look up and see a Turkey Vulture. I see to the North and East, and much higher, another shape circling around in the sky. I put my camera too it and, for the first time, see the telltale pale "commas" on the wings of a Red-shouldered Hawk!!! #201 for the year!! Even better, now I won't have to be freezing my butt off trying to find one this winter. I'll just be freezing my butt off trying to find something different. Luck, timing and being out there to be at the right place is 1/2 the battle.
I quickly lost sight of him as I tried to follow him East from there. That was the signal for me to shut it down and head back to the house. A quick swing down 10.5 Mile Road, again for Pipits, turned up more full corn fields, along with a nice look at a Lincoln's Sparrow. Nothing else much exciting. While I don't have a list of birds seen from out the top of the Jeep, I'll always believe it is the best vehicle, at least for my style of birding.
It has been 2 weeks since the Merlin sighting, and nothing rare has popped up that has been chaseable. Nelson's Sparrows have showed up throughout the state, and I made an attempt today to look for those. I unfortunately missed probably the best spot at Marl Lake Road to look for them, so that will be a stop tomorrow morning. Overall today was a great start to October. 61 birds seen today, breaking the 51 I saw back in 2014 as a day high for October. Sparrows have shown up in force today. 8 different species of sparrows on the day, including multiple Lincoln's Sparrows. Lots of wannabe Clay-coloreds, that were either Field Sparrows or Chipping Sparrows. My first "good" looks at a Winter Wren at Baker. Other highlights:
Besides today I was able to get some birding in the last weekend of September. Some decent flocks of warblers over that weekend, but nothing like I had in 2014 at Woodland. First of season Black-and-white Warbler, Pine Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Really no other highlights beyond that. I thought I might have had an American Pipit at Kellogg Airport, but it was too far away to know for sure. Still have my fingers crossed I should be able to get one here in the next few weeks. I will be hitting up Cranefest starting next weekend and through the whole time that it will be open. My hopes are maybe I can still pick up a Gallinule there (1 reported last year), and maybe Northern Pintail. The Cranefest site used to be the #1 hotspot in the County. It had a Glaucous Gull, and American Pipit in early October in 2005. Hopefully 1 or 2 more can pop up there for me yet this year. A good start to October has me hopeful for a strong finish to this Big Year.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)