Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sandhill Cranes and Shoreline Count Notes

Of the various locations in Muskegon County from which I count birds migrating along Lake Michigan each spring and fall, the overlook at Lake Harbor Park offers the best vantage point. The paucity of nearby trees also enhances detections by calls or songs, and the local dune structure tends to attenuate the noise of breaking waves more so than Kruse Park and other spots. Also, the elevation of the overlook provides a good angle for finding and scoping waterbirds. The Kruse Park boardwalk is a little too high, and shoreline or pier locations are too low. The large numbers of mergansers that sometimes fly east and west over the channel can either be a distraction or bonus, depending on your mood.

These benefits are balanced by the exposure of the overlook. Even moderate winds can make winter counts brutally cold, and speeds over 10 mph tend to introduce too much tripod shake to make scoping efficient for distant birds -- and distance is always a factor. I tend to forsake the spot on such days, which is usually the case in the winter, but when I expect a good flight over the dunes, this is the place to be.

Today was a good example. March arrivals have lagged at least two weeks behind last year. This has created a backlog of birds to the south. Steady winds from the west and north for the last few days have further delayed things, so a mild south wind seemed promising.

Migrating birds (particularly landbirds) are fickle when it comes to weather. To fly against unfavorable winds is a costly waste of energy. While many people may think migration is steady progression of passing birds, the reality is a series of bursts and busts. The majority of long-distance movements within a particular guild of species is restricted to just a few days each spring and fall. Adverse passage conditions tend to keep birds in place, but when things turn, birds move in force. Foul weather shifts can put a brake on things, and when this happens, a major "fall-out" of birds can occur. Last year, for instance, fall-out conditions on May 2 and 3 produced more migrants in the dunes than did the rest of the month.

As soon as the fog broke this morning, I headed to Lake Harbor to check the flight over the lake and dunes. Sure enough, there was a decent flow of northbound birds. I counted 32 species of migrants, but most notable was 188 Sandhill Cranes heading north between 11:54 and 1:12. My previous high count for Muskegon County was 165 on 22 March 2010.

Brian Johnson

Friday, March 29, 2013

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Pair Returns

Carol spotted our pair of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the tree behind our house this morning.  They usually stick around the same tree for a week or so before continuing their migration.

- Ric

Bald Eagle at Grand Haven

March 28 Email:

Still a few of these guys around.  I saw this one today on Harbor Island around 6:30 p.m.  Hope you are having a good week.

Travis Dewys 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Red-throated Loon at Grand Haven Channel

Red-throated Loon

Today I got a call from a friend, John Rosema, that the Red-throated Loon was in the Grand Haven Channel across from the Coast Guard Station mixed in with a flock of Scaup and Redheads.

Charlie DeWitt

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Common Loon at Grand Haven

This Common Loon was in the Grand River right by the Coast Guard building in Grand Haven on Sunday, March 24th.

Mike Boston

Three from Mona Lake

Slow, slow day today. The eagles pretty much stayed on the other side of Mona Lake today.  As poor as the light was, it didn't leave much opportunity to shoot anything worthwhile. Anyway, here are three Bald Eagles and a Herring Gull who's probably thinking, "It will never find me here."  ;)

Mike VanderStelt

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Good Day, Good People!

Just a quick hand-held panoramic of the Grand Haven Channel during our field trip this morning.  And for two points, can anyone spot a duck flying out of the Holland Channel?

Mike VanderStelt

Friday, March 22, 2013

Just a Few from the Last Couple of Days

A Bald Eagle on its way to give flying lessons, a Blue Jay and Northern Cardinal from Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, immature and mature Bald Eagles from Mona Lake today, and an American Robin I spotted on the way back to the truck at Mona Lake.

Off day today; I missed more than I got, so you guys watch out tomorrow.  I won't be on just a "field trip", I'll be on a mission!  ;)

Mike VanderStelt

Carolina Wrens Still Here

March 20 Email from Carol Cooper:

Not the greatest picture as it was shot through a screened window, but the Carolina Wren is still around at The Bird House in North Muskegon.  The owner says a pair is at the feeders daily so I would think they still are at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve too, though I have not seen them there recently.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Brown-headed Cowbird

I had a Brown-headed Cowbird at the feeder this afternoon.  That is #95 on my MYB list.

Charlie DeWitt

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Eagle and Goldeneye Slo-Mo Videos

Here are a couple new local videos from Sunday the 17th (see others posted below).  Bald Eagle breaking through the ice when landing and Common Goldeneye doing a little dance.

Again, these videos are three seconds of action played back over forty seconds.  Enjoy!

Don Neumann

Monday, March 18, 2013

Woodcock on Sunday

Greg DeWeerd heard both the wing whistle and peenting of an American Woodcock last evening near Hoffmaster State Park.

Sunday March 17

Red-tailed Hawk

I spent an hour at the Muskegon County Wastewater on Sunday March 17.  Swanson Road from Apple Avenue (M46) to White Road is still blocked off.  The large lagoons are completely frozen over.  I did see 18 species of birds and 1 Striped Skunk

Charlie DeWitt

Friday, March 15, 2013

Two Scoter Species at the Channel Yesterday

I spent some time at the Muskegon Channel yesterday, March 14, 2013, taking pictures of scoters.  The first picture is a female Surf Scoter and the rest are White-winged Scoters.

Charlie DeWitt

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"The Littles" and White-winged Scoters

I spent a little time at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve today getting some of the smaller species as Mona Lake was (when I was there) down to the two residents and two immature Bald Eagles.  I ended up with a Mourning Dove, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, male House Finch, male Northern Cardinal, female House Finch*, Female Northern Cardinal, male House Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, and last but not least, the Common Grackle.  Please excuse the focus as I've needed to fine-tune my len's "micro-adjustment" but just haven't had the time to do the final steps (getting closer though, Charlie).

If I missed the correct I.D.s on the sparrows, someone correct me -- I'm terrible with sparrows :)

- Mike VanderStelt

*  Mike, except for the bird between the cardinals being a female House Sparrow, I think you knocked out the sparrows. If these are out-of-focus then we'd better wear protective goggles after you make those micro-adjustments.  By the way, Greg DeWeerd emailed today that there are still White-winged Scoters in the Grand River Channel in downtown Grand Haven.  - Ric

Eagles North and South

Roxanne Eacker sends these pictures from yesterday of two immature Bald Eagles, the first from Muskegon Lake near Custer Park in North Muskegon, the second one of many she saw on Mona Lake.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sleepy Woodcock

I found this sleepy American Woodcock, my first for 2013, in a small wetland off of 62nd Ave just north of 128th in Allegan County today.

Charlie DeWitt

Duck Soup

Roger Sherburn sends this photo that his wife took at the Muskegon Channel recently.  I presume these are Mallard - American Black Duck hybrids.  I'm also guessing that the colorful one might be a male and the other a female.  Thanks to anyone with more expertise for chiming in.

- Ric

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mute Swans Eating Fish!

Don Neumann sends this video of two Mute Swans eating fish!  I have a good book on the subject of bird diets which says MUSW eats 95% vegetation, some insects, and some small invertebrates.  Most Internet sources say similar things.  This video proves them wrong.  I did find the Wikipedia article on "swan" (not their article on "Mute Swan") says, "Although most birds generally do not have teeth, swans are known to be an exception to this, having small jagged 'teeth' as part of their beaks used for catching and eating fish."

Don sent the swans to help me embed the video into this page (thanks, Don, it works) and to illustrate the fantabulous telephoto and slow-motion abilities of his photo equipment.

I was unable to do that Saturday with Don's "Eagle Videos and a Killdeer" posted below.  So in that post you must click the hypertext and it will send you to YouTube to watch the two videos.  If you haven't done that already, do that NOW!  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  Go down there and click those videos; you'll be glad you did!

Disclaimer:  Don has discovered that this video does not play on his iPad and I've confirmed it does not play on my iPod either.  Please let us know if you are unsuccessful watching the swans on any other piece of hardware.  Thanks!

- Ric

Monday, March 11, 2013

Good Birds at the Wastewater and Up River

 Horned Lark

 Bald Eagle

Hooded Merganser

I haven't been to the Muskegon County Wastewater for two months so I thought it was time to check it out.  It was a good day.  I found Canada Goose, Mallard, American Black Duck, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Bald Eagle, Ring-billed Gull, *Killdeer*, Northern Shrike, American Crow, Mourning Dove, American Robin, *Eastern Meadowlark*, Horned Lark, Belted Kingfisher, *Song Sparrow*, Red-winged Blackbird and European Starling.

For some reason Swanson Road north of Apple (M46) to White Road was closed.  I had to take Maple Island Road north to White.

Charlie DeWitt

Charlie, thanks for the report.  Other signs of life and spring in that area come from Ron Beuchele who birded the marsh in the lower Muskegon River over the weekend and saw several pairs of Sandhill Cranes, a few American Black Ducks, lots of Mallards and Common Goldeneyes, some Red-winged Blackbirds and 10-12 Bald Eagles of which 8 were immatures.   - Ric

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saturday Birds at Mona Lake

Okay, okay, this is the last of my "mini-series" on Bald Eagles from Mona Lake.  Nothing was too close today anyway until these Canada Geese flew over and landed.  Notice that one of them is banded in the picture with the Mute Swans.

Mike VanderStelt

Eagle Videos and a Killdeer

Trying out a new camera today that lets me shoot a three-second slow motion video clip at 400 frames per second.  For you camera people, it also lets me use all my lenses for my DSLR with a 2.7 crop factor. These two Bald Eagle videos are shot through my 600mm lens (1620mm effective length) looking to the opposite side of Mona Lake from the park.

This Killdeer was also at the park.  Spring is near.

Don Neumann

A Sure Sign of Spring!

Despite the stocking cap and gloves I still had that "first of spring feeling" at Grand Haven this morning listening to a male Red-winged Blackbird singing his territory east of the boat launch parking lot on Harbor Island.

Traveling from there to downtown Grand Haven I observed an adult Peregrine Falcon in the nest box on the power plant smoke stack.  Otherwise just the usual suspects in the Grand River this morning.

- Ric

Grand Haven, Ottawa, US-MI
Mar 9, 2013 8:50 AM - 10:15 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments:    Harbor Island, Chinook Pier, River View
18 species (+2 other taxa)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  7
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  13
Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)  17
Greater/Lesser Scaup (Aythya marila/affinis)  115
White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca)  3
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  2
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)  X    over 100
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  X    over 100
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)  3
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  16
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  13
gull sp. (Larinae sp.)  X
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)  9
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  2
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  1    Sitting in nest box.
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  3
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  6
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  2
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  1    Harbor Island
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  3

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Friday, March 8, 2013

And Still More Bald Eagle Photos!

Mike VanderStelt says, "Here are five more Bald Eagle photos from Mona Lake today.  I was going to cut back but they're not here for much longer so we might as well enjoy the treat.  I almost got another flag shot; close, but no cigar!  The immatures drop so many fish that Mom in the last photo is telling Junior, 'We take fish out of the water, not drop them back into the water!'" 

Crystal McLouth took this photo also at Mona Lake today: