Monday, December 31, 2012

Final Tally

The Western Grebe at Holland State Park on 12/31 put my Michigan list at 186 for the year, a new personal best, not that anyone's counting.  Biggest miss had to be Red-headed Woodpecker.

Mike Boston

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Muskegon Wastewater CBC Results

The 2012 Muskegon Wastewater Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was conducted on Wednesday, December 19. This is the eighth consecutive year that we have participated on the official CBC program (coordinated by the National Audubon Society), although results have been submitted to Michigan Audubon since 2000.

The Wastewater count circle (15 miles in diameter) mostly encompasses private farmland and forest parcels, but it also includes large tracts of public land managed by the Muskegon State Game Area (MSGA, red in map below) and the Muskegon Wastewater System (MWS, orange). To promote consistent coverage, the circle has been split into eight pie-shaped zones.

This year, fifteen volunteers divided into eight parties as follows: Feller DeWitt (NNW); Ric Pedler and Jim Zervos (NNE); Ken Sherburn, Roger Sherburn, and Greg DeWeerd (ENE); Charlie DeWitt (ESE); Ken Sapkowski and Glenda Eikenberry (SSE); Jonathan, Joseph, and David Lautenbach (MWS and SSE); Dayle Vanderwier and Connie Peoples (WNW); and Brian Johnson (MSGA). Six of these observers (the Lautenbach trio, Dayle and Connie, and Brian) continued well into the afternoon. Combined, observers accrued 38 hours (8 on foot, 30 by car) and 320 miles (8.2 on foot, 312 by car) of daytime coverage.

As in 2011, weather prior to the CBC had been abnormally mild. Only 3.7 inches of snow had fallen at Muskegon during the preceding weeks (only 2011 experienced less) and almost none remained on the ground by count day. Conditions were particularly pleasant on the 19th. Winds were the lightest we have had, no precipitation fell, and temperatures were consistently above freezing. Skies were overcast to mostly cloudy.

The excellent weather yielded a bonanza of diversity. A total of 12,156 individuals, representing 67 species, was recorded on this year's CBC. The individual total surpassed the historical (2000-11) mean of 11,276 birds, but the species count was particularly exceptional. By beating the total of 64 from 2006, this established a new record for the Wastewater CBC and was nearly 10 species higher than the previous average.

Of the species recorded this year, 22 exhibited totals below previous historical means, whereas 45 matched or exceeded those averages. Impressively, 23 species set or matched record high counts. Consistent with the past 12 years (though with a varying order), the four most abundant species were Northern Shoveler, Canada Goose, European Starling, and Herring Gull. Together, they comprised 67% of the total individuals seen (slightly reduced from the historical ratio of 72%). Our total of 3,505 Northern Shovelers should easily be the highest in the state.

Open water, particularly at MWS, significantly boosted waterfowl numbers, and 16 species of ducks, geese, and swans set a new high. Altogether, waterfowl comprised 53% of the birds seen this year. Six species of diurnal raptors accounted for 45 individuals, and five species of owls tied the record from last year. Five species of gulls also established a new peak for diversity.

Among landbirds, winter visitors were collectively more frequent than usual. Dark-eyed Juncos, Tree Sparrows, and Common Redpolls provided the vast majority of these sightings. The redpoll total produced another new high record, but only one other irruptive finch (Red Crossbill) was encountered. Six Northern Shrike, a very impressive total for any Michigan CBC, also set a new high count.

A few Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins were found, but frugivores were otherwise poorly represented. No Cedar Waxwings or Yellow-rumped Warblers were encountered. Ruffed Grouse, a species that has declined significantly, was not seen on count day. As with 2011, most grassland species were again scarce. Horned Lark was missed entirely, and only 13 Snow Buntings were counted. Lingering migrants included Northern Harrier, Northern Flicker, Song Sparrow, and Brown-headed Cowbird.

Seven new species were recorded on the 2012 Wastewater CBC, and this raises our cumulative total to 106.

Breakdowns of all the birds encoutered this year are presented below:

Snow Goose - 1; seen by Lautenbachs
Canada Goose - 1995; historical average 3279
Mute Swan - 25; new high count; 20 seen by Ken, Roger, and Greg
Wood Duck - 1; first CBC record, seen by Lautenbachs
Gadwall - 28; all at MWS
American Black Duck - 105; all at MWS
Mallard - 328; historical average 544
Northern Shoveler - 3505; third highest total; all at MWS
Green-winged Teal - 1; seen by Lautenbachs
Ring-necked Duck - 34; first CBC record, seen by Lautenbachs
Greater Scaup - 1; at MWS
Lesser Scaup - 21; new high count, seen by Lautenbachs
Bufflehead - 30; new high count, seen by Lautenbachs
Common Goldeneye - 2; at MWS
Red-breasted Merganser - 1; first CBC record, seen by Lautenbachs
Ruddy Duck - 330; new high count, seen by Lautenbachs
Ring-necked Pheasant - 1; seen by Charlie
Wild Turkey - 97; 32 seen by Dayle and Connie
Great Blue Heron - 2; 1 seen by Ken, Roger, and Greg; 1 seen by Brian
Bald Eagle - 4; 2 seen by Ric and Jim
Northern Harrier - 3; 1 each seen by Ken, Roger, and Greg; Ken and Glenda; and Brian
Cooper's Hawk - 1; seen by Ken and Glenda
Red-tailed Hawk - 22; 9 seen by Lautenbachs
Rough-legged Hawk - 3; 2 seen by Ric and Jim; 1 seen by Ken, Roger, and Greg
American Kestrel - 12; 5 seen by Lautenbachs
American Coot - 1; first CBC record, seen by Lautenbachs
Ring-billed Gull - 197; historical average 128
Herring Gull 1935; historical average 2218
Thayer's Gull - 1; first CBC record, seen by Lautenbachs
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 1; seen by Lautenbachs
Glaucous Gull - 2; new high count, seen by Lautenbachs
Rock Pigeon - 163; 65 seen by Ken, Roger, and Greg
Mourning Dove - 328; 169 seen by Charlie
Eastern Screech-Owl - 3; found by Brian
Great Horned Owl - 2; found by Lautenbachs
Snowy Owl - 1; seen by Lautenbachs
Barred Owl - 1; found by Brian
Saw-whet Owl - 1; first CBC record, found by Lautenbachs
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 12; 3 seen by Ken and Glenda
Downy Woodpecker - 37; 10 seen by Lautenbachs
Hairy Woodpecker - 13; new hight count; 9 seen by Brian
Northern Flicker - 3; 1 seen by Charlie; 2 seen by Brian
Pileated Woodpecker - 7; 4 seen by Brian
Northern Shrike - 6; new high count; 1 seen by Dayle and Connie; 1 seen by Ric and Jim; 1 seen by Charlie; 2 seen by Lautenbachs; 1 seen by Brian
Blue Jay - 45; 10 seen by Ken, Roger, and Greg
American Crow - 144; 33 seen by Dayle and Connie
Black-capped Chickadee - 221; new high count; 74 seen by Lautenbachs
Tufted Titmouse 74; new high count; 25 seen by Lautenbachs
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 4; 1 seen by Ken, Roger, and Greg; 3 seen by Lautenbachs
White-breasted Nuthatch - 27; 7 seen by Ken and Glenda; 7 seen by Brian
Brown Creeper - 1; seen by Dayle and Connie
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 3; 2 seen by Ken, Roger, and Greg; 1 seen by Lautenbachs
Eastern Bluebird - 16; 5 seen by Feller; 5 seen by Charlie; 6 seen by Ken and Glenda
American Robin - 4; 1 seen by Dayle and Connie; 1 seen by Lautenbachs; 2 seen by Ric and Jim
European Starling - 698; 418 seen by Lautenbachs
Lapland Longspur - 1; seen by Lautenbachs
Snow Bunting - 13; seen by Lautenbachs
American Tree Sparrow - 291; 128 seen by Brian
Song Sparrow - 3; 1 seen by Ric and Jim; 2 seen by Brian
Dark-eyed Junco - 287; 182 seen by Lautenbachs
Northern Cardinal - 127; 37 seen by Lautenbachs
Brown-headed Cowbird - 1; seen by Dayle and Connie
House Finch - 161; new high count; 70 seen by Ken and Glenda
Red Crossbill - 1; first CBC record, seen by Brian
Common Redpoll - 399; new high count; 250 seen by Ken, Roger, and Greg; 129 seen by Lautenbachs
American Goldfinch - 150; 36 seen by Charlie; 35 seen by Ken and Glenda
House Sparrow - 218; 81 seen by Lautenbachs

Results from the Muskegon Wastewater and the approximately 2,200 other Christmas Bird Counts are submitted to the National Audubon Society, where they can be accessed online ( Many thanks to those who participated this year, and we encourage all interested birders to join us next December.

Brian Johnson

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Golden Saturday

Saturday 12-29-2012 at the Wastewater.  Though not a great day to take pictures, had a lot to take pictures of.  Was told the Golden Eagle was seen early in the day, and I finally saw one around noon flying the ditch on the north side of White Road.  Around 3:00 it was in a tree by the administration building.  Had others tell me they had seen one along Swanson Road and near the dump. Never saw two together, so it could have been the same one. Also five mature Bald Eagles and three immatures on the lagoon behind the dump.

Don Neumann

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snow Bunting and Bald Eagles at Wastewater

December 26 Email:

Hi there,

I am visiting family in GR and came over to Muskegon for an afternoon of birding.  The best bird of the day was a Snow Bunting at the Muskegon WWTP.  It was on the road between the east and west storage lagoons at the southern end.  There were also 4 Bald Eagles in the storage lagoons with 3 tag-teaming to harass a gull.

Enjoy the blog and birding tips.

Lou Regenmorter
Grand Rapids via Saudi Arabia

Nice hearing from you, Lou.  Other than gulls I'm guessing Saudi Arabia provides few opportunities for the other two species.  Glad you enjoy the blog.  - Ric

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


I spent some quiet time at the end of the Grand Haven north pier today.  Not a lot of birds close in, thousands way out where the sky meets the water.  The ones I could identify were Red-breasted and Common Mergansers, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Ring-billed Gull and Herring Gull.  It was two hours well spent!

Charlie DeWitt

Monday, December 24, 2012


Common Redpolls have been pretty common at my feeders the last few days.

Mike Boston

Thanks, Mike!  It's Christmas Morning and I just found your beautiful Redpoll here on the website.  A very appropriate Christmas bird.  Please send a few our way!

 MERRY CHRISTMAS    everyone!

  - Ric

Christmas Bird Count Numbers

Members of our club participated in two Christmas Bird Counts recently.  See Brian's preliminary report from the Wastewater count of December 19 posted below.  Then click here for details about our City of Muskegon CBC of December 15.

- Ric

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Great Black-backed Gull

I saw this adult Great Black-backed Gull and two juveniles at Grand Haven North Shore on Saturday, 12/22/12.

Mike Boston

MSGA results from the Wastewater CBC

The Muskegon Wastewater Christmas Bird Count was held on December 19. I have nearly finished compiling the data, but in the meantime, here are my personal results from the survey.

As in the past several years, I hiked the trails and backwoods of the Muskegon State Game Area. During eight hours split between morning (green) and afternoon (blue) jaunts, I accrued 8.2 miles along my regular route. Mild temperatures, calm winds, no precipitation, and the lack of snow cover greatly promoted detections, but a very sparse berry and seed crop reduced the quantities of various birds. My species total of 28 matches my previous high, but I found that most of the typically common birds were relatively scarce, whereas unusual species were more prevalent.

All that hiking produced only a single Red-bellied Woodpecker (average 6.7), three Blue Jays (average 9.7), 29 Black-capped Chickadees (average 44.2), and seven White-breasted Nuthatches (average 12.4). Small obligate insectivores (Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet) and most frugivores (Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, and Yellow-rumped Warbler) were missed entirely. The only regulars that were significantly more numerous than usual were Hairy Woodpecker (9, mean 4.0) and American Tree Sparrow (128, mean 76.8)

On the other hand, a Great Blue Heron and a Northern Harrier were firsts for this route. A single Red Crossbill was probably my most unexpected sighting. Two Northern Flickers, one Northern Shrike, two Song Sparrows, and a flock of 16 Common Redpolls were also nice. I also encountered three Screech-Owls during my hike, and I was careful not to unduly disturb this roosting Barred Owl when I paused to take a few photos.

Brian Johnson

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Shrike on Muskegon County Wastewater CBC

On Dec 19 I helped with the Muskegon County Wastewater CBC.  I pulled into a driveway to turn around and this Northern Shrike flew out of some brush and landed on a power wire right above my truck.  I wish I had had a blue sky, not this haze, for a background.

Charlie DeWitt

Monday, December 17, 2012

Muskegon State Game Area East Unit Monday

In anticipation of the Muskegon Wastewater Christmas Bird Count, I spent today checking backcountry conditions at the Muskegon State Game Area East Unit (pictured, red). Located primarily in southern Newaygo County, this parcel, at the headwaters of Mosquito Creek, is seldom visited by birders. The lack of snow enabled me to easily hike 10.1 miles of trails (pictured, green) in the southeast portion. Because there are no residences (i.e. bird feeders), songbird densities were typically low for this time of the year. However, there were a few highlights, including:

Bald Eagle - 1
Rough-legged Hawk - 1
Ruffed Grouse - 1 drumming
Common Raven - 2 (possibly 3)
Northern Shrike - 1
Common Redpoll - 4

It would be nice if these species cooperate for CBC on Wednesday.

Brian Johnson

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Goshawk, Merlin and Both Crossbills Saturday

Thanks to Ken Sapkowski for noticing that a Scott Hutchings on eBird reported 8 Red Crossbills, a Merlin and an adult female Northern Goshawk at Muskegon State Park yesterday morning.  At the same time our CBC north group was also at MSP and saw 1 White-winged Crossbill west of Snug Harbor.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Western Grebe and Good Gulls Friday

December 14 Email:

Kevin Welsh and I did a little pre-CBC birding today at Pere Marquette and had some decent birds that will hopefully show themselves on the count tomorrow. We had a single Western Grebe show up at the end of the breakwall for about 15 minutes before we lost it. We also had an adult Glaucous Gull and two adult Great Black-backed Gulls fly by while we lake-watched for a short while.

Good Birding,

Jonathan Lautenbach

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hoary Redpoll, Purple Sandpiper Etc.

December 12 Email:

Hey Ric,

I went to the Wastewater today after my last exam to see what was around. I had a Cackling Goose and a Snow Goose mixed in with the geese on the east lagoon. Near the west end of the active dump I had a Hoary Redpoll mixed in with a flock of Commons. The bird was hanging out with the Commons in a small tree along the edge of the ditch.

In northern Ottawa County at near the corner of 68th street and Garfield, just south of I-96 I had a lone adult Snowy Owl.

Good Birding,

Jonathan Lautenbach

Carol Cooper photographed this Purple Sandpiper about 1:00 p.m. Dec. 12 along the inner side of the breakwater at Pere Marquette Park, presumably the same bird Jonathan (and others before) is reporting. - Ric

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wastewater Shorebird Survey, Fall 2012

This past fall, volunteers from the Muskegon County Nature Club completed another season of shorebird surveys at the Muskegon Wastewater System. Count data from this location have been submitted as part of the International Shorebird Survey since 1974, and standardized protocols have been maintained for the last eight years. Under these rules, surveys are conducted three days per month during the spring and fall migratory periods.

Thirteen surveys were completed between July 16 and November 16, 2012. Overall, 1,563 birds (previous average: 1,449) of 21 species (equivalent to the previous mean) were encountered. Daily results varied from 0 birds (November 16) to 14 species (September 6) and 256 individuals (July 26). Of the 162 surveys conducted since 2005, the fall 2012 daily species total ties for fourth; the most species seen on a survey was 19 on 9/7/09. The individual daily total of 256 ranks 13th; the record is 507, also from 9/7/09.

With this year's additions of Long-billed Dowitcher (1 on Oct. 28, pictured above) and Red Phalarope (1 on Oct. 20, pictured below), 29 species have been recorded on the fall Wastewater Surveys since 2005. Of these, 22 can be reasonably expected to appear during a typical autumn. Despite the good aggregate tally, individual totals for most species were below previous averages. However, Solitary Sandpiper (9, vs. mean of 9.6), Least Sandpiper (212, vs. mean of 213.7), Short-billed Dowitcher (6, vs. mean of 6.3) were very close. Sanderling (4) and Baird's Sandpiper (16) were historically low, and White-rumped Sandpiper was completely missed. Upland and Buff-breasted Sandpipers were also notably absent. Only two regular species were above average: Killdeer (711, vs. mean of 355) and Pectoral Sandpiper (73, vs. mean of 60.9). The large Killdeer total not only provided a new record, but it also explains the good aggregrate total despite low counts for most of the others. In fact, the four most common species, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper (266), Least Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs (160), comprised 86% of all the shorebirds detected this fall.

Uncommon species represented the remaining fall highlights. Besides the aforementioned Long-billed Dowitcher and Red Phalarope, record totals were obtained for Wilson's Snipe (6) and Wilson's Phalarope (3). Counts of both rarities and common species could easily be raised if surveys were conducted in response to noteworthy reports posted on this website and other sources, but this biased practice has been assiduously avoided over the years.

This year's surveys were conducted by myself and Carolyn Weng, with help from Ric Pedler. In September, Carolyn relocated to California, so the Muskegon County Nature Club and other local environmental groups have lost one their most important volunteers. This also leaves a big hole in the Wastewater Shorebird Survey. Carolyn has participated on 127 of the 162 surveys conducted since 2005 (and was the sole observer on 73). By comparison, the next closest volunteer (myself) has only participated on 58. If anyone wishes to help fill this void, please contact me sometime prior to March.

Brian Johnson

Birding 12-12-12

Went birding this morning.  Not much new at the Muskegon County Wastewater System.  I did see 15 Lesser Scaup on the west lagoon.  Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve had this Carolina Wren.  The Muskegon CBC counters might want to check on Saturday for the wren.

Charlie DeWitt

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Bird Counts and Don's Winter Pics

Anyone interested in birding with the MCNC this month on either of our Christmas Bird Counts (Dec. 15 and Dec. 19) may click here for details.  

Thanks to Don Neuman for sending several photographs like the deer above formatted for use behind our "Recent Sightings" titles this winter.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Purple Sandpiper, Good Gulls and Geese

December 10 to Mich-Chat:

Hello all,

Bruce Cohen and I broke away from Ingham County today (gasp!) in search of
waterbirds in Muskegon County. Below are the highlights:

Pere Marquette Park (09:00-11:00):

Purple Sandpiper- 1 bird walking on beach between the jetties. Picture here-
Glaucous Gull- 1 3rd cycle bird on beach south of south jetty. White head
and body with pale blue scapulars and white coverts. Picture-

Muskegon Wastewater System (13:00-17:00):

Cackling Geese- 4 with masses of Canadas in west lagoon
Iceland Gull- 1 3rd cycle bird at dump. Pale brown primaries and coverts,
pale blue scapulars, round head, and yellow bill with black tip. Pic-
Glaucous Gull- 1 1st cycle bird at dump, later seen in east lagoon. Overall
mottled white/cream and pink bill with black tip. Pic-

Good birding,
Sean Williams, 2nd year graduate student
Department of Zoology
Michigan State University
203 Natural Sciences Building
East Lansing, MI 48824