Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cool Morning at Lake Harbor Park


Brian's post below reminded me that I hadn't birded Lake Harbor Park in a long time.  It was very cool there this morning but there were plenty of birds including Black-throated Green Warbler, Great-crested Flycatcher, Belted Kingfisher, Bald Eagle, Pileated Woodpecker, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler and Yellow-throated Vireo.  I recorded 28 species in a couple of hours.

Mike Boston was also there and may have posted some photos on his MCNC facebook page.  I got these of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.



- Ric

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Red-necked Phalaropes at the Wastewater



I found these Red-necked  Phalaropes in the southeast corner of the west lagoon.  It was at 7:00 p.m., so it was pretty dark.  In the RI fields (B4) I had 95 Dunlin, 2 Stilt Sandpipers, 2 Short-billed Dowitchers, 12 Least Sandpipers, 1 Spotted Sandpiper, 1 Lesser Yellowlegs and 3 Semipalmated  Plovers.

- Charlie DeWitt

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Owls, Sparrows, Flycatchers, Warblers, Etc.


While birding Lake Harbor Park yesterday (May 18), I noticed this adorable little Barred Owl. Just hours out of a nearby nest and only half-grown, this fledgling probably could not yet fly. I took a few photos as I simultaneously scanned for the adults or a sibling, but I noticed neither. Last year, the resident pair also successfully fledged young.


Due to its size and abundance of hemlocks, Lake Harbor Park offers quality birding all year. The informal trail system also provides pleasant hikes, although dogs can be a little numerous. Because dead beeches are not culled, there is ample habitat for cavity nesting birds, like this Barred Owl family. On the other hand, habitat diversity across the park is limited, and the understory is generally sparse. This situation has been exacerbated by zealous neighbors who have further removed ground cover in order to create a more "park-like" atmosphere. The area just west of Glen Court, for instance, is quite absurd. Furthermore, an over abundance of squirrels this past winter has resulted in the loss of most red and sugar maple saplings, which are killed as squirrels consume the inner bark. Consequently, there are lots of migrant warblers using the park, but don't expect low or close views.

Scarlet Tanager

When it comes to benefiting birds and other wildlife, even land management decisions by professionals can sometimes be misguided and exasperating, so having the ability to manage your own yard allows you to be your own critic, learn in the process, and reap the rewards. If birds are desired, aesthetics, neatness, or decorations will have to be sacrificed in favor of a somewhat unkempt or crowded ambiance. The precise composition of plants can vary immensely, but species and structural diversity are key. Personally, and depending on conditions, I am fine with certain non-natives (e.g. lilac), but definitely avoid invasive or nuisance species (e.g. bittersweet). The shelter and natural forage provided by a good mix of conifers and hardwood shrubs brings far more benefit than bird feeders.

To better assess how many birds such tinkering has yielded, I sometimes extend my winter mist netting into the spring. Some transients sing during spring passage, but the vast majority do not. Plus, environments that best serve the refueling and resting needs of migrants are not the easiest to bird. Banding helps me track numbers.


Since even Chipping Sparrows are unusual in my yard (the only one I have recently banded was a bizarrely early bird on 2-18-14), I was surprised by this Clay-colored Sparrow on May 8. Locally, the species is uncommon during the spring, but this date lies squarely within their typical passage window. Breeding Clay-colored Sparrows inhabit both dry coniferous scrub and shrubby fields. I have found nests in Oceana and Mason Counties but not yet in Muskegon County, though a few may breed here too.


Like Clay-colored Sparrow, the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher also occurs as a regular but difficult to find migrant. (Philadelphia Vireo and Gray-cheeked Thrush are additional examples.) The species is also one of the latest to appear in the spring, and sightings before May 15 would be quite unusual. Whereas Least Flycatchers generally forage along forest edges during migration, Yellow-bellied Flycatchers remain deeper beneath the canopies of young hardwood forests. Consequently, they are almost always heard before seen. On their breeding grounds (comprising boggy wetlands heavily infused with young conifers and deciduous brush), they sing a chunky "che-bunk" note that resembles a Least Flycatcher's. Yellow-bellied Flycatchers sometimes utter this during migration, but much more often they deliver their call, a melodic "du-wee". This closely resembles the two-noted "per-weee" call of migrating pewees, but it is shorter and less slurring. I had one calling most of the afternoon in my yard on May 17, but it never found its way into my net.


Another late arrival is Canada Warbler, one of the final warblers to appear in the spring. While the species has fairly general preferences during migration, on the breeding grounds it favors a mix of dense balsam fir and various large trees (overturned stumps are necessary for nesting). It often occurs at the edges of the same bogs that Yellow-bellied Flycatchers utilize, and across the Upper Peninsula, their populations are similar. As with Clay-colored Sparrows, Muskegon County lies at the southern edge of their breeding range, and in this area, hemlock thickets serve as a proxy for balsam fir. The large eyes of the Canada Warbler are well suited for life in these shady environments.


More so than other warblers, the Magnolia Warbler shares an affinity for balsam fir and hemlock. However, Magnolia Warblers rely less on large trees, and in the U.P., they are five times as numerous as Canada Warblers. The habitat similarity may explain certain parallels in appearance, but the two species are not closely related. Among other differences, Canada Warblers is a medium size warbler (averaging 10.4 grams), while Magnolia Warbler (8.6 grams) is one of the smallest. A couple traits make the Magnolia Warbler especially distinctive. It's call note (a short, high, metallic screech) is quite unusual among warblers, and so is the placement of it's tail spots - midway rather than at the tip of the tail.

- Brian Johnson

Monday, May 18, 2015

Piping Plover at Pere Marquette Today



I saw this banded Piping Plover at Pere Marquette Park on Monday morning, 5/18/2015.

- Mike Boston

Thanks, Mike.  Nicely "sandwiched" between a Sanderling and a Dunlin. - Ric

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Many Warblers at Harbor Island Sunday


Carol and I walked the sidewalks on Harbor Island today finding 37 bird species of which 10 were warblers: Waterthrush (probably Northern), Black-and-White, Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Yellow, Blackpoll and Yellow-rumped plus several unidentifiable warblers high in the trees.  

Two ladies also birding there reported a Black-billed Cuckoo in the north section of the Linear Sidewalk grove of trees.

- Ric

Mockingbird at Snug Harbor Saturday


May 17 Email:

Here's a couple of ID pictures of the Northern Mockingbird at Snug Harbor (Muskegon State Park) yesterday.  It was near the boat launch by the handicapped parking and vault toilet.  We had a good day finding 62 species including 14 warbler species

- Marc Miedema



Saturday, May 16, 2015

49 Species at HCNC This Morning


On our field trip to Howard Christensen Nature Center this morning we encountered 49 bird species including Northern Waterthrush (but only six other warblers), Ruffed Grouse, Common Raven and Olive-sided Flycatcher.  Report posted on our homepage.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Which Dowitcher at Grand Haven Today?


May 15 Email:

Hi Ric, I just lost over an hour of my life trying to determine if this is a Long- or Short-billed Dowitcher that I saw wading at the boat launch on Harbor Island this morning.  I decided on Short-billed, but I am willing to be corrected by anyone that can help.  Thanks,  -  Brad Heath


I can't do dowitchers.  But you've already narrowed it from 350-400 Michigan species down to two.  Let's see if someone else can cut it to one.  - Ric

Thursday, May 14, 2015

9 Warblers Not Seen + 1 Snake Photographed


Ken Sapkowski emailed us other competitors today that of the 37 warbler species found regularly in Michigan, there are only 9 that he has not yet added to his Year List: Worm-eating, Blackpoll, Canada, Connecticut, Golden-winged, Kentucky, Mourning, Prothonotary and Yellow-breasted Chat.  He'll get Prothonotary almost for sure on our Big Day Count, and might add Blackpoll, Canada, Golden-winged and Kentucky around Muskegon too.  Good luck on the others!

He also sent us Glenda Eikenberry's cell phone photo of this Eastern Hog-nosed Snake that they encountered while birding a path west of Swan Creek yesterday.


32 Species While Not Bird-Watching


Greg Swanson who will lead our Saturday Field Trip at Howard Christensen Nature Center was working there yesterday but kept track of the bird species he encountered:

32 species including Wood Duck, Scarlet Tanager, Ovenbird, Nashville Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Ruffed Grouse, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Redstart, Sandhill Crane, Indigo Bunting, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Black-throated Green Warbler and Red-shouldered Hawk.

And he wasn't bird-watching!

- Ric

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Great Egrets and American White Pelicans


At 2:45 p.m. I saw 24 American White Pelicans flying low over Mona Lake as if preparing to land.  Instead they continued flying southeast.  From the Vietnam Memorial Park at the east end of Mona Lake I could not relocate them.

This morning David Holmberg emailed that there were 3 Great Egrets in the Causeway ponds today.

- Ric

Monday, May 11, 2015

NAMC Results from Muskegon SP and SGA


For the annual North American Migration Count, my coverage in Muskegon County comprises Muskegon State Park thru the early part of the day and Muskegon State Game Area in the afternoon and evening. Considering their size and habitat diversity, both areas offer outstanding birding, and given decent weather, a great list can be obtained. Unfortunately, rain and fog hindered my success this year.

I birded 7.8 miles of trails at Muskegon State Park and ended with 85 species. At Muskegon SGA, I hiked 7.1 miles at three locations (Little Cedar Creek, Headquarters/Maple River loop, and Lane's Landing) and accrued 71 species. A late arrival and a cacophony of Spring Peepers and Gray Treefrogs at Lane's Landing marsh severely limited that count. Otherwise, the day was reasonably eventful, and despite the weather, I finished with 105 species.

Highlights at Muskegon State Park:

Long-tailed Duck - 1
Caspian Tern - 3
Black-billed Cuckoo - 1
Great Horned Owl - 2
Prothonotary Warbler - 1
Cape May Warbler - 1
Blackburnian Warbler - 6
Purple Finch - 1
Pine Siskin - 223


The Great Horned Owl double consisted of an adult and a soggy juvenile (pictured above) sitting out the rain in the sand dunes.

Highlights at Muskegon State Game Area:

Northern Harrier - 1
Barred Owl - 4
Whip-poor-will - 1
Sedge Wren - 1
American Redstart - 13
Cerulean Warbler - 1
Grasshopper Sparrow - 4


The Barred Owls represented pairs on opposite sides of the Muskegon River.

While a lot was missed (especially among non-passerines), warblers were particularly diverse. I encountered 20 species, which represents all the reasonably common species that can be seen around Muskegon on May 9. (Next weekend, an equivalent number will be about 27.)


Finally, after last week's skulking Sedge Wren at Beechwood Park, the territorial male pictured above proved far more aggressive and provided a better photo.

- Brian Johnson

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Y. B. Chat


Marc Meidema phoned to inform me of Carol Snoek's eBird post:

1 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forticatus
photo Id to follow
Moorland, South Swanson Road, Muskegon County, Michigan
Mon May 11, 2015 11:15 A.M.

The eBird map shows the intersection of Apple Ave. and Swanson Rd., but that may just be a generic Wastewater coordinate.  

Marc reported after 3:00 that he had birded the south Wastewater properties without success.  If he or anyone else re-sights the bird, we will post it here. 

Monday Evening Update: We've heard nothing further about the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  Josh Kamp emailed that he saw a Yellow-breasted Chat around 4:30 this afternoon at Rosy Mound Natural Area along the White Pine trail.  - Ric

When 85 Species Is Frustrating


Sunday, May 10, Email:

Despite my having a pile of data and notes, Muskegon State Park wasn't as good as I had hoped. My goal is 100 species by noon. If conditions are right, 110-120 species are realistic. The rain really hurt this year. I had a lot of weird misses, Common Grackles even. I left the park with 85 species. Not bad, but not good enough, and a little frustrating.

Brian (Johnson)

Thanks, Brian.  I'm trying to imagine a little frustration at finding "only" 85 species at one location, but it's not working.   - Ric  ;-)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Meanwhile at Grand Haven ...


Yesterday, May 9, Mike Erickson saw a Northern Parula, Cape May Warbler and Tennessee Warbler at Harbor Island and Travis Dewys photographed this male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak and male Yellow Warbler at the Hofma Preserve.