Saturday, January 31, 2015

Not Many Channel Ducks Today

Hoping for the odd duck I birded the Muskegon and Grand Haven Channels this morning.  There were only a few dozen ducks spread out in each channel, none unusual, mainly Greater Scaup and Common Goldeneye.  (For the amusement of my competitors I recorded Year Birds #48 Greater Scaup and #49 Bufflehead.)

There was open water at Muskegon from the Silversides out to Lake Michigan and at Grand Haven west of Harbor Island almost to Lake Michigan where a few acres of ice separated the channel water from the big lake.

- Ric

Male Greater Scaup and Long-tailed Duck pair at Muskegon

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bouncing Blue Jays

On a walk in the woods this morning I stopped to watch four Blue Jays interacting high in a tree.  For five minutes, staying just a few feet from each other, they bounced up and down on the springy branches calling single musical notes with an occasional frog-like rattly sound.  A few times two of them leaped into the air and interacted with their feet for a few seconds, then settled back to the branches to continue the bouncy routine with the others.

I couldn't keep the birds straight so I don't know if one individual was always one of the two flyers.  I'm guessing this was some sort of male-female thing.  But maybe they were just trying to stay warm.  Or simply having fun?

- Ric

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Photographing Birds at the Nature Preserve

This morning I photographed birds near the pavilion feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.  Except for a pair of American Robins all were the usual winter species.  Several wore Jewelry by Brian.

Except for House Sparrows,
American Tree Sparrows outnumbered the rest.

Lots of Northern Cardinals too,

plus Blue Jays,

House Finches, Dark-eyed Juncos,

and Black-capped Chickadees (this one without a band).

- Ric

Friday, January 23, 2015

Photos of Young Eagles at the Wastewater

Bruce Delamarter sends these photos of juvenile/immature Bald Eagles at the Wastewater recently.  Notice that the bird in the last photo is banded.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Common Raven Today at the Wastewater

I was out to Oakridge again today and took a quick spin around the Wastewater during my "lunch break" (no comments, please).  No Golden Eagle or Northern Shrike, but did add a nice Year Bird: Common Raven.

Just before noon it flew from the edge of Swanson Road by the East Lagoon north, landed twice east of Swanson (once on a field, once on a sprinkler unit), then flew off to the east.  In addition to being larger than a nearby crow and having the hunkin' beak and bigger tail, it conveniently CRAWKed! each time it flew!

- Ric

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Summer Home Winter Occupant

January 5 Email:

This weekend while my husband and I were cleaning out our duck boxes that the Hooded Mergansers used this spring/summer, we found this beautiful and completely unexpected little Eastern Screech-Owl!  This is looking to be a great birding year!

Terra and Shawn Berry

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tree Sparrows in Our Yard Today

Carol and I don't often see American Tree Sparrows in our yard, but this afternoon there were several at both feeders accompanied by Dark-eyed Juncos.

- Ric

Saturday, January 3, 2015

What Birds Are These?

January 2 Email:

Hi Ric,

I wonder if you can help with these two gull pictures.  I think the one is a black back but his front is very dark grey which seems strange to say the least.  I'm not sure if the smaller darker bird in the other picture is a gull or not.  Do you have any idea what it may be?  There were several hundred gulls on the ice, but I didn't realize just how many different species there were till I had a chance to work on the pictures tonight.  They were all out in the ice away from the shore, so these were the best pictures I could get from that distance.


Rich Schadle

Rich, these are interesting images.  To save space I'll put my two-cents' worth in the comments, and I invite others to comment as well.  - Ric

Friday, January 2, 2015

Muskegon Wastewater CBC Results

The 2014 Muskegon Wastewater Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was conducted on Wednesday, December 17. This was the tenth consecutive year that we have participated with the official CBC program (coordinated by the National Audubon Society), although results have been submitted to Michigan Audubon since 2000. The designated 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) and the Muskegon Wastewater System (MWS). Most birding is accomplished by cruising roads, although MSGA offers nice hiking jaunts.

The following nine volunteers, separated among six parties, assisted with this year's effort: Feller DeWitt (in the NNW zone), Ric Pedler and Jim Zervos (NNE zone), Charlie DeWitt (ESE zone), Dayle Vanderwier and Connie Peoples (at MWS), Marc Miedema and Mary Poort (at MWS), and Brian Johnson (at MSGA). Combined, observers accrued 25 hours (8.25 on foot, 16.75 by car) and 198 miles (8.2 on foot, 190 by car) of coverage.

Unlike the extraordinarily  frigid and snowy conditions from November (and the icy conditions from last year), the weather in December was quite mild. On count day, there was no snow on the ground, and even ponds and small creeks were largely free of ice. Although winds on December 17 were gustier than typical, the average daily temperature (31°) was close to normal, and precipitation was limited to light snow in the afternoon. Skies remained overcast all day. Cone crops were much reduced this season.

A total of 9,531 individuals, representing 55 species, was recorded on this year's CBC. The individual total fell below the historical (2000-13) mean of 10,935 birds, but the species count matched the past average.

In 2013, extensive ice cover severely reduced the number of waterfowl. This year, despite the nearly ice-free conditions at the Wastewater lagoons, waterfowl concentrations were still lacking. The nine species of waterfowl numbered only 2035 birds (mean 4875) and comprised only 21% of all the birds seen this year. Northern Shoveler, a Wastewater specialty during the winter, was nearly missed. On the other hand, thanks to the landfill, gull numbers were exceptional. Six species were seen and records were set for FIVE of these. Only Ring-billed Gull (which frequents the aerator cells instead of the landfill) failed to make an impact. With 26 birds (average 41) of six species, diurnal raptors were scant; and owls were represented strictly by a good showing of four Snowy Owls.

Landbirds were unusually scarce, as only three species (Hairy Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Cedar Waxwing) exhibiting totals significantly higher than normal. Sparse food crops and mild weather conditions drastically curtailed numbers of winter visitors. Red-breasted Nuthatch was missed entirely, and counts of Dark-eyed Juncos, Tree Sparrows, and winter finches (only one Siskin) were remarkably low, although two Northern Shrike were welcome. Year-round residents were likewise reduced, with weak counts of Doves, Crows, Chickadees, Cardinals, House Finches, and Goldfinches. The paucity of Mourning Doves may be attributed to the harsh winter of 2013-14, but available bird feeder usage may have influenced some of the other counts. Landbird numbers in the backwoods of MSGA were generally good. Exceptionally bitter November weather and marginal berry supplies combined to diminish the number of lingering summer residents compared to previous years. One Winter Wren, seven Flickers, and seven Yellow-rumped Warblers (at their usual location) were encountered, but Robins were missed this year. For the third consecutive year, Ruffed Grouse, seriously declining across Muskegon County, were also absent.

Of the species recorded this year, 37 exhibited totals below previous historical means, whereas 18 exceeded those averages. Eight species (five gulls) set or matched record high counts. The four most abundant species (Herrring Gull, Canada Goose, Mallard, and Starling), comprised 90% of all individual birds seen (a figure considerably higher than normal). Two new species* recorded on the 2014 CBC raised our cumulative total to 109.

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

Canada Goose - 1404; historical average 2977
Mute Swan - 1; at MWS
Tundra Swan - 1; by Mark and Mary
Gadwall - 10; average 86
American Black Duck - 33; average 140
Mallard - 581; historical average 510
Northern Shoveler - 2; average 1301
Hooded Merganser - 2; by Charlie; ties previous high
Ruddy Duck - 1; by Dayle and Connie at MWS
Wild Turkey - 49; average 116
Great Blue Heron - 2; by Charlie; ties previous high
Bald Eagle - 5; 1 adult, 4 immatures
Northern Harrier - 1; by Dayle and Connie at MWS
Cooper's Hawk - 1; by Charlie
Red-tailed Hawk - 10; average 16
Rough-legged Hawk - 6; average 9
American Kestrel - 3; average 7
Ring-billed Gull - 10; at MWS
Herring Gull - 6231; new high count, historical average 2182
* Iceland Gull - 1; first CBC record, at MWS
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 1; ties previous high, at MWS
Glaucous Gull - 8; new high count, at MWS
* Great Black-backed Gull - 4; first CBC record, at MWS
Rock Pigeon - 13; average 153
Mourning Dove - 17; average 301
Snowy Owl - 4; all at MWS
Belted Kingfishter - 1; by Brian at MSGA
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 14; 10 at MSGA; historical average 17
Downy Woodpecker - 27; 16 at MSGA; historical average 29
Hairy Woodpecker - 12; all but 1 at MSGA; historical average 8
Northern Flicker - 7; by Brian at MSGA
Pileated Woodpecker - 4; 1 by Ric and Jim, 3 by Brian at MSGA
Northern Shrike - 2; 1 by Feller, 1 by Dayle and Connie at MWS
Blue Jay - 58; average 74
American Crow - 95; average 200
Horned Lark - 1; by Mark and Mary
Black-capped Chickadee - 74; average 117
Tufted Titmouse - 27; average 30
White-breasted Nuthatch - 22; 18 at MSGA; average 23
Brown Creeper - 1; by Brian at MSGA
Winter Wren - 1; by Brian at MSGA
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 6; 2 by Ric and Jim, 4 by Brian at MSGA
Eastern Bluebird - 11; by Brian at MSGA
European Starling - 323; average 1279
Cedar Waxwing - 105; by Feller
Snow Bunting - 50; by Ric at MWS
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 7; by Brian at MSGA
American Tree Sparrow - 28; average 176
Song Sparrow - 1; by Brian at MSGA
Dark-eyed Junco - 98; average 165
Northern Cardinal - 27; 22 at MSGA; average 65
House Finch - 17; flock of 15 by Ric and Jim; average 63
Pine Siskin - 1; by Brian at MSGA
American Goldfinch - 15; average 176
House Sparrow - 95; average 160

Results from the Muskegon Wastewater and the approximately 2,400 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