Saturday, March 22, 2008


Spring officially arrived to Michigan in the very early morning hours (most of us call it night!) this past Thursday, March 20. I decided to go out birding and see what was around. The skies were clear and great for photography, but the wind was howling at 15-20 mph, preventing me from doing any sound recording. And, the morning temperature of 25 degrees (f) wasn't very spring-like! At Metro Beach Metropark (,-82.82095&spn=0.082032,0.1581&z=13), I found this Killdeer on the edge of a frozen puddle, which characterized the morning to that point.

But as I walked around, scouting out the banding area for this coming spring, there were definite signs of the season. A male Cooper's Hawk, sexed based on his small size, was breaking off branches and adding them to the nest in the maple tree where there had been an active and successful nest in 2006. He was clearly not the same bird that nested there before, as he was a second-year bird. He could be aged second year because he was still retaining his brown-backed, streaky-bellied juvenile plumage and had a bright yellow eye.

These birds have nested in the area for several years, and both adults and young have become very tolerant of the presence of well-behaved humans. The female, easily told by her larger size, was found perching near the ground in the same area as the male. Although she is not retaining her juvenile plumage like the male, she also can clearly be aged as second-year because although many of her back feathers are blue-gray, there are still some juvenile brown feathers mixed in. Her eye is no longer yellow, but a pale orange color, which will probably become deep maroon as she ages (this is somewhat variable). She was showing the black-capped, pale-naped feature that is very characteristic of the species, distinguishing her from the similar Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Then, as I was describing the butterfly-like display flight of the male Cooper's Hawk to a friend that I had run into, the male was seen doing this display flight. Great timing!

On Friday, March 21, I spent the day in Kalamazoo helping banders with their horde of Common Redpolls and, hopefully, we'll learn something from this winter's exceptional invasion. And, as if to remind us that, in Michigan, winter isn't over until Old Man Winter says it's over, we got another snowstorm.

If you'll forgive me going into geezer-mode, and as I stated in my last posting, this winter has been very similar to the winters I've experienced in the 1960s and 1970s both in temperatures and in snowfall amounts. The snowfall for this winter in southeastern Michigan has been ranked in the top ten, so those of us who are weary of this long, hard winter can take heart in that it was at least a little unusual in some ways.

I am eagerly awaiting the emergence of the Western Chorus Frogs, Spring Peepers, and the four species of "mole" salamanders we have here in southeastern Michigan.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Northern invaders & hummingbird arrivals

I have had precious little to write about in the past month or so, partly due to a computer crash but also due to not getting out much for various mundane reasons.

I have been thinking a lot about two very different aspects of bird distribution recently. The winter in southern Michigan this year has reminded me of what I have long considered "normal" based on patterns from 15-20 years ago. Lots of cold and frequent snow. Although tied to food sources and not weather, we have been visited by some northern species in what appears to be unprecedented invasions. Common Redpolls have been very common this year throughout the southern half of Michigan (except at MY feeders!), and along with them an extraordinary number of Hoary Redpolls, many of which have been confirmed with photos. Even Ohio and Indiana have seen good numbers of redpolls this year; quite an unusual event for them. The Common Redpoll in the photo below was visiting the feeders at Belle Isle in the Detroit River. This year there have been several reported there, probably for the first time ever.

Even more extraordinary this winter is the southerly invasion of Pine Grosbeaks and Evening Grosbeaks. Pine Grosbeaks especially seem to have come south in numbers greater than the last time I remember them in the Detroit area, which was in the late 1970s! Evening Grosbeaks have also moved south, but in small numbers, but again both species have set records by going south into Ohio and Indiana.

Perhaps the most interesting and exciting invasion this winter has been the Bohemian Waxwings. From late December through early January, the individual in the photo below was not only the first ever on Belle Isle, but only the third record for Wayne County! The first record was a lone individual from Dearborn in January 1945 (record published by Alice Kelley), and the second record was 7 in Detroit in January 1970 (J. Bartell, published in Michigan Bird Survey).

Large flocks are being reported around Lansing, Mount Pleasant, and in Berrien County, and individuals have drifted south into Indiana and Ohio.

It has been a very interesting winter to be sure, but I'm getting restless for the winter to be over and the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to return. In just the past few days, the first individuals have made landfall on the Gulf Coast. Check out the map on the website of my friend, Lanny Chambers, to watch them make their way north.

Only two more months and they'll be back in Michigan!