Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
Chaos has been out of control lately, and the relatively slow month of October lead to not a lot of action, but some decent FOY birds to get to 190 for the year. Not bad for not really pushing hard this year. I've mostly focused on Homer hoping to catch some late shorebirds that still haven't showed up around here this year; Stilt Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, or maybe something a bit more rare....cough...Phalarope....cough.
October 7th at Homer brought a large group of Cackling Geese to the Water Treatment Plant, with at least 12 there. Quite a variation amongst them also, with some showing extremely thin necks and/or sloped foreheads. I've spent the past month now trying to learn as much as I can about the various subspecies of both Canada and Cackling Geese. If it was possible to accurately field ID I'd bet I have 2-3 of subspecies of each there the past month. I'd not be surprised if along with Richardson's there was a Taverner's Cackling Goose with the sloped foreheads.
October 8th brought word of Snow Goose at Homer. I wasn't able to get there until the next weekend on the 14th, and found this FOY Snow Goose (above) in the field south of the Cemetery entrance. Really stuck out in the field with numerous other Canada Geese. The Cacklers remained in the area, although I only found them in a field NW of Homer WTP the weekend of the 14th (see white-collared Cackler above).
The weather hasn't been super cooperative either during this time period. I really regret not getting my FOY Northern Harrier in better light. It was extremely windy on the 15th and two hunting juvenile Harriers gave me extremely close looks as they hunted into the wind. I'll take the pics, but with some decent light I could have pulled off much faster shutter speed. Really a great experience with one of my favorite birds.
Shortly after my encounter with the Harrier I ran into a huge flooded field on the corner of N DR N and 19 Mile Road. This site has flooded in the past, and been a spot for some gulls to congregate. This time it was also loaded with Waterfowl. It gave up FOY Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal and well over 200 Mallards. 20 Herring Gulls were mixed in with over 200 Ring-billed Gulls. A bit early to be looking for much else. 72 Killdeer (likely a low count) were counted in one large flock that took off while I was there and flew around. These tagged as rare for the high count at this time of the year.
Back to Homer on October 22nd I counted 20 Cackling Geese mixed in with over 500 Canada Geese. 3 juvenile Double-crested Cormorants were still hanging out there, along with a late Greater Yellowlegs. One of the surprises was watching a flock of Canada Geese come in to the large lagoon and having a small duck flying right in formation with them. Turned out to be a Northern Pintail. Oddest think I have seen flying with Canada Geese.
I stopped by Baker Sanctuary on the 22nd also, hoping to maybe find the Merlin that was being sighted at the Cranefest site. I had a falcon flying over there twice, but it was so far away, and such short looks I was not going to call it between Merlin and Peregrine. I also had a FOY Red-shouldered that I initially thought was just a Red-tailed Hawk. Upon looking at some pics I snapped the streaking went up the throat and some rufous on the underwing coverts made it a Red-shouldered Hawk instead.
Back on the 28th to Homer the Cackling Geese remained but my main target was White-rumped Sandpiper. It was an incredibly windy day, and as I stood there scoping out the lagoon a small shorebird started to fly over the large lagoon, rocking back and forth, and not flying at all like a Killdeer would. I snapped some pics of it, and it revealed the long wings and diagnostic white rump of a White-rumped Sandpiper, #190 for the year. I got some 3rd party confirmation after being fooled last year by a Lesser Yellowlegs with its legs tucked under it. The bill on the shorebird I saw was much smaller than Lesser Yellowlegs so I felt pretty confident in it. It gave Calhoun #215 for the year. Still an outside shot for 220 for the year in the county.
Stopped by Cranefest site that same night. Large groups of expected waterfowl there with over 60 American Wigeon, some Gadwall, Northern Shovelers, over 300 Mallards, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail and Ring-necked Ducks. I counted 1122 Sandhill Cranes, and I'm sure I was way off...on the low side. The Cackling Geese were still at Homer on the 29th and November 4th, along with some exceptionally dark geese. One with a band on it that I have been unfortunately unable to get a better look at. While it is no where near as dark as a Dusky goose, I think there is a good chance that there are some Hudson's Bay/Interior Geese showing up there. October 28th, along with rare Cacklers and the White-rumped Sandpiper, some late Tree Swallows were there.
November 4th a great mix of Cackling Geese were still again at Homer, along with the darker Canada Geese, and even some Canada Geese with partial or entire white rings around there neck. I've still yet to find anything definitive that can tie any of these difference to any other subspecies groups of Canada Geese in eBird.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)