[Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
When we last left off, a lifer Connecticut Warbler had showed up at Woodland Park on 5/18 and I managed to get some acceptable pics and video the morning of the 19th. Another highlight of that morning was some really great looks at a female Canada Warbler, a constantly calling Mourning Warbler, and a FOY Gray-cheeked Thrush singing.
That evening of the 19th, Hercules and I went for a walk at Brooks Nature Area and came across my best looks at FOY Common Nighthawks so far. It was relatively early in the evening and with plenty of light behind me the Nighthawks put on a great show allowing for some photographs that will be hard to top. Two Common/Forster's Terns were also on the lake, but disappeared by the time we made it out to the lookout.
I needed to try to start to look for Grasshopper Sparrow or Dickcissels, and Q DR S near 1.5 Mile Road is as good a spot as any. While I didn't find either of those, I did get a surprising Clay-colored Sparrow singing. This was a bird I wasn't counting on getting this year. More interesting than that was a Sedge Wren that was giving a very odd song. It had an almost Pine Warbler like trill at the end of its songs. You can hear the "normal" song until about 29 seconds into the below video where it switches.
I am really digging the new camera/lens combo. Getting shots I'd have never gotten, or even bothered trying to take before. Even these Red-winged Blackbirds shots are something I am proud of for my skill level.
The 21st I tried for Grasshopper Sparrow at the airport with no luck, so headed back to Q DR S. I did manage a FOY Cliff Swallow there, which was surprising. I also had very brief looks through my windshield at an odd-looking female blackbird. It looked very yellow near the head. Unfortunately it bolted before I could get a clear look at it. Since I was looking through the windshield I can't rule out some weird reaction with the tint/angle causing the color. No way I could call it a Yellow-headed Blackbird with certainty.
I then headed to Homer to try for shorebirds. No luck there, but did manage a tie for late Horned Grebe. The Grebe continued to the 24th, so a new late record for this bird in the Spring. It was while there I got notification that Dr. Dale Kennedy had Black-bellied Plovers on 21 Mile Road. This was a far more interesting bird for the year than the Horned Grebe, so I booked up there. So begins one of the craziest moments of rarities I've can ever recall.
I did swing by B DR S, since it was not far out of the way to check the fluddle there. FOY Semipalmated Sandpipers were holding court with some Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpiper. FOY Bank Swallows were also buzzing over the dwindling fluddle. Once I arrived at 21 Mile Road I had an eye on the reported Bonaparte's Gull. I snapped some pics, just since it was a late record and jumped right back in to trying to find the Plovers. More to come on this in a bit. It took a few minutes to finally locate them as they have moved farther back into the field. I got better photos than my previous Calhoun County bird. I then headed to the R DR N fluddles and was surprised to find a White-rumped Sandpiper within 10 feet of the road feeding alongside a Dunlin. The bird was incredibly accommodating giving me by far my best looks to date of this species.
Now back to that "Bonaparte's Gull". I got home and started going through my pictures and realized this bird didn't have orange legs, the hood was very extensive, and just looked off for Bonaparte's. It turned out this was a lone Franklin's Gull. This put 3 extremely rare birds for our county within 1/2 mile of each other. Just incredible!!!! Not just birds that tagged as rare, but truly rare species. All 3 of these birds were first eBird records for the Spring. The last Black-bellied Plover (Code 4) was in August 2016. The last Franklin's Gull (Code 5) was November of 2015. The last White-rumped Sandpiper (Code 4) was October 2017.
But wait...there's more!!! 3 days later on the 24th I was diverted from jumping on the highway by a traffic backup, so we hit up Grevers on the way to trying Homer again. While no FOY were there, I did have at least 3 Pine Warbler singing there. A good sign they may be breeding in the area. After we did a short walk there, we finally made it to Homer. As I was scanning the edges I came across a bird on the shore with an incredibly rufous head. I thought "Wow that is a very bright Least Sandpiper!!". Shortly after this the shape came more into focus as the mirage was maddening and the bird was on the distant shore. It was a Phalarope!!!! Now to try to nail the ID on it. I know these guys can be tough to ID sometimes. I decided to hook up my phone to my new scope (wow this new scope is great!!), and try to get some pics. Turned out this was a great idea as the below horrible photo was the best I managed, when compared to my pricey new camera setup. From this pic I was able to confirm the county's 1st Red-necked Phalarope, and a lifer for me to boot!!! Needless to say I was shocked by this find. The next day it was sighted closer to the near shore, so some better pics were obtained by Brendan Klick.
This flurry of rare birds bumped up my year total to 205. I had hoped to try to gather one more FOY before the end of May, but it wasn't meant to be. Nothing really too much of note after this bird. The county sits at 216 as of today, 7 ahead of last years place and at a whopping 231 birds in the past 12 months!! Not sure we can keep that number up for the rest of the year. I'm going to try to see if I can get 5 more FOY this month and be at 210 for the year. As good a goal as any.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)