Monday, February 22, 2010

100 Eagle Weekend!

This past weekend, February 20 & 21, 2010, I was priviledged to participate in the Birding on Ice event, co-sponsored by a number of organizations including the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Tropical Birding Tours, the American Birding Association, Friends of the Detroit River, Michigan DNRE, DTE Engergy, and Consumer's Energy. I was asked to represent the American Birding Association, which allowed me to attend all events as a local source to answer questions and help with bird identifications. Each of the two days had the same itinerary, which consisted of four field trips and an evening dinner with presentations. Many new birders attended, which was great, as well as a few more experienced observers. The highlight of the day for many was perhaps the presence of Bald Eagles on all four field trips, on both days, resulting in about 96 eagles counted on Saturday and about 115 on Sunday. Many other birds were seen, of course, and a complete accounting is presented below.

The first field trip began at 7:00 a.m. on the beach of western Lake Erie at the J.R. Whiting Power Plant. The idea was to view birds in the warm water channel outflow from the plant, and on the lake, as well as watch the sun rise. Sunrise was at about 7:20, but before then the whistling wings of many ducks could be heard flying overhead, and the distant calls of courting Common Goldeneyes could also be heard. A group of Great Blue Herons decorated the ice edge adjacent to the outflow and numerous ducks and gulls were farther out in the water and on the ice. On Sunday, Josh from Tropical Birding found an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. On Saturday, two Coyotes trotted out from the woods near us and walked far out onto the ice, well beyond the open water holding the ducks, until they were nearly out of sight. Unfortunately, we had to depart at 8 a.m. to make it to the next field trip destination.

The power plant in Monroe was the next destination, as DTE Energy very generously allowed a limited number of birders to come in and view areas normally closed to the public. We passed a groomed field where they were attracting nesting Herring Gulls so that they would not nest on building rooftops, where they can cause expensive cleanup operations and even damage. The gulls appeared to be pairing up, and even poking around with the vegetation beginning to build nests. Some waterfowl were present in some of the ponds, including a Pied-billed Grebe on both days, but once we got to the very broad warm water outflow where it met Lake Erie, we saw many more birds. Great Blue Herons, Belted Kingfishers, and Double-crested Cormorants were found along this channel, which are difficult to find in February in Michigan. On Saturday, a Great Egret was in the channel, which is a very rare occurrence, and quite surprising was the Common Map Turtles basking on branches at the waters' edge, among the cormorants. There were at least three of them on Saturday and about a dozen on Sunday. The air temperature was 35 degrees both days, but the water temperature can very from 45-56 degrees this time of year. This field trip produced the bulk of the Bald Eagles on both days, with about 75 present on Saturday and about 90 present on Sunday. Some of my better photos of this concentration are included here. I'm sure that many other photographers got better images than mine, as I had to focus on helping other see and identify birds.

After spending nearly two hours touring this plant, we next headed north to the headquarters of the Pte. Mouillee State Game Area. Jerry Jourdan was the lead for this locale, and his scouting on Friday determined that the inner ponds were all frozen so the itinerary was changed to view birds around the parking area for an hour or so. An American Pipit, present here since November, was easily found and viewed by all participants. An 11-year old birder from Ohio told me this was his 100th life bird. Surely, many got good photos of this bird. On Saturday, there were Tundra Swans among the more numerous Mute Swans, as well as other ducks including Buffleheads and close Ruddy Ducks. On Sunday, the Tundra Swans had apparently departed this part of Lake Erie, perhaps signalling the beginning of their northward migration.

After lunch, the groups spent a couple hours at Lake Erie Metropark, where good numbers of Canvasback, with a few Redhead, scaup, and on Sunday a good number of Ruddy Ducks were found among the Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Mallards along with a few American Black Ducks and Gadwall. From here, some headed into downtown Monroe where a nice dinner was provided to those who registered, along with two presentations by the excellent guides from Tropical Birding Tours. Josh Engel discussed birding options around the United States, by season, highlighting many well-known birding locales and a few lesser-known sites as well. Iain Campbell, co-founder of Tropical Birding Tours, presented options for world-birding, how to maximize your effort and expenses, to see as many birds as possible, depending on your level of interest. Both presentations were very well done, informative, and with numerous wonderful bird photos, which surely stimulated interest among the groups to travel to see birds.

Birds seen during this weekend, by my best accounting, included:

CANADA GOOSE- Both days. A few at all locations.
MUTE SWAN - Both days. Most were at Pte. Mouillee with a few at other locations.
TUNDRA SWAN - Saturday only. Most were at Pte. Mouillee where perhaps a couple dozen were seen.
GADWALL - Both days. One or two at the Whiting Plant, Pte. Mouillee, and Lake Erie Metropark.
AMERICAN BLACK DUCK - Both days. A few at all locations.
MALLARD - Both days. A few to dozens at all locations.
CANVASBACK - Both days, but fewer birds were in close on Sunday. Hundreds were at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark, and smaller numbers at Pte. Mouillee.
REDHEAD - Both days. A few among the Canvasback flocks.
LESSER SCAUP - Both days. A few among the Canvasback flocks, though few could be identified to species. Individuals in flight at Pte. Mouillee and at fairly close range on the water at Lake Erie Metropark provided identifiable views to some participants.
BUFFLEHEAD - Both days. A few at all locations.
COMMON GOLDENEYE - Both days. Dozens at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark (especially Saturday), and a few at other locations.
HOODED MERGANSER - Both days. A few at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark.
COMMON MERGANSER - Both days. Dozens, or more, at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark, and a few at other locations.
RUDDY DUCK - Both days. A few at the Whiting Plant, Pte. Mouillee, and Lake Erie Metropark on Saturday, and more than 100 at Lake Erie Metropark on Sunday.
PIED-BILLED GREBE - Both days. One or two at the Monroe Plant.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT - Both days. Only at the Monroe Plant, where perhaps 30-40 were roosting along the warm water outlet.
GREAT BLUE HERON - Both days. 65 on Saturday and 25 on Sunday at the Whiting Plant. Perhaps 20-30 at the Monroe Plant both days. A few at Pte. Mouillee and Lake Erie Metropark.
GREAT EGRET - Saturday only. Along the warm water outlet at the Monroe Plant. Very rare in winter in Michigan, but perhaps increasing?
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON - Sunday only. One immature flying overhead at first light at the Whiting Plant was seen only by me. At least one along the warm water outlet at the Monroe Plant.
BALD EAGLE - Both days. Seen at all locations, with more on Sunday at the Monroe Plant and Lake Erie Metropark and fewer at the other locales.
NORTHERN HARRIER - Sunday only. Seen by early-arriving attendees at Pte. Mouillee.
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK - Both days. One flew very close to the group, twice (!), at first light on the beach at the Whiting Plant on Saturday, and one was perched in a tree near the entrance at Lake Erie Metropark on Sunday but probably not seen by participants.
COOPER'S HAWK - Saturday only. One along I-75 on the way to the dinner in Monroe, so probably not seen by participants.
RED-TAILED HAWK - Both days. Only along I-75 between tour locations, possibly not seen by participants. Several on Saturday, only a couple on Sunday.
AMERICAN KESTREL - Both days. Only one each day along I-75 between tour locations, almost certainly not seen by participants.
RING-BILLED GULL - Both days. A few at all locations.
HERRING GULL - Both days. Dozens at all locations, but hundreds at the Monroe Plant where they appeared to be pairing and beginning nest site selection.
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL - Sunday only. An adult found by Josh Engel at the Whiting Plant, about two minutes before we had to leave!
GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL - Both days. A few at all locations.
ROCK PIGEON - Both days. Many at both power plants and along I-75.
MOURNING DOVE - Both days. Only a few seen flying over at each site, but a few perched along I-75.
BELTED KINGFISHER - Both days. One seen well in the scope, probably the same female, along the warm water outlet at the Monroe Plant.
DOWNY WOODPECKER - Both days. Only one or two at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark.
HORNED LARK - Both days. A few calling overhead, but not seen, at Pte. Mouillee, and perhaps elsewhere. Almost certainly not noted by participants.
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE - Both days. A couple at Pte. Mouillee and Lake Erie Metropark.
AMERICAN ROBIN - Both days. A few, including singing individuals, at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark.
EUROPEAN STARLING - Both days. Mainly at the plants and along I-75.
AMERICAN PIPIT - Both days. Seen well by most participants, even in the scope, as it fed along the perimiter of the parking lot at the Pte. Mouillee headquarters. This bird has apparently been present since November, and is one of very few (if any?) February records for the state, and the species has never successfully over-wintered here.
AMERICAN TREE SPARROW - Both days. A couple to a few at the Whiting Plant, Pte. Mouillee, and Lake Erie Metropark, though not very cooperative.
SONG SPARROW - Sunday only. A couple were singing feebly from the marshes along the road to the beach at the Whiting Plant.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW - Both days. A few at Pte. Mouillee.
DARK-EYED JUNCO - Both days. A few at Pte. Mouillee, and along Campau Road.
NORTHERN CARDINAL - Both days. A few, including singing individuals, at all locations.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD - Both days. A couple singing males at the Whiting Plant, and perhaps elsewhere.
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD - Saturday only. A flock of 8 males was at the corner of Jefferson and South Huron River Drive on the way to the Pte. Mouillee field trip after lunch. Not seen by anyone else.
HOUSE FINCH - Both days. At least one singing male at Pte. Mouillee, but probably not heard by participants.
HOUSE SPARROW - Both days. Mainly at the plants. Likely not seen by participants.

47 species total.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Results of a special bird list in 2009

Some of you may remember that in 2009 I was keeping a separate list of birds seen and identified using only my eyes and ears; in other words "naked birding". My rules were fairly strict. I had to be able to identify the species based on what was only visible to my naked eye, or based on vocalizations heard without any enhancement. For example, if a species was seen and identified in binoculars but the field marks could not be made out without binoculars, the species was not counted. Also, any bird held in-hand for banding could not be counted.

The list totalled 232 species, with most of my birding done in Michigan and Ohio, but a trip in November to the central Atlantic Coast contributed 10 species to this total. I won't include the entire list here, but have included highlights and frustrations from the past year's efforts, in taxonomic order. Purists may argue that this blog posting in particular should not have photos, but seriously, wouldn't this just be the most boring post without them?

A very rare species in Michigan, it is always nice to go to the Atlantic coast in late fall or winter to see numbers of this goose. They were quite tame at Barnegat Lighthouse, New Jersey, allowing great close views and photo opportunities.

Belle Isle is a great place to get close to waterfowl, from the comfort of your car. The subadult male Ring-necked Duck in the photo below was found on the Christmas Bird Count on January 1, and was one of the first species on the list for the year.

There were two great opportunities in southeastern Michigan in 2009 for great views of Long-tailed Ducks. First, an adult male was found by Tom Pavlik in a small unfrozen pond in White Lake Township, Oakland County, in early February.

Then, on Belleville Lake, Wayne County, a small group of females and immatures swam close to shore in early March.

Low flyovers, including birds calling in flight (!) in mid-April at Metro Beach Metropark, Macomb County provided the first chance to add this species to the list. Later in the year, the individual below was very cooperative for the camera at Kiptopecke State Park, Virginia.

It is always nice to see this species flying over the road, along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Virginia.

Luckily, a few were still far enough north to be seen in Virginia in November.

Two were a surprise on the lawn in front of the park office at Sterling State Park, Monroe County while birding there on my birthday.

A disappointment. Despite record numbers of this species in the state in spring 2009, and my being able to see two of them, neither the individual at Lake Erie Metropark, Wayne County, nor the one in Washtenaw County (first county record) came close enough for field marks to be seen, so could not be added to this list. At least they could be tallied on my other lists!

This one flew right in front of the car and landed on a signpost along the I-275 freewsay in early April in Canton. Quite a surprise.

Another disappointment. I had too few chances to attend the hawkwatch at Lake Erie Metropark this fall, so had very few chances to even see this species, and none were low enough to identify without binoculars.

Easily seen at Barnegat Lighthouse, New Jersey in November.

Many were easily seen at close range along the jetty at Barnegat Lighthouse, New Jersey.

This species was seen at close range in Michigan more than once, but the most spectacular sighting of the year came at the Mispillion Bay Wildlife Area in Delaware with thousands of birds wheeling around on the mudflats there. The DuPont Nature Center, where the photo below was taken, is a great place to see thousands of Red Knot in May.

It is always fun to sit in the pre-dawn darkness at Oakwoods Metropark, Wayne County, and listen to the courtship activities of this species. Always an audio highlight of the year. This year, many were calling on March 19. Here is one of many recordings made that morning.

It was a thrill just to see this species in Michigan at all, as this was only the 7th ever, but it was even more special as the bird came so close to shore that binoculars were not needed for identification. Vocalizations were even heard!

Another rare species in Michigan, this one has been coming to Berrien County for the past few years and allowed me to obtain recordings, which I posted links to in a previous blog posting, but for those who missed it, click here.

What can I say? My favorite bird, so seeing one is always a highlight. This year, one at Crane Creek State Park, Ohio on my birthday (April 27) was the earliest I've ever seen one and a welcome addition to this special list.

Yes, I banded five of these in 2009, two in Michigan, two in Ohio, and one in Indiana. But the one in Shreve, Ohio in late October was a nice adult male that was easily identified without optical aids as it visited the feeder, as was the adult male in Indianapolis later in the year.

It was disappointing and yet exciting to band one in mid-August at Metro Beach Metropark, Macomb County. It was the first I've ever banded, but rules are rules and it could not be counted for this special list.

Michigan's first ever showed up in spring and lingered all summer into fall. In early June, I spent several hours with these birds, which numbered at least 5 individuals and more likely 6. I obtained recordings which I posted links to in a previous blog posting, but for those who missed it, click here. For other audio highlights from 2009, you may want to revisit my blog posting from July 4, 2009.

There were many opportunities during 2009 to add this species to the list, but the most wonderful experience came in August when large flocks, many of them brown-backed immatures as in the photo below, were swirling around just after sunrise in the marsh.

The winter of 2008/2009 will be remembered for many interesting species, two of which are described below. But cooperative Red-breasted Nuthatches are always a delight, and while chasing crossbills and siskins, the one in the photo below provided entertainment as it fed on the cones in a Wayne County cemetery.

Another delightful species, and it was nice to see these so close, and so numerous, at the northern end of their range at Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware.

Rarely seen in our yard in Inkster, Wayne County, the one that has decided to overwinter has proven quite special as it worked our Redbud Tree only a few feet in front of me as I stood in the living room window in mid-December, and has provided repeat performances since then, though not for the camera!

I am rarely among the finders of rare birds in Michigan, so this one was astounding to run across on June 7 at the Port Huron State Game Area, St. Clair County. A 9th state record, this cooperative bird was even singing occasionally, and approached to within 8-feet, allowing naked-eye identification.

The first to be added to this list were flyovers at Lake Erie Metropark on October 12, but the most memorable experience in 2009 was driving the dikes at the Muskegon Wastewater System on October 17, providing my best-ever opportunities for photographing this sometimes difficult species. Two of the many great shots obtained are below.

The flock of 40-60 birds in Berrien County in April 2009 was an astounding number, given that mainly individuals have been the norm until now, and was a new state bird for me so I just had to go. They were singing, and so I was quickly able to add this species to this special list based on my recognition of their song. But, later, one breeding-plumaged male burst into song only about 30 feet behind us, giving great views, but being too camera-shy to stay their long enough for a photo.

My favorite place to see Purple Finches in southeastern Michigan is at the Eddy Discovery Center at Waterloo State Game Area, Washtenaw County. The place didn't disappoint, and I got the photo below of a male in the trees above the feeders on January 2.

This species didn't get as much attention as the next species, but amazing numbers were present in the south, and even lingered to breed. The one in the photo below was at the same Wayne County cemetery that provided photo opportunities for the Red-breasted Nuthatch above and the crossbills below. Another highlight was hearing the jubilant song as they prepared to breed, recorded here at the Waterloo State Game Area, Washtenaw County.

The lure of the Loxia has drawn many birders into Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But the winter of 2008/2009 saw an irruption of this species into southern Michigan, and beyond, that allowed for many opportunities to view these tame birds at close range. Flocks of 100+ were at several locations, including the Brighton State Recreation Area, Livingston County where the first photo was taken. Many birders saw their first at the Tyler Road Cemetery in Van Buren Township, Wayne County, and this flock provided many hours of entertainment to photographers as well. Such an irruption may not occur again for decades.

They could easily be located by their calls; click here for one of many recordings, but also by the crunching noises as they fed on the cones!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

2009 Hummingbird Banding Report

I have finally uploaded my 2009 hummingbird banding report. Many highlights and lots of interesting information.

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