[Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
We finally had the first Code 3 bird show up for the year this week...and I dipped on it of course. On the 24th two Snowy Owls were reported at Kellogg Airport. The checklist stated it was in a restricted area, but I recognized the buildings in the background. It was an odd location, but viewable from East Airport Road. When I arrived I was greeted by a cacophony of cawing American Crows. Approximately 500 of them on the near side of the runway. I drove to 3 different spots to try to look for them and found nothing else but a large family group of Trumpeter Swans do a flyover (2 adults and 6 juveniles).
Chaos seemed to take hold a lot this week as my feeder counts were extremely lacking in quantity and quality. Saturday morning, 1/27, I was awakened by a Great Horned Owl calling from the woods. Was worried something happened as it has been some time since I've heard one call from there (looks like I heard one on 10/22/17, and prior to that was nearly exactly a year prior on 1/27/17. I hit up Bailey Park trying for the female Gadwall that had been reported there, and I dipped on last weekend. No luck trying to pick it out there, but the Redhead and Ring-necked Duck were still there. I noticed a small, chunky bird hanging out in a tree over the river. I though accipiter at first, but when I got my glass on it I saw the heavy streaking on the chest. Turned out to be a Merlin hanging out there. Nice and unexpected find.
From there I hit Grever's Nature Preserve, where it was unbelievably quiet. Definitely no chance for any winter finches there. After traveling around some backroads I decided to give Pine Creek Wetlands a shot for some raptors. Talk about quiet, there was near nothing there (Crow, Jay, and Chickadee). The highlight was my first interaction with an LEO while birding. Nearly 4.5 years, and have been mostly left alone. Apparently this spot is a place "where people do, what they do". A couple of minute delay trying to explain, briefly, about birding, eBird, citizen science and I was on my way. I decided to give Marshall a shot since the weather had warmed up hoping for some open water. Stuart's Landing was extremely promising but just Mute Swans and Canada Geese on the water. I gave up on Brooks Nature Area after 19 minutes with the ice still thick enough to support a fisherman, and nothing calling out. On the way home I found 17 Trumpeter Swans in a farm field, with 8 adults and 9 immatures. An extremely large group together for this area.
Sunday I had somewhat of a plan, and it started with Grevers. Much more birdie in the morning this time. Finally snagged a FOY Brown Creeper. Also still nice to see a Red-breasted Nuthatch show up there. From there I hoped maybe some Gulls would be hanging around the Landfill. Again no such luck. From there I decided to try for Red-headed Woodpecker at Baker. I had a few calls and drumming that may have been it, but not enough for me to call it. I heard several Trumpeter Swans calling from the marsh areas. A couple of times I thought maybe there were Sandhill Cranes calling, but it was never clear. I swung by Lake of the Wood remembering that it is fed by a small creek so there was a chance for open water. A small patch held a small family group of Trumpeter Swans, 2 adults and 2 immature. Duck Lake was packed with ice fisherman still, and completely covered.
I received an eBird alert on 3 Greater White-fronted Geese (finally) and tried for them at Bear Lake. The curse of the sunshine was between the mirage and accursed back-lighting I couldn't pick those or Red-breasted Mergansers out. I decided to try to see what Homer looked like. Upon arriving on the south side of the Treatment Plant I scanned through the large clock of Geese and found 3 Greater White-fronted Geese (GWFG) hanging out there. Finally a rare bird for me for the area. Although not as apparently rare as I had thought.
Upon looking at my coding the Merlin actually ranks rarer than the Geese, by 1 (199 versus 198). Both are Code 2, but look like they are close to Code 3 birds. The Merlin surprised me that it ranked that high, and the Greater White-fronted Goose that low. Last stop was trying for Hooded Mergansers at the Millpond in Battle Creek. Again, dipped on those. The GWFG were my 48th bird for January. I don't have high hopes for picking up number 49 before the month runs out. Unless something magically appears at my feeder when I am home, or I get up the gumption to go after a Barred or Screech Owl one evening.
The Red-breasted Merganser and GWFG made 74 for the county so far this year. Again a great start considering there haven't really been any really rare birds pop up until this week, just early for timing on a few. At this time last year Calhoun was at 56 birds. Maybe we can get to 220 by the end of the year.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)