Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
I received an e-mail alert for Year Needs for Calhoun County in the late afternoon. The report from Dr. Dale Kennedy, unbelievably, listed 100 Pectoral Sandpipers and 250 Bonaparte's Gulls in a small flooded field on O DR N, near the Jackson County line. I thought I had to at least go look and see this sight with some many Pecs gathered together. It was indeed an unbelievable sight. An extremely large area of a farm field had been flooded over.
The field contained 106 individuals for waterfowl, including; Gadwall, American Wigeon, Blue and Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Buffleheads, Ruddy Ducks and Mallards. They were however dwarfed in scope by the number of shorebirds and Bonaparte's Gulls. The distance was quite far from the road, but I accounted for 189 Pectoral Sandpipers just along the closest edge of the water. I reported 215, but there could have been more.
As far as Bonaparte's Gulls I reported 270, but there could have been well over 300 there in that spot. I had 100 just on the South side of the road near my Jeep, and around 3x that still in the large flooded area. The Bonaparte's Gulls even gave me one of my favorite shots ever. I like to refer to it as "Double Vision".
This picture shows only a small amount of the Pectoral Sandpipers (and one Dunlin, middle right between Gulls, I caught as I write this in June) that were at this "fluddle". All Pectorals, with some Bonaparte's Gulls mixed in.
The Gulls, on the South side, allowed for some excellent shots and comparisons of the various stages of molting for the adults, and the juveniles. The first bird is transitioning to the full black hood of a breeding adult. The 2nd and 3rd birds are almost complete. The 4th picture the bird at the far right still retains much of the white of non-breeding, while the bird on the left appears to be completely transitioned. The last picture you can see the juveniles that still retain the nearly completely white heads.
This fluddle was not done with bringing in some really good birds to the county, more on that in a little bit. It did bring me FOY Dunlin, Pectoral Sandpiper, and both Yellowlegs as starters.
Chaos put a damper in the birding until a FOY Palm Warbler showed up on the 21st, and then on the 22nd I was able to lead a group from then KBS FOC class to Woodland Park. 48 species was a good number to hit. We had a Canada Goose that I called a Wood Goose. The crazy bird stood at the top of a downed tree like a Wood Duck would do. Some of the better birds unfortunately showed up shortly after everyone left. Migrating Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk (one was seen during the walk also), and Broad-winged Hawk flew over as I sat in the parking lot. Ruby-crowned Kinglets gave us a good looks as well as Palm Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. I blew the Sharpie ID in the field as it was not flying as I have normally see them. I noticed the heavy markings on the pics once I got them on a big screen.
I picked up 3 FOY birds on this Field Trip with Yellow Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler and the Broad-winged Hawk. Savannah Sparrow at the airport and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow at my house later in the day.
Things really started to pick up for migration later the following week. The FOY Rose-breasted Grosbeak on 4/27, along with what began as a long string of having Red-headed Woodpecker visiting my suet feeder until May 6th. 4/28 really kicked things off with 15 FOY birds, 8 at Woodland Park alone. I took a vacation day thinking we would have a decent day finally. Well it turned out to be the best day I have had ever. 79 total birds for the day in Calhoun County, besting my previous April high of 68 and May high of 74.
One of these 79 was added later on in the day. I snapped some pics of some sparrows at the airport. Blew this ID initially. Never looked close as I thought they were both Savannah Sparrows posing nicely so I snapped some pics and forgot about them. Never looked at the pics till tonight. The buzzing call I thought might have been Grasshopper Sparrow, or partial Savannah Sparrows (but due to constant Airplane traffic I never heard the entire song), turned out to be the Clay-colored Sparrows calling in the field. Still not the highlights of the month.
On April 30th Dr. Dale Kennedy sent an e-mail out stating they had spotted 2 Caspian Terns and 2 American Golden-Plovers at the O DR N fluddle. I immediately booked out there after these birds. Caspian Tern is a desperately needed bird for Calhoun County. As I arrived the Terns were right out there in the open, and shortly after I had spotted the Plovers. As I was leaving 2 additional Caspian Terns had shown up making 4 in total.
I remained scanning there and eventually located 2 Dowitchers. Short-billed is already on my list, but Long-billed would be a great find and an eBird first for the county. The birds stayed well out into the fluddle, and there was no way to get plumage to clearly identify. These two birds are notoriously hard to differentiate in the field. My initial thought was Long-billed in the field. One bird showed a very heavy, "swallowed a grapefruit" look too it with a long bill. I snapped as many pics as I could. My best bet was to get enough evidence on the GISS (General Impression Size and Shape) to justify it.
Eventually the birders who saw them had every possible combination covered. We had 2 Short-billed, a Long-billed and Short-billed, 2 Long-billed, and 2 Short/Long combinations. I kept going back to my pictures and trying to support the Long-billed ID. 2 shots helped to clinch the ID of one of the birds. The one bird showed an extremely long bill, and a small patch of white at the very front of the wings. These and the GISS all added up to being able to have Marc North confirm one as Long-billed and the other would go in eBird as Long/Short. An outcome I was more than happy with. Multiple new birds for Calhoun County hasn't happened since May 11 of 2016, coincidently it involved 3 Terns.
Duck Lake WTP was my next stop with a heavy hatch happening I counted 12 Purple Martins, 20 Tree Swallows, 5 Bank Swallow, 20 Barn Swallows, 5 Cliff Swallows (FOY) and 2 Chimney Swifts (FOY), along with 400 Swallow sp. I was unable to clearly identify due to the darkness. These birds gave me 125 for the month of April, besting last April of 120 birds. The Dowitcher gave me 223 birds lifetime for Calhoun and May would help to improve upon that number some more.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)