Monday, October 24, 2016

Please Report Any Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

Birds and birders love hemlock trees.  There is a pest threatening these trees in this area.  Please learn how to recognize Hemlock Woolly Adelgid here or here and report any that you find.  Also, please do not hang bird feeders from hemlock trees!


Sunday, October 23, 2016

October Field Trip Tallies 34 Species

Our October 22 Field Trip Report is posted on the homepage.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Purple Finches Moving Through the Area

Carol spotted this male Purple Finch on our side yard feeder this morning.  Later I saw two females on the same feeder, Brian emailed that he had banded some at the preserve, and several people at Thursday night's meeting reported them on their feeders too.

- Ric

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Warblers at Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

Although work has prevented me from banding many days at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve this fall, and coverage has been less than the long-term average, I have at least been able run the nets more often than during the last two years. Flooding has hindered net placement this season, and rainfall has been heavy this September. Temperatures also have been warmer than normal, and this September has been the second hottest in the last 11 years of banding (marginally surpassed only by last year).

As a result of the odd weather, the species gamut has varied wildly in abundance and timing. Many species have been early, but certain others are running late. Even within guilds, numbers have been inconsistent. For example, Swainson's Thrushes usually outnumber Gray-cheeked Thrushes by about 5 to 1; this year I have caught 17 Swainson's but no Gray-cheeked Thrushes. (A nocturnal count on Sept. 28 outside my house in Norton Shores yielded 37 SWTH to only 2 GCTH!). A high ratio of adults for many species has also been unusual. Overall, numbers have been down this fall, but there have been several surprises.

Thirty-six species of warblers have been recorded from Muskegon County (23 of these have definitely or probably nested here). Fifteen species occur frequently at MLNP in the fall, but due to the lack of mature forest, otherwise common species can be scarce. For instance, I only capture about one Black-and-white Warbler each year, almost always at the end of August or the beginning of September, so three this year were welcome. While the first appeared on September 6, the other two did not show until October 4! The individual pictured here is a first-year male; an adult male would have a darker auricular.

Identifying fall warblers can indeed be challenging, yet some birders wrongly figure that much of this difficulty stems from most species molting into a drabber plumage in autumn. However, of those 36 warbler species, 21 exhibit the exact same plumage as they do in the spring. Another nine do show subtle changes (e.g. Nashville and Palm Warblers). That leaves only six that look substantially different in the fall (e.g. Chestnut-sided and Blackpoll Warblers). The problem actually stems from first-year birds. Within each sex, youngsters are considerably duller than adults, and immature females can be especially subdued.

Among some species, small sizes and canopy niches add to the difficulty. In the case of the Northern Parula (this young male was banded September 30), this situation is extreme. While Nashville Warbler (8.8 grams), Magnolia Warbler (8.6 grams), American Redstart (8.2 grams), and Wilson's Warbler (8.1 grams) are quite small, Northern Parula (averaging only 7.8 grams) is positively tiny. They frequent high canopies in migration, and if they do not sing, they are likely to be missed. Despite a lot of birding time, this was my experience this past spring in Muskegon.

Finally, the bird pictured above (yet another immature male), caught on October 11, represents one of the best captures in the station's history. I had never before banded this species in Michigan (though I have caught many in Pennsylvania and Virginia). Though never common, the species was more numerous and widespread across Michigan several decades ago, but populations have steadily declined. Now rare, breeders are mostly restricted to a few Lake Michigan dunes. Lawrence Walkinshaw noted several individuals from Muskegon County in the 1940's and 1950's, and even found a nest in June 1949 (and continued to find more thru 1956), but more recent records from Muskegon are scant.

The timing of this capture is likewise aberrant. Fall records from Michigan are unusual after mid-September (all of mine have been in August), and even in Virginia only 7 of the 78 birds I banded were in October (with the very latest being October 15). As far as size, this is another tiny warbler. Those Virginia birds averaged only 8.0 grams. Though it had some fat deposits and appeared otherwise healthy, this Prairie Warbler weighed just 7.5 grams.

- Brian Johnson

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Belated Muskegon County Trip Report

October 10 Email:

This is a late trip report, but I found some spare time right now to type it up.  It includes various stops we made in Muskegon County on October 1.  I will include some pictures.

We entered Muskegon County with the intent of heading over to Pere Marquette Park first.  We instead got stopped for a few minutes as we watched a flock of 11 turkeys in someone's yard off Lincoln St.

As soon as we pulled up to Pere Marquette's parking pot, we were presented with a juvenile Bald Eagle in a dead snag, but he wasn't alone.  A nearby flock of American Crows wasn't all that happy about his presence, and they made it known.  They kept mobbing the poor eagle who had its wings out to make itself look as big as possible, but the crows were relentless.  They ended up driving it away, in which he focused his attention on the beach, where a flock of gulls sat. The gulls flew up, and he dove into the water to attack one! He missed, and the gull got to live another day. It wasn't long before the crows decided enough was enough, and they chased him off the beach too. Clear over to one of the lighthouses. That's the extremes that eagle had to go to to escape the crows. 

On the pier railing a couple Belted Kingfishers fought and perched. We had a Sharp-shinned Hawk flyby. These were the highlights as everything else was pretty normal. 

We headed over to the Muskegon Channel while we were there, to check the duck levels. The only ducks in the channel were Mallards, but we did have some swans farther down. We concluded them to be Mutes. While we were parked, a flock of gulls, mostly consisting of Ring-billeds, flocked outside around out car.

As we headed in the direction of the Wastewater, we passed by Pere Marquette Park again and had a flyby Merlin.

We happened to stumble upon a cool looking boat launch which eBird calls the Grand Trunk Boat Launch Ramp, and we decided to bird it for a few minutes.  It did present us quite a few birds, both on and off the lake, in which the highlights were White-crowned Sparrows, a Catbird, two Pied-billed Grebes, and some Tree Swallows. 

We spent four hours at the Muskegon County Wastewater System that day, and tallied an impressive total of 61 species.  I'll include highlights, but a lot of the normal stuff was seen as well.

Peregrine Falcon - 3
Tree Swallow - 200 (congregating)
Eared Grebe - 1 (oddly close to the corner of the lagoon)
Ruddy Duck - 2500 (showing impressive numbers, congregating)
Cliff Swallow - 7
Northern Pintail - 4
American Pipit - 23
Sanderling - 1
Merlin - 1
Willow Flycatcher - 2
Cape May Warbler - 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 8
Eastern Meadowlark - 4
Sandhill Crane - 42 (exact count; all flying in a V behind us)
Lapland Longspur - 4 (Lifer!)

- Lizzy Kibbey (Magical Duck Wizard)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Only Two More Chances for Raptor Sightings

Braveheart Raptor Rehabilitation Center is a very cool place to see raptors close up.  It's located at 6221 Sweeter Road in Twin Lake but will be open to the public only two more times, Oct. 9 and 13, from 1:00-4:00 p.m.  Susan Stamey who runs it is retiring and no longer accepting injured birds.

- Carol Cooper

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Banding Birds at the Nature Preserve

Weather was not the best this morning at Brian Johnson's bird-banding demonstration at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for residents of Lake Woods Nursing Home and The Cove Assisted Living Facility.  Unseasonably cool temperatures and moderate northeast winds kept the audience bundled and the number of netted birds low.

Nevertheless, Brian was able to capture and process three birds before the group had to leave.  The Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brian's first this year, was a favorite with the residents and seemed to relax as he showed it around before its release.

The Gray Catbird chattered throughout its processing and screamed a few angry words as it flew out of the pavilion and back to the woods.

A very late Northern Waterthrush which Brian had banded earlier this week dropped into a net again this morning.  Brian determined that the bird's physical condition was still excellent but questioned its mental ability for sticking around Muskegon until late September.

During the program Brian mentioned that more than a quarter of a million migrating birds flew over Muskegon County last night recorded by weather radar!

(Brian will be banding birds most weekday mornings through October at the pavilion in the middle of the preserve.  The public is welcome.)

- Ric

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Nine American Kestrels at the Wastewater

 American Kestrel

 Same bird as above.  I found this one on the north side.

 I normally would not include pictures of this poor quality
but it was fun to watch the kestrel eat a bug while on the wing.
This was over the rapid infiltration cells.

 In this picture you can see a leg from the bug dropping to
the ground.

Here again the picture is not real good.  If you look closely,
you can see what appears to be a tether hanging from its leg.
This kestrel was at Swanson and White Roads.

- Charlie DeWitt

Saturday Morning on Jeff's Dune

Yesterday morning I counted migrating birds on Jeff's Dune (Muskegon State Park north of the Channel) from 9:00-11:00, then stayed up there until almost noon chatting with a geo-caching guy and his dog Bennett.  Even without binoculars, we saw more migrating hawks that hour than the previous two (perhaps because the east wind picked up and brought the birds lower?).

I counted 180 migrating Blue Jays the first hour (only a few after that) with the largest flock of 40+ birds at 9:40.  Three Broad-winged Hawks popped out of the trees at 9:45.  The Merlin and a Cooper's Hawk perched and hunted the area again this morning.  Five Red-tailed Hawks (a family?) soared together up by Snug Harbor throughout the morning (as did an adult Bald Eagle).

Migrating raptors during the first two hours included 7 brown-plumaged Northern Harriers ...

48 Sharp-shinned Hawks ...

10 Broad-winged Hawks ...

1 immature Red-tailed Hawk ...

17 American Kestrels, 2 non-adult Bald Eagles, and four unidentifiables.

Northern Flickers again called and flew around the area but not so many as last week.  There were a few V's of Canada Geese around, a male Wood Duck flew by, and an immature Red-headed Woodpecker rested for a few minutes on a snag west of the dune.

- Ric

Monday, September 19, 2016

Young Grosbeak Returns

Presumably the same young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak that landed on our feeder yesterday but didn't stick around long enough for pictures returned today and stayed long enough for a blurry shot through our kitchen window.

- Ric

Good "Black" Birds and Others on Saturday

September 18 Email from Lizzy Kibbey:

Good afternoon Ric!

Came to report to you of all the great things we found at the Muskegon Wastewater yesterday.  I will include some pics too!

First off, if you haven't already, you should plan on taking a trip to Coopersville and snag yourself that Black-necked Stilt at the Coopersville Wastewater Treatment Plant.  It's a female and it's supposed to be in the northwestern cell but has been known to be in the southern cells too. 
Mr. Fyfe, my brother and I saw her yesterday, but then got rained on. 

My Muskegon County Wastewater species list with highlights in bold:

Canada Goose - 300​
Wood Duck - 6
American Wigeon - 7
American Black Duck - 10
Mallard - 175
Blue-winged Teal - 2
Northern Shoveler - 250
Green-winged Teal - 4
Redhead - 15
Ring-necked Duck - 1
Bufflehead - 10 (all female group in E. Lagoon; among many hundred Ruddy Ducks and Shovelers)
Hooded Merganser - 9
Common Merganser - 3
Ruddy Duck - 1,200
Wild Turkey - 30
Eared Grebe - 2 (First of the year for me!)
Great Blue Heron - 3
Great Egret - 1 
Turkey Vulture - 50
Northern Harrier - 10 (Multiples everywhere. Most were juvs. Tried getting good photos but failed due to their excessive need to dip below the cornstalks.)
Bald Eagle - 2 (Two juvs.)
Red-tailed Hawk - 4
American Coot - 4
Sandhill Crane - 3
Black-bellied Plover - 2 (Center Dike. Flew off the edge and we got out and snuck up really close till we were completely parallel to where they were standing on the rocky coast below.  Got good pics, and they didn't even seem bothered by our presence after that.)

Killdeer - 10
Stilt Sandpiper - 1
Sanderling - 9
Baird's Sandpiper - 5 (All together in same cell)
Least Sandpiper - 10
Pectoral Sandpiper - 2
Semipalmated Sandpiper - 2
Solitary Sandpiper - 5
Greater Yellowlegs - 1
Lesser Yellowlegs - 4
Bonaparte's Gull - 1
Ring-billed Gull - 1,200
Herring Gull - 70
Rock Dove - 24
Mourning Dove - 9
Belted Kingfisher - 4
American Kestrel - 13
Eastern Phoebe - 1
Blue Jay - 8
American Crow - 42
European Starling - 700
American Pipit - 9
Palm Warbler - 2
Chipping Sparrow - 1
Savannah Sparrow - 10
Song Sparrow - 2
Eastern Meadowlark - 1 (Surprised us by flying out of some tall grass)
Brown-headed Cowbird - 1
American Goldfinch - 2
Mute Swan - 2
Horned Lark - 18

Total: 54 Species

- Lizzy Kibbey (Duck Wizard)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Thursday Morning on Jeff's Dune

Yesterday I spent a few hours hawkwatching up on Jeff's Dune (Muskegon State Park north of the Muskegon Channel).  As usual, lots of bird activity, kind of like watching a show through binoculars and spotting scope, with some of the action up close and personal too.

"Here's looking at you!"

I've always liked the "false face" on the side of the head of an American Kestrel.  "No sense attacking me because I 'see you' already".  This one's really looking west and may have been a local bird.  Three others flew by heading south.

Other migrants included a brown Northern Harrier, three Sharp-shinned Hawks, four Broad-winged Hawks, a (presumably) Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a few Monarch butterflies, and perhaps some of the many Northern Flickers or Blue Jays (but no groups of jays heading south).

Sharp-shinned Hawk, already ate breakfast.

Broad-winged Hawk

Flickers plentiful all morning, two here in the same tree.

Raptors that did not appear to be migrating included a Cooper's Hawk (harrassed by Blue Jays), another accipiter that chased some jays and was screamed at by a female Pileated Woodpecker), a Red-tailed Hawk, an immature Bald Eagle and a Merlin which flew around during the morning and perched on the same distant snag three different times.


Memorable trivia included kestrels carrying prey (one a small body still trailing dune grass, one perhaps a grasshopper that the falcon stopped to eat before continuing south over the channel), jays chasing raptors around the trees and sometimes being chased in return, a jay screaming like a Red-shouldered Hawk as it flew here and there, a pair of very vocal Pileated Woodpeckers, and the flickers flying back and forth all morning.  Nineteen bird species today.

But who's counting?  For a normal person, ho-hum.  For a bird-brain, a very nice show.

- Ric

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Terns at Grand Haven North Pier

Common Tern (foreground) and Forster's Tern

There was a mixed flock of terns on the Grand Haven north pier today, about 12 in all.

- Charlie DeWitt

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Does Anyone Know This Moth?

Ken Sapkowski writes: "Check out this moth photo I took this weekend.  Anyone know the name of it?"

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Buff-Breasted Sandpiper Reply and Photo

August 30 Email:  

Hi Ric,

I observed and photographed the Buff-breasted Sandpiper for some time on Sunday morning, and raising its scapular feathers from time to time is something that it did.  The bird didn't seem to have a problem to me.  I'm attaching a photo of the sandpiper with its feathers down, but I also have photos of it with the feathers raised, just as Bob's photos show.

Jerry Vis

Jerry, thanks for the scapular feathers reply and for the beautiful portrait!  - Ric