Saturday, May 30, 2015

Louisiana Waterthrush at Patterson on Friday

May 29 Email:

Hey Ric,

I don't know if you've been out to Patterson Park to pick up Louisiana Waterthrush, but I was out there this morning and saw one in the woods by the creek at the extreme west end of the park.

- Mike Boston

Friday, May 29, 2015

Hofma Preserve on Friday

There were 5-8 Sedge Wrens singing around the Hofma Preserve marsh this morning, seldom showing themselves, and none near the boardwalk.

Among the 33 bird species were Veery, Wood Thrush, Black-throated Green Warbler, Pileated Woodpecker, Willow, Alder, Great-crested Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird.

Common this morning were Swamp Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler and Red-winged Blackbird (one asking to have its picture taken).

This male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was singing in the woods north of the marsh.

- Ric

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Birding Lake Harbor Park Tuesday

I birded Lake Harbor Park again this morning.  The 25 species included several Indigo Buntings singing and chasing each other around the park, Lincoln's Sparrow, Pileated Woodpecker, American Redstart, Black-throated Green Warbler and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Indigo Bunting, juvenile male

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, male

Back home was this Tiger Swallowtail:

- Ric

Sunday, May 24, 2015

May 23 Big Day: 108 Total Bird Species

Update:  Feller DeWitt led 19 people on our Big Day Count Saturday May 23 finding 108 bird species.  The list with locations is posted on our homepage.

Travis Dewys sent these photos of people and Black-billed* and Yellow-Billed Cuckoos from yesterday's Big Day Count led by Feller.  

Charlie DeWitt reported a Black Scoter at Wastewater during yesterday's count.  As we get more details from Big Day, we'll post them here.

* Greg Swanson had a Black-billed Cuckoo calling behind his house this Sunday morning.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

New Ottawa County Bird Book Now Available

The 156-page Birds of Ottawa County is now on sale for $14.95.  See our homepage for details.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cool Morning at Lake Harbor Park

Brian's post below reminded me that I hadn't birded Lake Harbor Park in a long time.  It was very cool there this morning but there were plenty of birds including Black-throated Green Warbler, Great-crested Flycatcher, Belted Kingfisher, Bald Eagle, Pileated Woodpecker, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler and Yellow-throated Vireo.  I recorded 28 species in a couple of hours.

Mike Boston was also there and may have posted some photos on his MCNC facebook page.  I got these of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

- Ric

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Red-necked Phalaropes at the Wastewater

I found these Red-necked  Phalaropes in the southeast corner of the west lagoon.  It was at 7:00 p.m., so it was pretty dark.  In the RI fields (B4) I had 95 Dunlin, 2 Stilt Sandpipers, 2 Short-billed Dowitchers, 12 Least Sandpipers, 1 Spotted Sandpiper, 1 Lesser Yellowlegs and 3 Semipalmated  Plovers.

- Charlie DeWitt

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Owls, Sparrows, Flycatchers, Warblers, Etc.

While birding Lake Harbor Park yesterday (May 18), I noticed this adorable little Barred Owl. Just hours out of a nearby nest and only half-grown, this fledgling probably could not yet fly. I took a few photos as I simultaneously scanned for the adults or a sibling, but I noticed neither. Last year, the resident pair also successfully fledged young.

Due to its size and abundance of hemlocks, Lake Harbor Park offers quality birding all year. The informal trail system also provides pleasant hikes, although dogs can be a little numerous. Because dead beeches are not culled, there is ample habitat for cavity nesting birds, like this Barred Owl family. On the other hand, habitat diversity across the park is limited, and the understory is generally sparse. This situation has been exacerbated by zealous neighbors who have further removed ground cover in order to create a more "park-like" atmosphere. The area just west of Glen Court, for instance, is quite absurd. Furthermore, an over abundance of squirrels this past winter has resulted in the loss of most red and sugar maple saplings, which are killed as squirrels consume the inner bark. Consequently, there are lots of migrant warblers using the park, but don't expect low or close views.

Scarlet Tanager

When it comes to benefiting birds and other wildlife, even land management decisions by professionals can sometimes be misguided and exasperating, so having the ability to manage your own yard allows you to be your own critic, learn in the process, and reap the rewards. If birds are desired, aesthetics, neatness, or decorations will have to be sacrificed in favor of a somewhat unkempt or crowded ambiance. The precise composition of plants can vary immensely, but species and structural diversity are key. Personally, and depending on conditions, I am fine with certain non-natives (e.g. lilac), but definitely avoid invasive or nuisance species (e.g. bittersweet). The shelter and natural forage provided by a good mix of conifers and hardwood shrubs brings far more benefit than bird feeders.

To better assess how many birds such tinkering has yielded, I sometimes extend my winter mist netting into the spring. Some transients sing during spring passage, but the vast majority do not. Plus, environments that best serve the refueling and resting needs of migrants are not the easiest to bird. Banding helps me track numbers.

Since even Chipping Sparrows are unusual in my yard (the only one I have recently banded was a bizarrely early bird on 2-18-14), I was surprised by this Clay-colored Sparrow on May 8. Locally, the species is uncommon during the spring, but this date lies squarely within their typical passage window. Breeding Clay-colored Sparrows inhabit both dry coniferous scrub and shrubby fields. I have found nests in Oceana and Mason Counties but not yet in Muskegon County, though a few may breed here too.

Like Clay-colored Sparrow, the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher also occurs as a regular but difficult to find migrant. (Philadelphia Vireo and Gray-cheeked Thrush are additional examples.) The species is also one of the latest to appear in the spring, and sightings before May 15 would be quite unusual. Whereas Least Flycatchers generally forage along forest edges during migration, Yellow-bellied Flycatchers remain deeper beneath the canopies of young hardwood forests. Consequently, they are almost always heard before seen. On their breeding grounds (comprising boggy wetlands heavily infused with young conifers and deciduous brush), they sing a chunky "che-bunk" note that resembles a Least Flycatcher's. Yellow-bellied Flycatchers sometimes utter this during migration, but much more often they deliver their call, a melodic "du-wee". This closely resembles the two-noted "per-weee" call of migrating pewees, but it is shorter and less slurring. I had one calling most of the afternoon in my yard on May 17, but it never found its way into my net.

Another late arrival is Canada Warbler, one of the final warblers to appear in the spring. While the species has fairly general preferences during migration, on the breeding grounds it favors a mix of dense balsam fir and various large trees (overturned stumps are necessary for nesting). It often occurs at the edges of the same bogs that Yellow-bellied Flycatchers utilize, and across the Upper Peninsula, their populations are similar. As with Clay-colored Sparrows, Muskegon County lies at the southern edge of their breeding range, and in this area, hemlock thickets serve as a proxy for balsam fir. The large eyes of the Canada Warbler are well suited for life in these shady environments.

More so than other warblers, the Magnolia Warbler shares an affinity for balsam fir and hemlock. However, Magnolia Warblers rely less on large trees, and in the U.P., they are five times as numerous as Canada Warblers. The habitat similarity may explain certain parallels in appearance, but the two species are not closely related. Among other differences, Canada Warblers is a medium size warbler (averaging 10.4 grams), while Magnolia Warbler (8.6 grams) is one of the smallest. A couple traits make the Magnolia Warbler especially distinctive. It's call note (a short, high, metallic screech) is quite unusual among warblers, and so is the placement of it's tail spots - midway rather than at the tip of the tail.

- Brian Johnson

Monday, May 18, 2015

Piping Plover at Pere Marquette Today

I saw this banded Piping Plover at Pere Marquette Park on Monday morning, 5/18/2015.

- Mike Boston

Thanks, Mike.  Nicely "sandwiched" between a Sanderling and a Dunlin. - Ric

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Many Warblers at Harbor Island Sunday

Carol and I walked the sidewalks on Harbor Island today finding 37 bird species of which 10 were warblers: Waterthrush (probably Northern), Black-and-White, Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Yellow, Blackpoll and Yellow-rumped plus several unidentifiable warblers high in the trees.  

Two ladies also birding there reported a Black-billed Cuckoo in the north section of the Linear Sidewalk grove of trees.

- Ric

Mockingbird at Snug Harbor Saturday

May 17 Email:

Here's a couple of ID pictures of the Northern Mockingbird at Snug Harbor (Muskegon State Park) yesterday.  It was near the boat launch by the handicapped parking and vault toilet.  We had a good day finding 62 species including 14 warbler species

- Marc Miedema

Saturday, May 16, 2015

49 Species at HCNC This Morning

On our field trip to Howard Christensen Nature Center this morning we encountered 49 bird species including Northern Waterthrush (but only six other warblers), Ruffed Grouse, Common Raven and Olive-sided Flycatcher.  Report posted on our homepage.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Which Dowitcher at Grand Haven Today?

May 15 Email:

Hi Ric, I just lost over an hour of my life trying to determine if this is a Long- or Short-billed Dowitcher that I saw wading at the boat launch on Harbor Island this morning.  I decided on Short-billed, but I am willing to be corrected by anyone that can help.  Thanks,  -  Brad Heath

I can't do dowitchers.  But you've already narrowed it from 350-400 Michigan species down to two.  Let's see if someone else can cut it to one.  - Ric

Thursday, May 14, 2015

9 Warblers Not Seen + 1 Snake Photographed

Ken Sapkowski emailed us other competitors today that of the 37 warbler species found regularly in Michigan, there are only 9 that he has not yet added to his Year List: Worm-eating, Blackpoll, Canada, Connecticut, Golden-winged, Kentucky, Mourning, Prothonotary and Yellow-breasted Chat.  He'll get Prothonotary almost for sure on our Big Day Count, and might add Blackpoll, Canada, Golden-winged and Kentucky around Muskegon too.  Good luck on the others!

He also sent us Glenda Eikenberry's cell phone photo of this Eastern Hog-nosed Snake that they encountered while birding a path west of Swan Creek yesterday.

32 Species While Not Bird-Watching

Greg Swanson who will lead our Saturday Field Trip at Howard Christensen Nature Center was working there yesterday but kept track of the bird species he encountered:

32 species including Wood Duck, Scarlet Tanager, Ovenbird, Nashville Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Ruffed Grouse, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Redstart, Sandhill Crane, Indigo Bunting, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Black-throated Green Warbler and Red-shouldered Hawk.

And he wasn't bird-watching!

- Ric

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Great Egrets and American White Pelicans

At 2:45 p.m. I saw 24 American White Pelicans flying low over Mona Lake as if preparing to land.  Instead they continued flying southeast.  From the Vietnam Memorial Park at the east end of Mona Lake I could not relocate them.

This morning David Holmberg emailed that there were 3 Great Egrets in the Causeway ponds today.

- Ric

Monday, May 11, 2015

NAMC Results from Muskegon SP and SGA

For the annual North American Migration Count, my coverage in Muskegon County comprises Muskegon State Park thru the early part of the day and Muskegon State Game Area in the afternoon and evening. Considering their size and habitat diversity, both areas offer outstanding birding, and given decent weather, a great list can be obtained. Unfortunately, rain and fog hindered my success this year.

I birded 7.8 miles of trails at Muskegon State Park and ended with 85 species. At Muskegon SGA, I hiked 7.1 miles at three locations (Little Cedar Creek, Headquarters/Maple River loop, and Lane's Landing) and accrued 71 species. A late arrival and a cacophony of Spring Peepers and Gray Treefrogs at Lane's Landing marsh severely limited that count. Otherwise, the day was reasonably eventful, and despite the weather, I finished with 105 species.

Highlights at Muskegon State Park:

Long-tailed Duck - 1
Caspian Tern - 3
Black-billed Cuckoo - 1
Great Horned Owl - 2
Prothonotary Warbler - 1
Cape May Warbler - 1
Blackburnian Warbler - 6
Purple Finch - 1
Pine Siskin - 223

The Great Horned Owl double consisted of an adult and a soggy juvenile (pictured above) sitting out the rain in the sand dunes.

Highlights at Muskegon State Game Area:

Northern Harrier - 1
Barred Owl - 4
Whip-poor-will - 1
Sedge Wren - 1
American Redstart - 13
Cerulean Warbler - 1
Grasshopper Sparrow - 4

The Barred Owls represented pairs on opposite sides of the Muskegon River.

While a lot was missed (especially among non-passerines), warblers were particularly diverse. I encountered 20 species, which represents all the reasonably common species that can be seen around Muskegon on May 9. (Next weekend, an equivalent number will be about 27.)

Finally, after last week's skulking Sedge Wren at Beechwood Park, the territorial male pictured above proved far more aggressive and provided a better photo.

- Brian Johnson

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Y. B. Chat

Marc Meidema phoned to inform me of Carol Snoek's eBird post:

1 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forticatus
photo Id to follow
Moorland, South Swanson Road, Muskegon County, Michigan
Mon May 11, 2015 11:15 A.M.

The eBird map shows the intersection of Apple Ave. and Swanson Rd., but that may just be a generic Wastewater coordinate.  

Marc reported after 3:00 that he had birded the south Wastewater properties without success.  If he or anyone else re-sights the bird, we will post it here. 

Monday Evening Update: We've heard nothing further about the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  Josh Kamp emailed that he saw a Yellow-breasted Chat around 4:30 this afternoon at Rosy Mound Natural Area along the White Pine trail.  - Ric

When 85 Species Is Frustrating

Sunday, May 10, Email:

Despite my having a pile of data and notes, Muskegon State Park wasn't as good as I had hoped. My goal is 100 species by noon. If conditions are right, 110-120 species are realistic. The rain really hurt this year. I had a lot of weird misses, Common Grackles even. I left the park with 85 species. Not bad, but not good enough, and a little frustrating.

Brian (Johnson)

Thanks, Brian.  I'm trying to imagine a little frustration at finding "only" 85 species at one location, but it's not working.   - Ric  ;-)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Meanwhile at Grand Haven ...

Yesterday, May 9, Mike Erickson saw a Northern Parula, Cape May Warbler and Tennessee Warbler at Harbor Island and Travis Dewys photographed this male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak and male Yellow Warbler at the Hofma Preserve.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Wet Morning for Today's Migration Count

It was rainy most of this morning for Brian's North American Migration Count.  I had planned to visit three sites but only surveyed two due to the weather.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve provided 47 species including Sora, Sandhill Crane, Least Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Marsh Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Tennessee Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole and Pine Siskin.

The old Breeding Bird Atlas area along Black Creek in Fruitport Township provided my "best bird of the day" (Yellow-throated Vireo) plus 29 other species including Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Baltimore Oriole and Ovenbird.

At neither site did individual numbers indicate any tendency toward extinction for Red-winged Blackbird, American Robin or Gray Catbird.

When I got home, Carol pointed at our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year.

- Ric

Worm-eating Warbler at Grand Haven Friday

May 9 Email:

I spotted a Worm-eating Warbler at Harbor Island in Grand Haven on May 8.  - Mike Erickson

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Two Recent Rarities at the Wastewater

Carol Cooper photographed this immature Franklin's Gull at the Wastewater on Sunday (May 3).

Dan Lockard saw this Ring-necked Pheasant there yesterday (May 6).

It's good to see that there's at least one pheasant still out there.  - Ric

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Virginia Rail at Hoffma Preserve

I found this friendly Virginia Rail at Hoffma Preserve this afternoon.

- Charlie DeWitt

Plenty of Birds on Harbor Island Today

I recorded 40 species at Harbor Island, Grand Haven this morning.  Palm Warblers were plentiful.  White-crowned Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere.

Two Swamp Sparrows foraged in the woods (migrants?).

My Michigan list grew by nine: Common Yellowthroat, Cliff Swallow, Green Heron, Black-throated Green Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Least Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager, Gray Catbird and Blue-headed Vireo (#123, but who's counting?)

- Ric

Eared Grebe at Muskegon County Wastewater

At around noon today, May 6, Feller and I found this Eared Grebe in the southeast corner of the west lagoon by the center dike at the Wastewater.

Earlier in the morning we had a Golden-winged Warbler at Lane's Landing.  It was almost to the Muskegon River on the two-track.

- Charlie DeWitt

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Orioles, Grosbeak, Warblers, Broad-winged

Today out our back window Carol and I watched Pine Siskins, Baltimore Orioles and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in our yard, plus a Broad-winged Hawk circling above the woods where they nested last year.  If it's last year's mom, I hope she doesn't notice that the playground equipment (our white oak) is gone.

Meanwhile Brad Heath sends photos of an Eastern Towhee at Hoffmaster on Sunday, White-rumped and Palm Warblers at Harbor Island on Monday, and a Green Heron shedding rain at Hemlock Crossing this morning.

- Ric

Beechwood: Sparrows, Siskins, Sedge Wren

Over the last two days, an excellent movement of songbirds has finally erupted across Muskegon County. The first big wave of neotropical migrants has quickly brought lots of warblers, flycatchers, and other fresh arrivals. At the same time, nearctic migrants are peaking.

To clarify terms, neotropical migrants are those species that primarily winter in Central and South America, whereas nearctic migrants generally do not continue outside the contintental U.S. From an ecological and conservation standpoint, the distinctions are important. Neotropical migrants tend to migrate faster and for longer distances, pass later in the spring (rarely appearing before leaves emerge), migrate chiefly at night, avoid tight flocks, primarily consume arthropods, and are more likely to forage in tree canopies. Nearctic, or temperate zone, migrants flock regularly, readily consume seeds and berries, favor shrubby or less woody settings, migrate by day or night, start moving with the spring thaw, and have a longer passage window overall.

While cold-hardy winter residents (e.g. Tree Sparrows and Juncos) have already departed, nearctic transients (those that do not normally winter or breed here) pass just prior to the massive waves of neotropical migrants. In almost all cases, males precede females. Male Ruby-crowned Kinglets peaked last week, and now the flocks are dominated by females. White-throated Sparrows (top photo) are presently abundant, and today at Beechwood Park, I carefully counted 317 (!) individuals over a six-minute span as they hopped, flitted, and flew across the north sled run. Lincoln's Sparrows (two photos above) and White-crowned Sparrows are just appearing in earnest. Male Lincoln's Sparrow often sing a slightly muted version of their song (which somewhat resembles a House Wren's), and this can make them a little easier to detect. My spring sightings in Muskegon County range from April 20 to May 18, with a mean of May 8. In the fall, I have banded them from September 4 to October 13, with an average passage date of September 27. First-year birds and older birds peak roughly simultaneously. The species frequents brushy edges, often with White-crowned Sparrows, but like the closely related Swamp Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrows tend to be less social than other sparrows, although this can also be attributed to its general scarcity.

Also at Beechwood today, I tallied 595 northbound Pine Siskins during my 2.5 hour birding jaunt and stationary count. Most of those birds passed during one hour, and at one point 130 passed in a single minute (9:53am). Local densities this past winter had been light (one of my banded birds is photographed above), and the species has been trickling north for the last couple weeks, so today's flight was outstanding. My previous big count was 289 at Kruse Park on May 15, 2013.

Another highlight from Beechwood was a Sedge Wren. Certainly a migrant, being obviously removed from its preferred habitat, the bird was foraging very furtively thru dune grass in a mouse-like fashion. The record also ties my earliest for Muskegon County. Unfortunately, local populations have declined over the last decade, so breeding birds can also be somewhat difficult to find.

- Brian Johnson

Monday, May 4, 2015

Rose-breasted Grosbeak at MLNP Today

May 4 Email:

Look who showed up today at MLNP.  - Carol Cooper