Friday, October 28, 2016

Two Muskegon Birding Reports from Lizzy

October 27 Email:

Report for 10/09/16 is going to be brief, but just wanted to say that we had four Snow Geese in a massive raft of congregating Canada Geese. 

Report for 10/27/16 more information-packed, so hold onto your hat. 

Spent a good majority of the time focused on scanning the center dike and the lagoons on either side of it.  The center dike had plenty of activity that day.

Canada Goose numbers have definitely jumped up, as congregation continues to pick up speed.  We estimated roughly 2,000 geese. They were all gathered on both sides of the center dike. 

We had five Trumpeter Swans in the south end, at very close quarters. Good enough to get awesome pics. 

Duck numbers were up as well.  We were readily impressed by the massive amount of Ring-necked Ducks, Scaup, and assorted other species. 

We ended up tallying 15 duck species, 12 of which we found in those lagoons. The only ones we didn't find in the lagoons were Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal, and the pair of Wood Ducks. 

Wood Duck - 2
Gadwall - 32
American Black Duck - 50
Mallard - 350
Blue-winged Teal - 3
Northern Shoveler - 500
Northern Pintail - 1
Green-winged Teal - 19
Canvasback - 10
Redhead - 101
Ring-necked Duck - 250
Greater Scaup - 75
Lesser Scaup - 75 
Bufflehead - 2
Hooded Merganser - 2
Ruddy Duck - 4,000

Amazingly, if you calculate that, we saw roughly 5,448 individual ducks in both lagoons. That is a very rough estimate due to the fact that I didn't put in the teals or the Wood Ducks, and the fact that there were other Mallards scattered throughout smaller cells too. Same with the Ruddy Ducks surprisingly. Duck numbers were very impressive. Point proven. :D

On the shorebird side of things, late migrants started showing up. Killdeer numbers were starting to rise again. We went from having no Killdeer to having 12, all in one little puddle! We also had some other good shorebirds.

Killdeer - 12
Dunlin - 7
(we definitely were expecting to see some of these guys)
White-rumped Sandpiper - 1
Pectoral Sandpiper - 8
Lesser Yellowlegs - 1

Pretty impressive shorebird numbers, all in one little body of water. And a flock of European Starlings with a Bonaparte's Gull still hanging around.

On the gull side of things, as mentioned, we had one stray Bonaparte's Gull with the flock of shorebirds and starlings. Also, near the dump we had an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (which I'm still wondering if it is a hybrid LBBG x HEGU or not, due to the weird head streaking, not typically shown in adult LBBGs) ...

... and in one of the dried out concrete cells, I had a gull that I put down as a Thayer's/Iceland Gull, since I didn't get the best look at it, but I noticed the lack of black on the primaries, not fit for a HEGU or RBGU.

Although Eastern Bluebird's aren't much of a highlight, just thought that I'd add the fact that we had an unusually high count of bluebirds in one day.  20 EABL, one big group in the south end, in which we think was either a family group, or just a group congregating. Other numerous individuals scattered throughout different locations. 

American Pipits were definitely flocking in, both at the center dike, and in a field near the model airplane airport. 85 total. 

And we found one of my target birds: Snow Buntings! Stumbled into a flock of about five, in which they preceeded to hungrily attack a nearby weed, and I got pics of three of them. 

We headed down the center dike more and stumbled into another large flock. Ended up with 19. 

We had a lone American Tree Sparrow with a few Chipping Sparrows on the south end, and a good flock of Dark-eyed Juncos (12).  Oh, and let me not forget about our 14 Vesper Sparrows. Quite impressive numbers! 

I'll attach some pics.  Pick and choose freely. :)
Have a nice day, and talk to you soon!

Lizzy Kibbey (Duck Wizard)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Please Report Any Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

Birds and birders love hemlock trees.  There is a pest threatening these trees in this area.  Please learn how to recognize Hemlock Woolly Adelgid here or here and report any that you find.  Also, please do not hang bird feeders from hemlock trees!


Sunday, October 23, 2016

October Field Trip Tallies 34 Species

Our October 22 Field Trip Report is posted on the homepage.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Purple Finches Moving Through the Area

Carol spotted this male Purple Finch on our side yard feeder this morning.  Later I saw two females on the same feeder, Brian emailed that he had banded some at the preserve, and several people at Thursday night's meeting reported them on their feeders too.

- Ric

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Warblers at Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

Although work has prevented me from banding many days at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve this fall, and coverage has been less than the long-term average, I have at least been able run the nets more often than during the last two years. Flooding has hindered net placement this season, and rainfall has been heavy this September. Temperatures also have been warmer than normal, and this September has been the second hottest in the last 11 years of banding (marginally surpassed only by last year).

As a result of the odd weather, the species gamut has varied wildly in abundance and timing. Many species have been early, but certain others are running late. Even within guilds, numbers have been inconsistent. For example, Swainson's Thrushes usually outnumber Gray-cheeked Thrushes by about 5 to 1; this year I have caught 17 Swainson's but no Gray-cheeked Thrushes. (A nocturnal count on Sept. 28 outside my house in Norton Shores yielded 37 SWTH to only 2 GCTH!). A high ratio of adults for many species has also been unusual. Overall, numbers have been down this fall, but there have been several surprises.

Thirty-six species of warblers have been recorded from Muskegon County (23 of these have definitely or probably nested here). Fifteen species occur frequently at MLNP in the fall, but due to the lack of mature forest, otherwise common species can be scarce. For instance, I only capture about one Black-and-white Warbler each year, almost always at the end of August or the beginning of September, so three this year were welcome. While the first appeared on September 6, the other two did not show until October 4! The individual pictured here is a first-year male; an adult male would have a darker auricular.

Identifying fall warblers can indeed be challenging, yet some birders wrongly figure that much of this difficulty stems from most species molting into a drabber plumage in autumn. However, of those 36 warbler species, 21 exhibit the exact same plumage as they do in the spring. Another nine do show subtle changes (e.g. Nashville and Palm Warblers). That leaves only six that look substantially different in the fall (e.g. Chestnut-sided and Blackpoll Warblers). The problem actually stems from first-year birds. Within each sex, youngsters are considerably duller than adults, and immature females can be especially subdued.

Among some species, small sizes and canopy niches add to the difficulty. In the case of the Northern Parula (this young male was banded September 30), this situation is extreme. While Nashville Warbler (8.8 grams), Magnolia Warbler (8.6 grams), American Redstart (8.2 grams), and Wilson's Warbler (8.1 grams) are quite small, Northern Parula (averaging only 7.8 grams) is positively tiny. They frequent high canopies in migration, and if they do not sing, they are likely to be missed. Despite a lot of birding time, this was my experience this past spring in Muskegon.

Finally, the bird pictured above (yet another immature male), caught on October 11, represents one of the best captures in the station's history. I had never before banded this species in Michigan (though I have caught many in Pennsylvania and Virginia). Though never common, the species was more numerous and widespread across Michigan several decades ago, but populations have steadily declined. Now rare, breeders are mostly restricted to a few Lake Michigan dunes. Lawrence Walkinshaw noted several individuals from Muskegon County in the 1940's and 1950's, and even found a nest in June 1949 (and continued to find more thru 1956), but more recent records from Muskegon are scant.

The timing of this capture is likewise aberrant. Fall records from Michigan are unusual after mid-September (all of mine have been in August), and even in Virginia only 7 of the 78 birds I banded were in October (with the very latest being October 15). As far as size, this is another tiny warbler. Those Virginia birds averaged only 8.0 grams. Though it had some fat deposits and appeared otherwise healthy, this Prairie Warbler weighed just 7.5 grams.

- Brian Johnson

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Belated Muskegon County Trip Report

October 10 Email:

This is a late trip report, but I found some spare time right now to type it up.  It includes various stops we made in Muskegon County on October 1.  I will include some pictures.

We entered Muskegon County with the intent of heading over to Pere Marquette Park first.  We instead got stopped for a few minutes as we watched a flock of 11 turkeys in someone's yard off Lincoln St.

As soon as we pulled up to Pere Marquette's parking pot, we were presented with a juvenile Bald Eagle in a dead snag, but he wasn't alone.  A nearby flock of American Crows wasn't all that happy about his presence, and they made it known.  They kept mobbing the poor eagle who had its wings out to make itself look as big as possible, but the crows were relentless.  They ended up driving it away, in which he focused his attention on the beach, where a flock of gulls sat. The gulls flew up, and he dove into the water to attack one! He missed, and the gull got to live another day. It wasn't long before the crows decided enough was enough, and they chased him off the beach too. Clear over to one of the lighthouses. That's the extremes that eagle had to go to to escape the crows. 

On the pier railing a couple Belted Kingfishers fought and perched. We had a Sharp-shinned Hawk flyby. These were the highlights as everything else was pretty normal. 

We headed over to the Muskegon Channel while we were there, to check the duck levels. The only ducks in the channel were Mallards, but we did have some swans farther down. We concluded them to be Mutes. While we were parked, a flock of gulls, mostly consisting of Ring-billeds, flocked outside around out car.

As we headed in the direction of the Wastewater, we passed by Pere Marquette Park again and had a flyby Merlin.

We happened to stumble upon a cool looking boat launch which eBird calls the Grand Trunk Boat Launch Ramp, and we decided to bird it for a few minutes.  It did present us quite a few birds, both on and off the lake, in which the highlights were White-crowned Sparrows, a Catbird, two Pied-billed Grebes, and some Tree Swallows. 

We spent four hours at the Muskegon County Wastewater System that day, and tallied an impressive total of 61 species.  I'll include highlights, but a lot of the normal stuff was seen as well.

Peregrine Falcon - 3
Tree Swallow - 200 (congregating)
Eared Grebe - 1 (oddly close to the corner of the lagoon)
Ruddy Duck - 2500 (showing impressive numbers, congregating)
Cliff Swallow - 7
Northern Pintail - 4
American Pipit - 23
Sanderling - 1
Merlin - 1
Willow Flycatcher - 2
Cape May Warbler - 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 8
Eastern Meadowlark - 4
Sandhill Crane - 42 (exact count; all flying in a V behind us)
Lapland Longspur - 4 (Lifer!)

- Lizzy Kibbey (Magical Duck Wizard)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Only Two More Chances for Raptor Sightings

Braveheart Raptor Rehabilitation Center is a very cool place to see raptors close up.  It's located at 6221 Sweeter Road in Twin Lake but will be open to the public only two more times, Oct. 9 and 13, from 1:00-4:00 p.m.  Susan Stamey who runs it is retiring and no longer accepting injured birds.

- Carol Cooper