Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
Didn't realize I never did any update in February. The beginning of the month started very slowly after adding a pair of Hooded Mergansers on the Millpond in B.C. on 1/31. A vacation day on 2/2 allowed me to catch a FOY Cooper's Hawk out the window. Birds were extremely sparse on Saturday 2/3. Bailey Park had 9 species, Grever's only had 8 species. One lone Northern Pintail drake at Bear Lake stood out of the day as a FOY. I still managed to escape the chaos and be home in time to get checklists put together, although some days tougher than others.
Spent the following weekend on home projects, and clearing out from a ridiculous amount of snowfall. Finally on the 17th I was able to get out and do some birding. The rivers were still somewhat open, but not so much on the lakes. Bailey Park had a pair of Hooded Mergansers that flagged as rare. Other spots including Bear Lake really didn't yield much in terms of diversity. I decided to hit the area around R DR N and 19.5 to 23 Mile road. I was missing Lapland Longspur for the year and decided to see if I could find some mixed in with Snow Buntings.
T DR N near a nice S Curve flushed a Red-tailed Hawk that I watched head to the North into some trees. When I put my eyes back on the road, there was a second Red-tailed Hawk on some road kill. Turned out to be a really nice abieticola specimen. I was able to grab some decent photo, of a truly gruesome nature.
As I moved down O DR N checking for Snow Buntings I had a thought "If I ever find a Northern Shrike, it will probably be up here". Here being at the East end of O DR N where it runs into 23 Mile Road. This is one of my favorite spots, that isn't a hot spot. It is my go to spot for Bobolinks, and was a huge spot for the Dickcissel irruption last year, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Eastern Meadowlarks. I also expect to get Upland Sandpiper in this area, when I finally get one. It is a hayfield on the North, scrubby brush-land dotted with small trees and bushes to the South, and on the East of 23 Mile road a large cow pasture with multiple smaller trees and a small cattle pond. As I get within 100 yards of 23 Mile Road I see a bird take off from one of the small trees along the south side. It looked like a Blue Jay, but didn't fly the same. I turned South onto 23 Mile Road where it looked like the bird flew. I located the bird at the top of one of the large trees in the cow pasture. Put my binoculars on it, and was not expecting to see a bird with the black mask. Finally my lifer Northern Shrike!!!
This is a bird I expected to pick up a while ago, but just was never lucky enough to run across one. It is a code 2, and ranked 195 through 2017 data. This bird was without a doubt my most "Birding Mojo" bird ever. I literally "willed" the bird into existence, at this spot <muwahahahahaaaaa>. Really wish I could have gotten better pictures of it at the time. As it turns out I probably could have considering as of today, 3/4 it was still being found in the same area.
Barnes Park gave me FOY Carolina Wren, and the Red-breasted Mergansers at Whitehouse were still present on the 17th. Prior to leaving for a trip out-of-state on the 20th I finally nabbed Sandhill Crane and Red-winged Blackbirds in my yard.
While I was gone the area experienced some heavy flooding, and turned many of the local farm fields into mini-lakes. On March 1st I was able to get out on time and hit up one of these large "fluddles" on Betz and Beckley road. 4 FOY followed here with Northern Shovelers tagging as rare to go along with some Canvasbacks, Lesser Scaup and finally some Killdeer. Beadle Lake gave up FOY Horned Grebe, along with Pied-billed Grebe the next day.
On March 3rd I decided to hit up Homer WTP hoping the influx of waterfowl would have this place teeming with potentially good birds. So very wrong. Just a handful of Canada Geese, Buffleheads and a lone Common Goldeneye. Barnes Park didn't offer up much else, except a FOY Common Grackle. From there I decided to hit up the spot on O DR N where the fluddle brought us the Long-billed Dowitchers, and Caspian Terns. I figured this would also be flooded, and boy was it. FOY Green-winged Teal, Gadwall and finally Ring-billed Gull. Not sure if there was too much other in there unique, as a juvenile Bald Eagle swooped in and kept harassing the ducks that did hang around. Duck Lake WTP gave up some early Northern Shovelers that tagged as rare. I tried for the Shrike briefly but was unable to relocate. FOY Rusty Blackbird flagged on P DR N, with some good looks.
With the sun slated to be out a second day in a row I headed back out on Sunday 3/4. I decided to check out the damage at Woodland Park. It was not good. Lots of flooding throughout the park. Much worse than I have ever seen it there before. A distant Ring-necked Pheasant called while I was there, but not much else there other than the normally expected birds (although Song Sparrow numbers here and at the airport flagged as high at 3 or more). Hart's Lake had the opposite with the water level down for the most part, and very minimal waterfowl there.
From there I decided to hit up the flooded field on D DR S. It was good for some waterfowl last year, so I decided to try it again. I noticed a small white bird mixed in with some Canada Geese, and my initial look I thought I finally got my FOY Herring Gull. As I pulled up closer and was able to get my scope on it I observed a small white goose with a very small bill. Ross's Goose!!!! Really nice find for the county, as it is a Code 4 bird. This site was not done yet, as I kept scanning there were 2 Cackling Geese mixed in with the small flock. 3 Tundra Swans, and 10 Wood Ducks added to the FOY count for this site. Upper Brace Lake and Brooks Nature Area, brought nothing significant so I called it a day. 17 FOY birds within the past 4 days was a nice jump to the number for the year.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)