Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last Birding Outing for 2013

I spent an hour and a half at the Muskegon Channel hoping to add one more year bird to my list; no luck.  I did have three Horned Grebes get real close to me.

Charlie DeWitt

Three Recent (but not local) Pictures

Torsten Pawlowski (see post below) did make it to Iowa and did find us a Bald Eagle!  Meanwhile Ken Sapkowski snapped this Eastern Screech-owl in his yard and a Long-eared Owl* nearby!

* Thanks to Felix Perdue (read the Comments) for noticing this is a Long-eared, not a Short-eared as originally posted!

***  HAPPY  NEW  YEAR  ***

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Saturday Photos State Park and Wastewater

Many of us counted birds for our annual Christmas Bird Count yesterday.  When I get the totals calculated, I'll post them here or on our homepage.

Meanwhile, Carol Cooper and Torsten Pawlowski emailed the following photos.

Carol's from the northside CBC count: Ken and Roger Sherburn walking the Snug Harbor trail, Ric Pedler and Jill Henemyer scanning Muskegon Lake, and all of us birding north of the Muskegon Channel where we observed that interesting phenomenon when the Lake creates kerzillions of wonderfully rounded snow/ice balls.

Torsten (from Texas, goes all over the country photographing eagles for his EaglesRUs business) wrote, "Spent last three days at Wastewater.  Not much there other than some fun people. Guess when people come from Texas, the birds go on a break. I got to drive my son Ryan around so he could take pictures.  He had trouble finding the bird with the pink nose in the bird book though.  We are off to Iowa and Lock 14 to try to find eagles fishing.  Will try WW one more time before we head back to Texas."

Torsten's (or Ryan's?) photos of this Northern Pintail pair, an Opossum, and a Merlin prove that all the wildlife did not take a break from the Wastewater.

Thanks, Torsten!  And have a safe trip back to Texas.

- Ric

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Muskegon Channel

I spent some time at the Muskegon Lake end of the Muskegon Channel today.  Saw some nice birds: White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter and Greater Scaup.

Charlie DeWitt

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tree Sparrow at Grand Haven

I had a chance to spend some time at the Grand Haven North Pier this afternoon.  Not much going on; same old ducks and gulls.  I did have a small flock of American Tree Sparrows stop for a visit.

- Charlie DeWitt

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wishing you all a Happy Holiday!

Charlie DeWitt

Saturday, December 21, 2013

MSGA results from the Wastewater CBC

The Muskegon Wastewater Christmas Bird Count was held on December 18. The official results from the entire group will be posted as soon as I finish the compilation; this post summarizes my personal observations from the Muskegon State Game Area. This is the only section of the CBC that is covered on foot, and I have followed the same basic route since 2003. The attached image shows my morning (green) and afternoon (yellow) paths, 7.7 miles total, with various landmarks.

My tally of 26 species was two shy of the record but roughly one higher than the long-term average. However, the count of 374 birds well exceeded the previous mean of 287. Good weather promoted detections, and although snow and ice cover were substantial, the berry and seed crop was better than last winter's. Forest birds were generally common. Record counts were established for Mourning Dove (34), Downy (25) and Hairy (14) Woodpeckers, Red-breasted (4) and White-breasted (30) Nuthatches, and Brown Creeper (10). Also plentiful were Northern Flicker (9), Pileated Woodpecker (4), and Yellow-rumped Warblers (13). As in past winters with adequate berry crops, most Yellow-rumped Warblers were found at the mouth of the Maple River. This seems to be the only semi-consistent winter haven for this species in Muskegon County.

The only winter residents that were less common than usual were Golden-crowned Kinglet (2) and American Tree Sparrow (15). However, I did poorly on irregular species. Summer carry-overs were scarce, and as expected, all irruptive finches were absent. Eastern Screech- and Barred were the only owls I heard.

- Brian Johnson

Friday, December 20, 2013

Red-bellied Woodpecker at Nature Preserve

December 19 Email:

Hopefully we will see this guy Saturday at the Christmas Bird Count.  Seen today at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.  - Carol Cooper

Carol, yes, we'd like to see him.  How about the Ruffed Grouse that Brian mentioned in his post below?  But first, let's get the ice coating off of everything!  - Ric

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs

On Wednesday during the Muskegon County Wastewater Christmas Bird Count several large mixed flocks of Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs were seen.

- Charlie DeWitt

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bald Eagles on Deer Carcass

November 17 Email:

On Monday Bruce Delamarter and I were getting ready to leave the Wastewater and the county sheriff told us about a deer carcass and 4 Bald Eagles eating at it east of the WW off Ravenna Road. We got there and found one immature eating and a mature in a tree about 100 yards away. 

Don Neumann

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bald Eagles in Grand Haven

There were 5 Bald Eagles at the Grand Haven Municipal Marina today (Harbor Drive & Columbus) along with some Common Goldeneye.

- Charlie DeWitt

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Carolina Wren and House Finch Banding Notes

As a monitoring technique, bird banding has strengths that nicely complement visual or audio surveys. Two basic appeals of banding are to separate known individuals from a group or population and to potentially track such birds over time and distance. Although sample sizes can often be low, the results can be enlightening.

Like cardinals and titmice, Carolina Wrens are a relative newcomer to Michigan. Records before the mid-1950's were sparse, but in the early 1970's, the species began to rapidly increase in numbers. The surge was interrupted by the brutal winters later that decade, but ten years later, the increase renewed. Aside from setbacks in the last few years, the population has continued to rise dramatically. This trend was reflected at the local level. On the Muskegon CBC, the first birds were two found in 1975. The next finally came in 1987 (a singing male seen by myself and other Zone 2 birders by the south shore of Muskegon Lake). Since then, the pace of sightings has accelerated, but the species remains irregular in the county.

In Laketon Township, between 1960 and 1982, Larry Walkinshaw captured three individuals (on 9/27/70, 9/29/70, and 5/29/71). At the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I caught my first Carolina Wren on 9/25/07. That bird did not linger, and for the next few years, I saw or heard no others there. However, in the fall of 2012, one began singing at the preserve on October 25. On November 15, he was joined by a female that promptly flew into one of my nets. Four days later, the male finally also blundered his way into a net.

At the time, I was not sure of the sexes of the captured birds. Males and females are identical in coloration, but the measurements implied different sexes. Skull development definitely indicated that both had hatched that summer. These birds stayed the winter, and they bred this past summer. Hence, these birds had chosen their breeding territory in the fall. Sexes, residency, and breeding status were confirmed when I recaptured both birds in early August. Despite a brood patch on the female, I never heard or saw young birds, so their first reproductive effort may have failed.

Although these birds remained vocal all fall, they were remarkably net-shy. I did not recapture the male until the final day of the banding season, on December 4. Comparing the photos from the 2012 and 2013 captures revealed the subtle distinctions in immature and adult wing patterns. The male is pictured twice above (2012 left, 2013 right).

Another recent arrival to Michigan is the House Finch. Native to the western United States, this species spread westward from an unplanned release in New York. Three birds caught by Walkinshaw in August 1976 were among the first for Michigan. Statewide, the species was first seen on a CBC in 1979. On the Muskegon CBC, it appeared in 1982. By the mid-1980's, House Finches were clearly established in Michigan. Populations peaked by the mid-1990's, but they have since declined and leveled.

Despite its permanent residency status in Michigan, the species is quite migratory, much like Blue Jays. Such movements tend to occur late in the fall (as with juncos, goldfinches, and Tree Sparrows), but they can be substantial in numbers and distance. Both in the spring and fall, numerous flocks pass over the dunes.

Two of my recoveries testify to this dispersal. One banded in 2007 was found the next spring near Bremen, Indiana, 127 miles away; and one from 2011 was found this past summer in Osseo, Wisconsin, 264 miles away (depicted below). Such movements help explain the speed of colonization in Michigan. However, House Finches are not nomadic. A few individuals have been recaptured at the MLNP banding station in subsequent years.

Such dispersal promotes gene flow and species survival, and it occurs to various degrees even among the most "sedentary" birds. An example was a Ruffed Grouse that I first saw at MLNP on October 4 this fall. The preserve seemed like an odd location for this species, especially considering how drastically grouse have declined in Muskegon County in the last few decades. I was glad to see one in the greater Muskegon area after an absence of several years. We will see if this individual remains through the winter.

- Brian Johnson

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Trumpeter Swans in Ottawa County

December 11 Email:

Went to see if the two reported Trumpeter Swans were still at Pigeon Lake.  At first I only saw the 2 Mute Swans, 30ish Mallards, a few Bufflehead and a Common Goldeneye.  Then two trumpeters swam out from under the bridge.  I was glad they were still there. 

- Travis Dewys 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Friday's Grand Haven Loon Was Banded

I forgot to add the picture showing the bands on the Common Loon (see first three pictures below).  The top band appears to be light yellow, and I think the bottom band is the federal ID band.  I could not read any numbers on either band. 

- Charlie DeWitt

Friday, December 6, 2013

Loons Here and There

Thanks to a call from Dave Herdegen and Bonnie Kott I was able to get some nice pictures of a Common Loon by the Grand Haven Coast Guard Station.  I then went to Muskegon and found a Red-throated Loon.

- Charlie DeWitt

Golden Eagle at Wastewater Thursday

Terry and Andrea Grabill saw a Golden Eagle in flight over the powerline road at the north end of Swanson on the Wastewater properties yesterday (Dec. 5).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Owl on the Dunes and at the Beach

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, Don Neumann drove out by Lake Michigan and watched a Snowy Owl.  It was eating a Snow Bunting and spent most of its time "perched in a tree looking for lunch.  It was finally chased out to the beach by three [American] Crows."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Short-eared, Shrike and Golden at WW Today

From Rick Brigham by way of Chip Francke there was a Short-eared Owl and a Northern Shrike (both at their usual locations on the south Wastewater properties) this evening, and earlier in the day Travis Dewys saw the Golden Eagle, a Peregrine Falcon and a Great Black-backed Gull all on Wastewater properties.

Of Human Beings and Snowy Owls

453 people viewed this page yesterday, 1,784 this week, 4,614 last month and 169,078 all time.  That's not Amazon or Facetime, but it's enough.

I think the main reason for those numbers is the photography. Following in the tradition of the late, great Mike Moran, people like Mike Boston, Carol Cooper, Charlie DeWitt, Travis Dewys, Don Neumann, Mike VanderStelt and (pardon me for leaving anyone out) others are not only talented at capturing nature with their cameras, but also ethical in their talent.

I think another reason is the timeliness of information.  This page is updated whenever I hear of notable Muskegon area bird sightings, usually within 24 hours of those sightings, and often much sooner than that.  So anybody interested in such stuff can find out immediately with just one click.

Two winters ago, Snowy Owls invaded the upper USA including the Muskegon area in record-breaking numbers.  For the first half of that winter I posted virtually every Snowy Owl sighting and photograph sent me, and our photographers with website privileges posted several more.  But as that winter progressed, we all observed behaviors of a small minority of people at the Wastewater approaching the Snowies way too closely, causing them to fly, some people (usually with cameras) stalking the birds, pursuing the birds to make them fly, then pursuing and making them fly again.  And we stopped posting Snowies.

It's too soon to know, but there are indications this may be another invasion winter for Snowy Owls, most of them less than a year old, most of them never having seen a human being ever! Birders know this.  Our photographers know this.  Most people (hopefully) know this.  But a few people don't, or they just don't care.  And I'm responsible for a website that's been viewed 169,078 times by human beings.

So I'm not going to post or have posted here any information about Snowy Owls at the Wastewater.  Future sightings of Snowies elsewhere in the area will not have their locations posted. Birders will know, and others may find out elsewhere, but I simply do not want to be responsible in any way for incidents similar to those at the Wastewater two years ago.

Thanks, and sorry,


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

November Lakewatch Highlights

In November, I spent 15 days monitoring the waterbird flight over Lake Michigan. Like September and October, each session typically lasted one hour. Observations were made at Hoffmaster State Park, Lake Harbor Park, and Kruse Park. Compared to recent years, the weather this November was colder, wetter, and more windy.

As is customary, the most common November transient was Red-breasted Merganser. This month, 734 passed my observation points, and a peak of 174 was noted on 11/8. Although males do not acquire breeding plumage until the middle of November, birds can still be sexed by the amount of white in the wing coverts. This month, 65% were males. Common Mergansers were, typically, much less numerous (31 seen), and several of those were migrating eastward from far over the lake. Only two Hooded Mergansers were encountered.

A total of 639 Common Goldeneye were seen this month, with a peak of 147 on 11/21. Unlike Red-breasted Mergansers, most were foraging birds. However, the sex ratio was similar: 66% were males. Buffleheads peaked on 11/5 when 23 were observed.

Like goldeneye, most Long-tailed Ducks are seen foraging on Lake Michigan, but they are considerably more abundant and the vast majority feed much further in the lake. However, fairly accurate counts can be made since masses regularly fly (in their characteristically erratic fashion) short distances to their next feeding site. Numbers steadily built all this November, and the 11/27 count yielded 4,783 individuals. Peak winter concentrations are generally achieved by the end of the month, and in recent years, densities have exceeded 2,000 per mile of Muskegon County shoreline. Although some large estimates have been wildly inaccurate, huge local tallies occur during multi-hour watches or when birds are abnormally concentrated due to ice conditions, eagle predation, boat traffic, or pressure from duck hunters. Long-tailed Duck rafts tend to be quite pure (likely due to their frenetic activity and deep-water foraging), although other duck species join them for short periods.

I only saw four Surf Scoter in November, but I counted 92 White-winged Scoters (27 on 11/8) and 17 Black Scoters (6 on 11/8). I recorded 8 Red-throated Loons this month, but Common Loons were again scarce; a total of only 19 were seen. November gulls included 119 Bonaparte's Gull (77 on 11/3), 1 Glaucous Gull on 11/12, and 2 Great Black-backed Gull on 11/29.

- Brian Johnson

Peregrine, but no Golden, at Wastewater

I went to the Muskegon County Wastewater today looking for the Golden Eagle.  I didn't find it, but I did find this Peregrine Falcon.

Charlie DeWitt

Short-eared Owl at Wastewater Monday

December 3 Email:

We saw at least one Short-eared Owl Monday night (Dec. 2) at about 5:28 p.m.  We were on Laketon well west of Swanson about two telephone poles west of the storage building.  It was following and diving into the ditch to the north and kept circling back, so it was viewable for as long as we had light. I was able to view it using the scope.  Huge wingspan and bright round face.

- Ken Sapkowski

Monday, December 2, 2013

December 2 Emails with Recent Information

From Josh Kamp:

Sorry about the late post but just to let anyone interested know that Tom Beeke and I had a single Purple Sandpiper on the south side of the south breakwall last Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 27).

From Joseph, Jonathan, Michael and David Lautenbach:

We just thought you would like to know that on Saturday (Nov. 30) there was 1 Purple Sandpiper on the south breakwall in Muskegon. In addition, we saw 2 Red-throated and 1 Common Loons in the area between the 2 breakwalls. We had 5 Black Scoters fly by. There were 3 White-winged Scoters in the channel, plus another 12 flying south. A ton of Long-tails were out over the lake. There were also about 12 Tundra Swans that flew by. At the MWW we had 2 Peregrine Falcons, 1 Snowy Owl, a handful of Snow Geese (plus the weird potential hybrid), 4 Bald Eagles, 1 eagle sp., 1 Snowy Owl, 2 Glaucous Gulls, and 2 Great Black-backed Gulls. 1 pintail and a few lingering Green-wing Teal were notable ducks.  Sorry for the late post. 

Snowy Owl and Merlin at Muskegon Channel

Went to the north side of breakwater today and saw a Snowy Owl out beyond the elbow and saw this Merlin along the road heading to the channel parking lot. Didn't want to walk the rocks with camera gear to get better pictures of snowy -- no sidewalk on the northside!  - Don Neumann

Wastewater Shorebird Survey, Fall 2013

Of the many bird monitoring programs that have been conducted in Muskegon County, the Muskegon Wastewater System (MWS) Shorebird Survey ranks second in longevity; only the Muskegon Christmas Bird Count (1940 to present) has a more venerable history. In its first incarnation, the Shorebird Survey was compiled by Jim Ponshair for 22 years from 1974 to 2002. During that time, over 4,000 shorebird records were gleaned from miscellaneous submissions to the Grand Rapids Audubon Club newsletter (The Caller). Observations were provided by many individuals, but Ponshair and George Wickstrom were the most prolific. These records were forwarded to the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences for inclusion into the International Shorebird Survey which also dates back to 1974. Since that time, several other ISS sites have been established in Michigan, but the MWS survey has been running the longest.

In 2005, the MWS Shorebird Survey was adopted by a few members of the Muskegon County Nature Club, and several fundamental changes were made. By using only first-hand data, making regular visits, keeping to official survey periods, following an orderly route, and rejecting estimates in favor of rigorous counts, consistency and quality were considerably improved. Carolyn Weng was the principal counter for many years, but with her departure for California, I have taken over the project. Altogether, the MWS Shorebird Survey has encountered 36 species.

The fall of 2013 thus marks the ninth consecutive autumn of MCNC involvement, and it was clearly an auspicious season. On average 1,463 birds of 21 species had been recorded each autumn since 2005, and the best year had been 2009 (1,938 birds, 25 species). This year, during 13 sessions from July 12 to November 14, we found 24 species and 3,461 individuals. Although the species tally fell one shy of the most diverse season, the individual counts proved exceptional, and not surprisingly, new records were obtained for 10 species. The fall 2013 totals appear below with new highs in bold and past averages in parentheses.

Black-bellied Plover - 22 (11.1)
American Golden-Plover - 45 (28.6)
Semipalmated Plover - 54 (28.4)
Killdeer - 966 (399.5; previous high 711)
Spotted Sandpiper - 363 (306.4)
Solitary Sandpiper - 20 (9.5; previous high 19)
Greater Yellowlegs - 11 (6.0)
Lesser Yellowlegs - 528 (182.5; previous high 302)
Upland Sandpiper - 14 (6.0)
Red Knot - 1 (0.1; ties previous high)
Sanderling - 23 (13.6; previous high 19)
Semipalmated Sandpiper - 247 (80.0; previous high 171)
Least Sandpiper - 549 (213.5; previous high 369)
White-rumped Sandpiper - 3 (2.3)
Baird's Sandpiper - 48 (46.1)
Pectoral Sandpiper - 488 (62.4; previous high 100)
Dunlin - 23 (31.0)
Stilt Sandpiper - 13 (9.0)
Buff-breasted Sandpiper -  1 (2.3)
Short-billed Dowitcher - 5 (6.3)
Wilson's Snipe - 8 (1.4; previous high 6)
Wilson's Phalarope - 2 (1.0)
Red-necked Phalarope - 25 (9.5)
Red Phalarope - 2 (0.1; previous high 1)

Eight of these species set or tied previous daily high counts:

Killdeer - 207 on Aug 12
Solitary Sandpiper - 8 on Aug 24
Lesser Yellowlegs - 223 on Aug 24
Red Knot - 1 on Sep 14
Least Sandpiper - 256 on Aug 4
Pectoral Sandpiper - 169 on Aug 12
Wilson's Snipe - 2 on three days
Red Phalarope - 1 on Oct 24 and Nov 7

The spring season begins in early April, and counts are conducted once every ten days. Contact me if you wish to participate.

- Brian Johnson

3 Snowies, 3 Scoters at Pere Marquette

Hoping to keep my competition numbers respectable with the better birders in Chip Francke's December competition, I strolled the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve after breakfast (recording nothing unusual) and then drove to the Ovals (Channel and South Breakwall at Pere Marquette Park) to see if Chip had left any snowies from yesterday.  And he had!  

Jim Zervos, a couple from Zeeland, a few other folks and I were able to see two Snowy Owls near the end of the south breakwall -- one bird mostly black except for its face -- and a whiter but not pure white bird on the rocks along the south side of the north wall.  We suspect there was another on the north side based on the attention of some birders over there at something not too far from shore on the north side of that wall.  Checking eBird later may give the answer.

A male and two female White-winged Scoters were swimming in the Channel, and I'm pretty sure I heard a Northern Flicker over by the houses on the east side, but didn't count it.

- Ric

Two Christmas Bird Counts

For anyone interested in joining our members for our annual Christmas Bird Counts (Dec. 18 and 21), click here for details.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Snowy Owls and Other Good Birds

December 1 to Mich-listers:
On a failed attempt to locate a purple sandpiper at Pere Marquette Park today, I counted 7 snowy owls on the north breakwall (viewing is from the end of the south pier).  There were 6 there at first, then another flew in off the lake and joined the party.  There were no “all white” birds.  There were also two common loons, one red-throated loon (all loons close to the end of the pier) and thousands of long-tailed ducks in the distance over the lake.  An adult black-backed gull was on the beach.

- Chip Francke

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Golden Eagle/s at Wastewater Friday

November 29 Email:

I was at the Muskegon Wastewater facility today and shot photos of what I think are a pair of Golden Eagles. I'm almost positive one is a Golden, but when the two were together in a tree, they were too far away for a positive ID, especially with all the juvenile Bald Eagles that I was seeing during the same time frame.  I'm attaching a couple of photos.  If you'd like to post them to the website, please feel free to do so. I'd very much like feedback as to whether it is a Golden or juvenile Bald Eagle. Thanks.

- Jerry Vis

Thanks, Jerry.  Yes, your pictures are of an adult Golden Eagle (or two if these are different birds) with golden nape, non-blotchy plumage, slightly lighter flight feathers and smaller beak -- not an immature Bald.  Great shots!  Even if this is just one bird, if it perched near another in the same tree, I'd think the other was also a Golden, but that's just a guess.  - Ric

Friday, November 29, 2013

Short-eared Owls and More at Wastewater

I spent a little time "shopping" at the Muskegon County Wastewater today getting ready for the December Birding Competition (see post below)!  I found a Great Black-backed Gull on the ice by the dump.  The east and west lagoons were 99% frozen over.  In the west lagoon the Northern Shovelers found a little open water.  There were about 20 Snow Geese mixed in with the Canada's that were in the fields feeding.  For me the big find was 2 Short-eared Owls by the model airplane field.  It was about 5:30 pm, too dark for pictures.

- Charlie DeWitt

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

December Birding Competition Anyone?

November 26 Email:

Hey Everyone,
Just wondering if anyone is interested in a friendly competition to see who can find the most bird species in December in West Michigan.  The area would include three lakeshore counties (Muskegon/Ottawa/Allegan).  If so, send me an email no later than Friday, Nov. 29, to say you want to participate.  You won’t be able to enter after the month begins.  For those that enter, I will keep the official lists for everyone and give weekly updates (on Excel) so you know where you stand with others.  You just need to send me your birds as you see them.  Please forward this to anyone else you think might be interested.
Chip Francke
Email:  francke@charter.net

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Backyard Piliated Woodpecker

November 25 Email:

WOW!  We've had them pass through in other years but never had one come to the suet.  She's a really big one. Picture was taken at 8:10 a.m. with very little light.  Came out pretty good for a 1/10 second exposure.

- Ken Sapkowski

Monday, November 25, 2013

Snow, Roughleg and Horned Grebe Saturday

Carol Cooper's northside field trip on Saturday produced several bird species including a Rough-legged Hawk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve and a Horned Grebe at Snug Harbor.  Click for details.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Red Phalarope at Wastewater Saturday

To Mich-listers November 9:

Subject: Muskegon Wastewater Red Phalarope Yes

1225 pm. West lagoon. South shore.  Between center dike and west end closer to west end. 

Greg Bodker

Friday, November 8, 2013

Regarding Mystery Goose at Wastewater

November 8 Email:

Hi Ric,

I took a few pictures of the odd goose at the wastewater facility (posted below). As near as I can determine it is a cross breed between a Canada Goose and a Snow Goose. There is a lot of information on the net about these crosses and some images of the results.  I have included a couple of images that I took of the bird. I am pretty sure it is the same goose that Charlie photographed.

I hope that this helps with the I.D.

Terry Ankelen