[Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
This year continues to feel like a mess of contradictions, between perception and reality. If I wasn't looking at numbers and Codes I'd be thinking this hasn't been that great of a year. The lakes went from ATV on the ice on a Sunday to completely open by at least that Thursday. Open water brought boats. So it feels like the ducks aren't showing up in the numbers seen previously. Turned out somewhat true. On the 9th there was a flooded field north of O DR N off 23 Mile that had 100's of ducks and swans. I was trying to find the Eastern Screech-Owl that was seen earlier, but no luck. Instead had 3 flocks of Tundra Swans fly over and nearly 200 Mallards in the larger fluddle. Was also out in the area to try to find Short-eared Owl found by Kiehl Smith. No luck with that either, but did get FOY Eastern Meadowlark and Greater Horned Owl.
I managed to escape Chaos and get back out in the area on the 11th to find a flock of 150 plus Rusty Blackbirds on O DR N. Rusties were prevalent on the 13th at D DR S, with some decent shots allowed as they fed. The water is extremely low there, and getting lower. Could be some good shorebird habitat, but it needs to not be bone dry for that to happen. The 23 Mile Road fluddle gave up FOY Wilson's Snipe and was packed with 87 Tundra Swans. Wilder Creek finally gave up the Green-winged Teal to me. That little guy was a master of being hidden. I only saw him as I scoped out some Mallards. He was in the background moving around.
I knew Fox Sparrows would start to show up so I hit Woodland Park on the 14th, and I wasn't disappointed. Herc is still rough, but getting better. I think for most of April and May I'll have to bird by myself early. I may then take him back out in the afternoon when things aren't as intense and I can work with him more. Lee Lake gave up one lone Red-breasted Merganser and Duck Lake a tied for early record of Common Loon. Tundra Swans now numbered 104 in the small fluddle with well over 240 Mallards, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal as well as the Northern Shrike still roaming south of O DR N. J DR N didn't have a Short-eared Owl, but a Wilson't Snipe was putting on its flight display.
The 17th I managed a FOY Pied-billed Grebe scoping the backwater from my living room window. Continuing with that luck we again managed to escape Chaos and head out. American Wigeon had joined the other ducks on the fluddle on 23 Mile Rd. The highlight of the day though was the relatively close experience with the Northern Shrike. Hercules has a routine to conduct his business when we walk down O DR N for a bit. We walked down to the end and I saw a flash of grey with a long tail, and thought maybe it was a Mockingbird. It was the Shrike set up on a bush about 50 feet away. I started to snap pics as this was close for this bird. It actually then flew right up to within 20 feet of us and appeared to be checking us out for maybe 10 seconds. Hopped on another bush about 5 feet further away for a bit and then took back off. I couldn't have asked for it to pose better for me. Perfect light low and behind-ish me. According to time stamps on photos whole interaction was under 50 seconds, but it felt longer. What an impressive bird.
The 20th I thought I had a great start to the day, but it fizzled out. I thought I might try for a big day but the numbers just weren't adding up. I've come close to hitting that 57 a few times this month. I was disappointed not having any FOY as I thought I'd at least find something and I was really wanting to try to get to 100 species by end of March. I made sure I had a better plan and start on the 21st. The Airport had a good start with 21, and 31 at Woodland was a boost also. D DR S had 22. By the time I left Graham Lake I was at 42. Dr. Kennedy had some huge waterfowl number at Ackley Lake the day before so we raced up there. The waterfowl was all pushed to the edges by some fisherman, but it gave up 4 more birds, including a Common Loon and a FOY Tree Swallow flyover. Lanes Lake was a fortuitous stop as I had a Common Merganser climb right up onto the beach and 3 Pileated Woodpeckers fly over the lake. Lake of the Woods add 3 more including the earliest record of Easter Towhee in eBird. Duck Lake had FOY Horned Grebe and finally to end the day I went to Brooks Nature Area. This is my go too American Woodcock spot. It was not a let down. After seeing the first March records in eBird of Double-crested Cormorant flying into Stuart Lake, right as the sun went down the Woodcocks started up. It was still light enough to see them flying, but not snap pics of. I was able to see them landing in the trail, and then taking off. Another great experience. All in all 5 FOY birds that shot me up to 100 for the year. Still some more to pick off before the end of the month.
At the end of the day I was 100 out of 115 spotted in the county. Today that ratio disappeared quickly. I dipped on Red-necked Grebe spotted the afternoon of the 23rd on Duck Lake. Dr. Kennedy also located the first Eastern Phoebe for the county. I might have had them but they were so far away and the mirage was the worst I remember out there. Today as I sit stewing in Chaos, Bonaparte's Gull, Blue-winged Teal and American Coot were reported, along with my needs also for Winter Wren and Eastern Phoebe. As I type this someone reported 2 Common Raven's out off I-94 on a billboard. Not too sure about that. Absent the Raven's the other 3 birds pushed our total to 120, with Yellow-rumped Warbler assuming to be accepted. Previous high for end of March is 112. We are also at 224 birds seen in the last 365 days. By far the highest I have ever seen that number.
Back to my thought on perception versus reality. I didn't think we had seen as many rare birds this year as we have previously. I certainly didn't feel I had, even dipping on quite a few. I went back and looked at Codes 3-6 seen, by me, before end of March. 2 years I had seen 3, 2 years with 2, and 3 years with 0. This year I have seen 6 very rare birds for the county!!!
My Birding buddy
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My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)