Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
I received an e-mail from Dan Toronto late afternoon of the 15th saying he thought he had seen a Merlin at the KCC campus area. This would be a perfect bird for #200. I had tried to chase the Albion College bird with no luck, and had yet to run in to one at the airport. I had thought about skipping my 1/2 day vacation on the 16th due to the rarity of tying to get something prior to American Pipits showing up, but Birdcast.info had called for the morning of the 16th to be a good migration day. I still had hopes of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Golden-winged Warblers have popped up all around here, so I headed off to Woodland Park the morning of the 16th.
There was a pickup in activity since my last visit, but the leaves are still so thick it made it hard to ID quite a few of the birds on the main trial. After that flock disappeared, and my pants were soaked from snaking through the unkept meadow trail, I headed back across the footbridge and started playing YBFL calls to see if I could get something. Nothing. I had a few American Redstarts and a Magnolia Warbler work there way through, along with the normal woodland birds. I headed back and decided to walk through the woods in the middle of the park that lead up to the Eastern meadows. Finally a place that was hopping.
Quite a few birds speeding through the thick brush in there. Cape May, Black-throated Green, Tennessee, Bay-breasted, and several others I was never able to get a good enough look at. I thought I had something that was not quite normal, but pretty sure it was just a Black-throated Green. I was also treated to a Cooper's Hawk circling overhead with the Blue Jays sounding the alarm. Unfortunately no YBFL.
As I left Woodland I paused at the entrance trying to figure out where to go next. I could head to Hart's Lake, a potentially good spot for a YBFL, I could head to the airport, or I could head to KCC. I needed gas for the Jeep, and Meijer was closest and right next to the airport. I decided to head there, and then to go through the airport quick and then check Hart's Lake out.
I pulled in to East Airport Drive and noticed something "small" and white handing in the small trees on the edge of the North retention pond. Way too small for a Great Egret. Could this finally be a Snowy Egret for Calhoun County? As I put the scope on it, it definitely showed as a Hawk. I zoomed in and the bellyband was visible. For some reason one of the Red-tailed Hawks was about 6 feet off the water's edge in the tree, looking like it was hiding. I'd never seen anything like this from a RTHA before.
I pulled down Airport Road more and with the top back started trying to see if any warblers were working the trees there. Nothing, but a Warbling Vireo, and the "normal" birds. Proceeded down to the end and there was an American Kestrel just to the North zipping by another Kestrel sitting on a fence post...only this was no Kestrel. It was a Merlin being harassed by the Kestrel (a turn on what I've normally seen out there). #200 was in the bag, so to speak!!!! Couldn't have asked for a much better bird to hit that mark with. Especially as I moved closer it continued to sit there and give me great looks at it. The Kestrels out there didn't act intimidated by it, as the continued to hunt the grass and land within 1 fence post length of the Merlin. The Merlin only moved once, and went about 5 fence posts further to the North. I was also able to observe the American Kestrels hunt, getting a decent pic of one as it held a Praying Mantis in its talon!!
So now that #200 is behind me I am focused on seeing how far I can push this above 200. I think I have a good shot at 4 more birds:
There will be likely a lot of trips to Duck Lake trying for the waterfowl and the gulls (along with the dump for the Gulls). I don't think I have any chance to pass any of the numbers from the counties nearby as far as Big Year totals go (taken from the Michigan Bird Listers State & County Compilation Totals)
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)