Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
They aren't really boring, but they have become very consistent birds for Homer since October 7th. I'm not completely convinced that there are a few different subspecies of Canada/Cackling there, but I've yet to get the banding information from the one bird. I'm definitely learning quite a bit about the two species.
Skipping Chaos on 11/13 I hit up Beadle Lake, which I neglect way too much, and found Tundra Swans and a group of 4 Trumpeter Swans. After checking Lee Lake, and a few other backroads I was heading down R DR S on my way to check 6 Mile Rd for Roughies. Just West of 8 Mile Road I heard quite the racket coming from the trees. I pulled over, got out and was greeted with the deafening calls of hundreds of Common Grackles. This spot was not far from the large group I had located previously, so I think this may be where they were roosting. I followed some of them to an open field where they were feeding, and was able to observe them doing some murmurations that sounded like thunder as they flew.
Not far from this spot I finally had my FOY Wilson's Snipes, with 2 in a small fluddle on 6 Mile Rd near U DR S. I finally got to the spot I wanted to be at for the Roughies, but found a large group of Ring-necked Pheasants. At least 3 males and 8 female/juveniles were right near the Branch County border.
Homer had the continuing Cacklers, a flyover of 28 Tundra Swans to go with the 2 on the large lagoon. Duck Lake WTP also gave up a pair of Wilson's Snipes and a tagged high count of 160 Buffleheads and 9 Killdeers. Duck Lake had an interesting Merganser group. Usually the Red-breasted and Common Mergansers I've seen are in their own separate groups. This was a very tight group of 2 of each. I was still unable to refine the dilute plumage Sandhill Crane (probably a better description than leucistic).
November 18th Duck Lake finally gave up a good bird this year. It is going to have to give up a few more I think if we are going to get to 220 Calhoun birds for the year. There was a Long-tailed Duck relatively close to the South shore diving for extremely long periods. 3rd time in the last 4 years we have had Long-tailed Ducks show up in the county. The next day Beadle Lake gave up a pair of them but not for long. They quickly disappeared as I tried to find them again around a large tree. I did manage some ID'able pics. Wish they would have stuck around longer. That gave me bird number 159 for Emmett Township (barring anything popping up from a location I don't have listed in that patch yet). There was also a large flyover of 75 Tundra Swans there.
November 20th I thought I'd give Grever's and Baker's a chance, seeing as how they are a couple of the few locations which I'd have any hopes of seeing Red Crossbills that seem to be moving through the Great Lakes region. Both locations were relatively quiet. Baker had a late Song Sparrow, and 2 juvenile Bald Eagles along with an adult. I missed some excellent photo opportunities of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk dive bombing one of the juvie Eagles.
The days prior to Thanksgiving started to see multiple reports from Southern Michigan locations of Snowy Owls, including Kalamazoo Airport. I decided to hit up the Airport in BC, with no such luck. In fact most places I tried on Thanksgiving had very little to offer. The Cacklers continued at Homer, along with a couple of very small "Canada", or maybe some sort of hybrid. One juvenile bird was maybe 10% bigger than the larger Cacklers in the group. That along with the narrow sharp tip bill could make it a candidate for parvipes. There also continued a few Canada Geese sporting partial of full white collars around their neck. Unfortunately I couldn't locate the banded bird while they were close by on the main road. For 11/24, it was rinse and repeat, except with some pics I'm pretty happy with of Cackling and Canada Geese in flight. Other than surprise sighting of 6 Turkey Vultures today was extremely quiet. Duck Lake was impossible to see much of anything with the warmer weather, the mirage was a disaster. White blobs and brown blobs were aplenty.
Long-tailed Duck helped push the count to 216 for Calhoun overall this year. Still need 4 more to go. Hopefully at some point we get some combination of 4 of the following:
Another weekend, another run to Homer for any oddballs that may show up. Plenty of geese continue, but was a bit harder to pick out the Cacklers in the concentrated groups that were present. The drive along the berm was packed from 1/2 way, until the North end of the drive. A l-o-t of birds ended up moving into the water. I was able to pick out at least 6 Cacklers between small group, and another group that flew in and landed close. Another bird was smaller, had a stubby bill, but was same size as nearby birds that were obviously not Cacklers. Either a Canada on the extremely small end of the bill size scale, or puts the other birds within discussion of parvipes.
I thought I had another Red-shouldered Hawk at a previous sighted location at 25 1/2 Mile Road, but it turned out to be the first abieticola of the Fall/Winter. Even with the unexplainably crappy pictures the extremely dark patagials, blobby belly-band (even though on the lighter side), rufous down the neck and underwing coverts, and completely dark head clicked off the boxes for this Northern subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk.
Duck Lake WTP had a checkmark quantity of Buffleheads with 117 I was able to count. A lone female Ring-necked Duck, and 5 Killdeer being the other "highlights" there. The big lake (Duck Lake) is the place the waterfowl are favoring for now. Mallard, Black Duck, Redheads, Lesser Scaup, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, Hooded and Common Mergs, Ruddy Ducks, Pied-billed and Horned Grebes along with a small contingent of Coots made up the vast majority of bird on the water there. The mirage played havoc with getting any long distance looks at anything.
At Lake of the Woods I had a lone American Black Duck mixed in with Mallards, but an unbelievable amount of Sandhills flying around North of there. I decided to drive over to 19.5 Mile Road between R and T DR N just to see if maybe an elusive Whooping Crane would show up. Hundreds of Cranes in the farmlands on both sides of 19.5 Mile Road were present and as I sat there I sighted out my front window an obviously white bird take off with a small group of Cranes. I snapped a couple of quick pics through the windshield and got out to track the bird. It looks like it was settling down North and East of where I was. I took a quick look at the preview pic and tempered my excitement. It lacked the black wingtips one would expect of a Whooping Crane. I drove farther up and found an easy 600 plus Cranes in more farm fields. After about 10 minutes of searching through the birds, from the other side of a small hill 6-7 birds took off and the white bird stuck out immediately. Definitely was not any trick of the light. A nearly all white Sandhill Crane, with a slightly orange bill, and washed out brown on the wingtips. One of these days a Whooping Crane will hookup with some birds heading into the Baker Sanctuary and be spotted.
Having the day off on Monday November 6th, and a cooperative forecast I decided to try if I could try for more than 52 birds, my high for a November day. I set off for D DR S Wetlands, wanting to work my way down the right side of the county first. The small pond on Carver Road had a large group of Swans, that in the dark I thought were all Trumpeter. Upon closer inspection it turned out there were some Tundras closer to the the road, with some Trumpeter's in the back of the pond.
The wetlands at D DR S started out slow, but picked up pretty quick with 25 species sighted there. I reported one as a rare Clay-colored Sparrow, but have been told it is a Swamp Sparrow. It is the oddest Swamp Sparrow I've ever seen with very clear facial markings on it. Could be the sun and the position of its head, but it sure looked like it matched Clay-colored. Dark-eyed Junco, Fox Sparrow and Gadwall were first for this hotspot. Pine Creek Wetlands offered up very little, it was incredibly quiet there.
Short Road I didn't pick up an early Rough-legged Hawk as I hoped, but did get a group of 7 Ring-necked Pheasants there. It has been a great spot in the past, for 1-2 birds, but never a group of this many. Shortly after this I came across a scene from Hitchcock's The Birds. An incredibly large group of Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, and a ridiculous amount of Common Grackles. I reported it as 600, but I'm sure there were way more than that. The group of birds was so large in the corn field across from the below yard, that is sounded like thunder when they lifted off. I wasn't able to discern anything but the above birds, and one Brown-headed Cowbird. No Rusty, or Brewer's Blackbirds to be found.
Homer still had Cackling Geese there, but the other Geese were much less abundant in the larger lagoon. A nice other mix of waterfowl, with a lone Northern Shoveler, some Gadwall, Mallard, Redheads, Buffleheads, Ruddy Duck and a couple of Canvasbacks. Double-crested Cormorants continued at this site also. This is the latest they have still been in the county.
Duck Lake WTP had a large group of Buffleheads with 87 there, but nothing else on the water. 4 groups of ~50 birds flew over, with them being mostly Rusty Blackbirds. Duck Lake gave me some good looks at a pair of American Coots, and a lone Ring-necked Duck, Common Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Horned Grebes and a Common Loon to add to the day count. A small fluddle on 21 Mile and R DR N brought the latest Dunlin to the county.
Last stop for the day was a walk around Baker Sanctuary. I had hopes for White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, but neither were to be found. A juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker was a good sign for there. 2nd year in a row I've seen a juvenile there. It was a great bird to end the day with. 62 birds for the day, 10 more than my previous high for a day in November. Bonus it was a day away from Chaos.
Chaos has been out of control lately, and the relatively slow month of October lead to not a lot of action, but some decent FOY birds to get to 190 for the year. Not bad for not really pushing hard this year. I've mostly focused on Homer hoping to catch some late shorebirds that still haven't showed up around here this year; Stilt Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, or maybe something a bit more rare....cough...Phalarope....cough.
October 7th at Homer brought a large group of Cackling Geese to the Water Treatment Plant, with at least 12 there. Quite a variation amongst them also, with some showing extremely thin necks and/or sloped foreheads. I've spent the past month now trying to learn as much as I can about the various subspecies of both Canada and Cackling Geese. If it was possible to accurately field ID I'd bet I have 2-3 of subspecies of each there the past month. I'd not be surprised if along with Richardson's there was a Taverner's Cackling Goose with the sloped foreheads.
October 8th brought word of Snow Goose at Homer. I wasn't able to get there until the next weekend on the 14th, and found this FOY Snow Goose (above) in the field south of the Cemetery entrance. Really stuck out in the field with numerous other Canada Geese. The Cacklers remained in the area, although I only found them in a field NW of Homer WTP the weekend of the 14th (see white-collared Cackler above).
The weather hasn't been super cooperative either during this time period. I really regret not getting my FOY Northern Harrier in better light. It was extremely windy on the 15th and two hunting juvenile Harriers gave me extremely close looks as they hunted into the wind. I'll take the pics, but with some decent light I could have pulled off much faster shutter speed. Really a great experience with one of my favorite birds.
Shortly after my encounter with the Harrier I ran into a huge flooded field on the corner of N DR N and 19 Mile Road. This site has flooded in the past, and been a spot for some gulls to congregate. This time it was also loaded with Waterfowl. It gave up FOY Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal and well over 200 Mallards. 20 Herring Gulls were mixed in with over 200 Ring-billed Gulls. A bit early to be looking for much else. 72 Killdeer (likely a low count) were counted in one large flock that took off while I was there and flew around. These tagged as rare for the high count at this time of the year.
Back to Homer on October 22nd I counted 20 Cackling Geese mixed in with over 500 Canada Geese. 3 juvenile Double-crested Cormorants were still hanging out there, along with a late Greater Yellowlegs. One of the surprises was watching a flock of Canada Geese come in to the large lagoon and having a small duck flying right in formation with them. Turned out to be a Northern Pintail. Oddest think I have seen flying with Canada Geese.
I stopped by Baker Sanctuary on the 22nd also, hoping to maybe find the Merlin that was being sighted at the Cranefest site. I had a falcon flying over there twice, but it was so far away, and such short looks I was not going to call it between Merlin and Peregrine. I also had a FOY Red-shouldered that I initially thought was just a Red-tailed Hawk. Upon looking at some pics I snapped the streaking went up the throat and some rufous on the underwing coverts made it a Red-shouldered Hawk instead.
Back on the 28th to Homer the Cackling Geese remained but my main target was White-rumped Sandpiper. It was an incredibly windy day, and as I stood there scoping out the lagoon a small shorebird started to fly over the large lagoon, rocking back and forth, and not flying at all like a Killdeer would. I snapped some pics of it, and it revealed the long wings and diagnostic white rump of a White-rumped Sandpiper, #190 for the year. I got some 3rd party confirmation after being fooled last year by a Lesser Yellowlegs with its legs tucked under it. The bill on the shorebird I saw was much smaller than Lesser Yellowlegs so I felt pretty confident in it. It gave Calhoun #215 for the year. Still an outside shot for 220 for the year in the county.
Stopped by Cranefest site that same night. Large groups of expected waterfowl there with over 60 American Wigeon, some Gadwall, Northern Shovelers, over 300 Mallards, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail and Ring-necked Ducks. I counted 1122 Sandhill Cranes, and I'm sure I was way off...on the low side. The Cackling Geese were still at Homer on the 29th and November 4th, along with some exceptionally dark geese. One with a band on it that I have been unfortunately unable to get a better look at. While it is no where near as dark as a Dusky goose, I think there is a good chance that there are some Hudson's Bay/Interior Geese showing up there. October 28th, along with rare Cacklers and the White-rumped Sandpiper, some late Tree Swallows were there.
November 4th a great mix of Cackling Geese were still again at Homer, along with the darker Canada Geese, and even some Canada Geese with partial or entire white rings around there neck. I've still yet to find anything definitive that can tie any of these difference to any other subspecies groups of Canada Geese in eBird.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)