Monday, March 31, 2014

Signs of Spring

On Sunday I had a Tree Swallow at the Muskegon County Wastewater; today Eastern Phoebe, Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers at the yellow gate at the Muskegon State Game Area headquarters building. I checked Little Black Lake at the bridge on Wood Road and had one Blue-winged Teal.

- Charlie DeWitt

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bobcat at MSGA

Although similar to last year in timing, early spring arrivals have obviously been a few weeks behind longer-term normals. At last, various blackbirds, Robins, Song Sparrows, Sandhill Cranes, Killdeer, Woodcock, and assorted waterfowl are appearing in decent numbers. However, my most interesting encounter in the last couple days has been of the furry kind. While hiking the Muskegon State Game Area on March 28, I was fortunate to spot this Bobcat before it saw me.

Brian Johnson

Cranes and Shrike at WW Saturday

Dan Lockard sends these photos of Sandhill Cranes and the Northern Shrike on the Wastewater properties yesterday.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

28 Species But No Rusties at SGA

I birded along the Maple River beyond State Game Area headquarters again this morning hoping for Rusty Blackbirds.  Found none, but the area was full of bird life, and despite temps in the mid-thirties with lotsa snow still on the ground, the morning had a spring feel to it.

Many of the Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows were singing and five of the 28 species were new for me this year (no laughing, please):  Wood Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sandhill Crane and Song Sparrow.

- Ric


4 Canada Goose
4 Wood Duck
2 Gadwall
25 Mallard
38 Wild Turkey
1 Turkey Vulture
1 Red-shouldered Hawk
1 Sandhill Crane
3 gull sp.
1 Mourning Dove
4 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Pileated Woodpecker
12 Blue Jay
7 American Crow
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Tufted Titmouse
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
5 American Robin
5 European Starling
24 American Tree Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
15 Dark-eyed Junco
8 Northern Cardinal
60 Red-winged Blackbird
3 Common Grackle
3 House Sparrow

Monday, March 24, 2014

Female American Kestrel

March 23 Email:

An American Kestrel female from the Muskegon Wastewater today. - Sherri Lockard

Friday, March 21, 2014

You Don't See This Everyday

March 20 Email:

Somebody is stockpiling food at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve; this scaup was left on top of a broken dead tree.  - Carol Cooper

Carol, thanks for the interesting photo.  If anyone suspects a particular raptor or other predator or has opinions about this, please leave a comment.  Thanks!  - Ric

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Merganser on Mona Lake

March 18 Email:

I saw this Red-breasted Merganser in Mona Lake by the Lake Harbor Bridge.Tom Bancuk

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Great Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls

Today at Grand Haven I had 3 Great Black-backed Gulls and a Glaucous Gull mixed in with some Herring Gulls.

Charlie DeWitt

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Purple Finch

This female Purple Finch visited my backyard today, 3/15/14. This is the earliest I've seen this species.

Mike Boston

Possible Rusties, Definite Shrike This Morning

Hoping for Rusty Blackbirds I arrived at the State Game Area headquarters parking lot at 9:20 and from there definitely heard some "rusty gates" from north of the river.  Unfortunately some Blue Jays flew loudly from that vicinity (perhaps a raptor?) and all the singing stopped.  I stuck around for an hour hoping the flock would come back, but it never did.  There were a few European Starlings behind the building and a few Red-winged Blackbirds in the area too, so it's possible some of them made those gate sounds, but I really don't think so.

Timing is everything and my sticking around SGA that long meant arriving at the Wastewater later than I'd planned.  That delay provided my target bird: a Northern Shrike in the icy puddle just across from the headquarters driveway on White Road!  It carried a worm up to a nearby wire and ate it!  I didn't know shrikes ate worms, and I certainly wasn't looking for a shrike in a puddle!

Otherwise, 13 usual species at SGA, 19 at Wastewater, and unusual for a Saturday, only two other humans: the sheriff's deputy who came by while I was watching the shrike and a septic truck driver up near my Image of the Day: a graceful swan swimming amidst the whatever on the middle churning lagoon. ;-/

- Ric

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Northern Pintail and Red-tailed Hawk

I spent some time at the Wastewater today.  Picked up two FOY birds:  Nothern Pintail and Killdeer.  Ken S., that gives me 78.

Charlie DeWitt

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Shrike, Larks, Buntings, and Loon Today

March 12 Email:

Hey Ric,

I was at the Wastewater today and the shrike was around again.  I was able to snag a pic of him for you.  Horned Larks and Snow Buntings were EVERYWHERE!!!  There was also a loon at the Pere Marquette Channel.  It was too distant to get a decent shot, but I'll include it for you. 

- Travis Dewys

Travis, your Northern Shrike picture is good enough for me to count on my Year List, but I won't.  That bird is intentionally dodging me!  Yes, the Horned Larks are covering the ground out there lately.  And I'm posting your Common Loon photo even though it is distant.  That bird or his brother was in the Channel on Sunday also when Carol and I drove by.  - Ric

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer at Wastewater

Biding my time between some classes I was visiting at Oakridge today, I spun out to the Wastewater hoping again for the shrike, but again striking out.  Ken Sapkowski told me it was there Saturday after I left.  Par for the  course.  I did record my first-of-the-year Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer.

- Ric

Muskegon Wastewater System, Muskegon, US-MI
Mar 11, 2014 11:15 AM - 1:15 PM
Protocol: Traveling
6.0 mile(s)
19 species (+2 other taxa)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  13
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  2
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  4
Redhead (Aythya americana)  1    
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  1    
Greater/Lesser Scaup (Aythya marila/affinis)  38    
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  1   
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)  18
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  1    
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)  6
Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)  1
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  2    
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  1  
gull sp. (Larinae sp.)  700
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  25
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)  252  
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  200
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)  22
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  2
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  2

Monday, March 10, 2014

Muskegon Channel Report - Caleb Putnam

March 10 to Mich-Chat:


This morning I checked the Muskegon Lake Channel for the King Eider and Barrow's Goldeneye, with Sean Fitzgerald and Tomas Pedreros, and was unable
to locate the Barrow's Goldeneye. There were not many Common Goldeneyes present either, so the bird may have moved on (one must wonder if the Ottawa bird could be the same individual?).

Also, there were an amazing minimum of 12 Red-necked Grebes at this location, my personal high count for Lake Michigan by far. An additional bird was dead on the ice (as were many White-winged Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks, victims of starvation?).

Here is our checklist:

Also of note were my first of year Red-winged Blackbird, 2 Wood Ducks (presumed migrants), and a Common Loon.

Good Birding,
- Caleb

Greater White-fronted Geese at the Channel

March 10 Email:

Hi Ric,
This afternoon I was out at the Muskegon Channel when a flock of Canada Geese flew in, and with them were two Greater White-fronted Geese.  New lifers for me :-)
- Wanda Alkema

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Red-necked Grebes at White Lake Channel

On Sunday, March 9th, I saw two Red-necked Grebes at the White Lake Channel along with the usual winter ducks.

- Mike Boston

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Eagles Attacking Gull, Etc. at the Wastewater

No unusual species at the Wastewater this morning (although eBird questioned the 200 Horned Larks).  It was an ideal day for viewing the larks because the only open ground was the roads and they were foraging for grit as well as food; 200 is a serious undercount!

I had been hoping for the shrike on the south side, but witnessed an interesting Eagle-Gull encounter instead.  I wish one of our photographers had been there with a good camera, but the action came close enough to my car a few times for some acceptable shots.

I was heading south on Swanson not quite to the model airfield as an adult Bald Eagle tail-chased a Herring Gull.  At one point the eagle raked the gull's back pulling out a hunk of feathers and skin and leaving the upper rump area pinkish-red.

The eagle then drove the gull to the snow just southwest of the corner and must have thought he had it, but the gull flew off as the eagle stayed on the snow for several seconds before continuing the chase.

After a few minutes, that eagle landed northwest of the corner and a second adult eagle flew over from a tree south of Laketon (visible in photo below) and took up the chase of the gull for a couple more minutes.

Then that eagle flew back to the treetop and a third Bald Eagle (not quite full adult yet; lotsa brown feathers in its white tail) flew in from northwest and continued chasing the gull.  It seemed like a coordinated attack because the gull had to keep flying as the eagles rested.

The gull headed southwest when the third eagle stopped chasing and landed north of the model airport.  But then the first eagle flew from the field and took off after the gull (which by then was quite far away) followed seconds later by the second adult from the top of the tree, and the whole show disappeared far off to the southwest.  When I looked back for the younger eagle, it was gone, but may also have re-joined the chase.

Who needs a shrike after all that?

The Glaucous Gulls were among Herring Gulls in the middle aeration lagoon.  The Lapland Longspur was a male along White east of Swanson apparently beginning to molt (?) with darkish breast feathers, not just a dark collar.  Snow Buntings were occasional in a few of the lark flocks.

- Ric

Muskegon Wastewater System, Muskegon, US-MI
Mar 8, 2014 9:15 AM - 11:15 AM
Protocol: Traveling
6.0 mile(s)
Comments: Driving roads at Muskegon Wastewater
15 species (+3 other taxa)

Gadwall (Anas strepera)  2
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  4
Greater/Lesser Scaup (Aythya marila/affinis)  6
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)  6
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  3 
Merganser species (Mergus merganser/serrator)  2
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  8 
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)  1    
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  100    
Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)  2    
gull sp. (Larinae sp.)  X
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  25
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)  200   
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  6
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  50
Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)  1    
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)  30

This report was generated automatically by eBird.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Interesting Accipiter and Eagles

Two March 6 Emails:

A hawk from Grand Haven.

- Dan Lockard

Thanks, Dan.  I just passed this off as a young Red-tailed Hawk when Dan emailed me, but thanks to Anonymous (see Comments) I looked again.  Obviously that's an accipiter's tail (not the wooden structure) under the bird, and as Anonymous suggested, how about Northern Goshawk?  I'm posting the species name in purple instead of red because it could also be a Cooper's Hawk.  I'll post some additional thoughts in the Comments section for anyone still interested in this topic.  - Ric

While traveling north down Henry Street across the Mona Shores Bridge, I spotted two Bald Eagles perched high up in the trees on the northwest side of the bridge. Wish I could have stopped to get a picture. They looked beautiful against the blue sky today.   - Rey Flores

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Female Barrow's Goldeneye at the Channel

I spent some time at the Muskegon Channel this morning looking for the female Barrow's Goldeneye that Chris McCreedy reported to ebird on March 4.  It took a while, but I found it.  In the top picture it is on the left side of the Greater Scarp and a Common Goldeneye female on the right of the scuap.

- Charlie DeWitt

Unusual Species on Muskegon River

March 5 Email:

I have been watching the birding web site.  I have been on the Muskegon River quite a bit the last few weeks and I have never seen the amount of wildlife that is on the river.  There are a lot of bird species that I have never encountered on the river, especially not as far up as Newaygo.

Today there were at least 3 Red-necked Grebes along with a White-winged Scoter, a few Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted and Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and many others.  I also saw a dead Mute Swan and a dead merganser along the shore of the river.  This long winter is really taking its toll.

There is a dead cedar tree in the middle of one stretch of the river and the deer are wading out into the middle (the river is at least 150 feet wide) to eat what is left of its foliage.  I have attached a few river pics from today. 

- Kevin Feenstra

Kevin, thanks for the report and photos (Red-necked Grebes, Wild Turkey and Bald Eagle).  Be sure to see Brian Johnson's post below with more details about this phenomenon.  - Ric

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Winter Waterfowl at Muskegon Lake Channel

One unfortunate irony sometimes lost on birders is that weather patterns which promote great birding are generally very bad for the birds themselves. This has been especially evident at Muskegon Lake Channel this winter. The frigid temperatures have generated outstanding rewards for birders and photographers, and extended stays by a male Barrow's Goldeneye and an immature male King Eider (still present) have been notable. However, these same conditions have also devastated the local population of winter ducks.

I have been able to complete six surveys along the channel wall between January 12 and March 5 this winter. Numbers peaked on January 29 when 6,867 waterfowl of 13 species were concentrated in the channel.  By that time, ice was already extending several miles from shore, and forage availability was severely limited. Since then, as ice cover on the Great Lakes continued to increase, duck numbers have inexorably declined.

Here are my figures for the four most numerous species:

Jan. 29 (Lake Michigan 45% ice covered)
Long-tailed Duck - 3,137
Greater Scaup - 2,258
Common Goldeneye - 912
White-winged Scoter - 463

Feb. 3 (Lake Michigan 41% ice covered)
Greater Scaup - 1,409
Long-tailed Duck - 1,118
Common Goldeneye - 588
White-winged Scoter - 445

Feb. 11 (Lake Michigan 66% ice covered)
Greater Scaup - 1,157
White-winged Scoter - 341
Long-tailed Duck - 290
Common Goldeneye - 147

Feb. 19 (Lake Michigan 72% ice covered)
Greater Scaup - 147
White-winged Scoter - 78
Long-tailed Duck - 38
Common Goldeneye - 36

March 5 (Lake Michigan 92% ice covered)
Greater Scaup - 439
White-winged Scoter - 62
Common Goldeneye - 44
Long-tailed Duck - 26

While much of that reduction is due to emigration, mortality also accounts for a substantial portion. As the extensive near-shore ice prevented access to benthic invertebrates, ducks concentrated where they could still reach the lake bottom. However, food depletion (and possibly disease) severely stressed these birds. Many desperate scaup, goldeneye, and long-tails moved to inland creeks and ponds that remained open, and stronger birds likely continued further east and south.

The toll on those that have remained has been depressingly evident. Dozens of dead waterfowl, particularly Greater Scaup and Long-tailed Ducks, have floated in the channel or lain on the ice during my last four visits. I even found a dead Long-tailed Duck at the Muskegon Wastewater, where they rarely occur. I do not ever recall seeing so many dead waterfowl as I have this winter. But on a more positive note, the birding has indeed been outstanding, and the birds have been very cooperative for photographers.

Other high counts that I have obtained at the channel this winter include:

Mute Swan - 28 on Feb. 3
Mallard - 5
Canvasback - 4 on Jan. 29
Redhead - 35 on Jan. 29
Lesser Scaup - 1
Surf Scoter - 2
Bufflehead - 3 on Jan. 12
Common Merganser - 16 on Jan. 12 (many more favor Lake Harbor)
Red-throated Loon - 3 on March 5
Common Loon - 2 on March 5
Horned Grebe - 5 on Feb. 3
Red-necked Grebe - 7 on March 5 (a very good total for Muskegon)

- Brian Johnson

Shrike, Snipe and Teal at the Wastewater

This morning Feller and I found this Northern Shrike in the RI cells.  We also had seven Wilson's Snipe and two Green-winged Teal.  The creek that runs along the north side of White Road between Maple Island and the headquarters building had a lot of ducks in it.  You have to get out of the car and walk up to the edge, but it is worth it.

- Charlie DeWitt

Monday, March 3, 2014

Red-necked Grebe and Red-throated Loon

On Sunday someone posted on ebird that there was a Red-necked Grebe at the Muskegon Channel.  I went out today and found two.  They were out by the center lighthouse and moving around a lot.  I also saw a Red-throated Loon.

Charlie DeWitt

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Montague Snowy Owl and Coyote

March 1 Email:

Sighting today from Montague.  A snowy owl (Nyctea scandiaca) and a coyote (Canis latrans).

Sherri Lockard

Channel Ducks February 28

Delayed Posting (grandkids were visiting).  - Ric

February 28 Email with attached photos of White-winged Scoter and Long-tailed Ducks (male and female):

Today's sun brought out several spectators looking for the Barrow's and the Eider.  They didn't show up, but there were a lot of Long-tails, Scaup, Scoters, and Mergansers in the tiny bit of open water in the channel.  I imagine some of the other folks there were some of your peeps.  I probably should have asked.

Roxanne Eacker

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Winter Bird Banding

This winter, as in the last few years, I have been banding birds by the feeders in my backyard. Due to the lousy weather this season, I have had unusually few opportunities to do so. While cold, windy, snowy weather elicit the highest visitation rates to the feeders, such conditions discourage banding. Not only do wind and snow make netting ineffective, but much more importantly, harsh weather poses added stress. As a bander, I find that capturing the same individuals week after week and even year after year generates a particular attachment to all birds I have banded, and while I enjoy the views of the local Cooper's Hawks, I do not like the thought that they are eating "my" birds.

One focus to the banding has been comparing counts of birds visiting the feeders at any one time to actual numbers of local birds. These are my most common species this winter:

Dark-eyed Junco - peak count of 26 (on Jan 14); 88 banded so far this season
American Goldfinch - peak count of 21 (on Feb 9); 10 banded
Black-capped Chickadee - peak count of 2; 8 banded
Northern Cardinal - peak count of 11 (Jan 28); 10 banded

The low banding total for goldfinch can be explained by the distance of my net from the feeders; all birds are caught as they move between available cover. Because I have only been able stay open for 57 hours all season, most capture totals have been correspondingly low. However, juncos have been particularly numerous this year.

I have also been interested in age and sex breakdowns of those species captured. This year, males account for 65% of the junco total -- a figure consistent with previous winters. Also, 64% of the juncos represent immature birds. While good fecundity and juvenile survival last summer would seem to explain the higher junco total this winter, the ratio is actually slightly lower than past seasons, so better annual survival of adults (thus, a greater breeding pool) appears more logical. However, this is not reflected in a high recapture rate from past years, and it seems that juncos, like finches but unlike American Tree Sparrows, woodpeckers, chickadees, and cardinals, have fairly poor site fidelity on the winter grounds.

Finally, I pay close attention to health. Despite their densities, the juncos appear to be in great shape. Recaptures have been prevalent, most of the birds have been very fat, and diseases have not been evident. For some reason, the immature cardinals never completed their feather molt last fall. Generally, young cardinals replace all their juvenal feathers. Goldfinches have been problematic. Based on the birds that I have watched at the feeders and those that I have captured, several either have appeared sluggish or have obviously displayed swollen eyes (mycoplasmal conjunctivitis).

Banding would seem to benefit from mild, sunny days. However, clear skies make the net more visible, and nice weather brings fewer birds to the feeders. Male titmice and nuthatches appear to be more interested in singing than feeding, and other birds are likely roving further around the neighborhood -- probably using the opportunity to seek alternate food sources. While capture rates drop, interesting birds are likely. A male Purple Finch and a male Brown-headed Cowbird have each made one-day visits this winter. On the other hand, irruptive finches have been notable by their absences. Finally, the bird pictured below was captured during the pleasant afternoon of Feb 18.

This is the first Chipping Sparrow that I have ever seen during the winter in Muskegon County.

- Brian Johnson

Northern Shovelers at Muskegon Channel

Today at the Muskegon Channel I found 4 Northern Shovelers across from the submarine.

Charlie DeWitt