Sunday, August 20, 2017

August Field Trip Report

Click here for details about our 60-species field trip to the Wastewater properties yesterday morning.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thirsty Eagle and Migrating Hummers

I've been seeing a good number of birds at my shop, though this was a first.  This Bald Eagle has been around on and off all summer (it's missing a couple primaries on the left wing) and it finally decided to visit.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are passing by also.

- Don Neumann

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Black Lake Park

 American Goldfinch

I spent 2 1/2 hours at the park starting at 10:00 a.m. and counted 23 species of birds.

While trying to get pictures of  a Cardinal Flower I had this
Ruby-throated Hummingbird come in and visit all the blossoms. 

Peck's Skipper

I also had 11 species of butterflies ...

Eastern Pondhawk

... and 6 species of dragonflies.

- Charlie DeWitt

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Birding Southside Wastewater

Patterson Park was almost birdless (not even a phoebe) so I spent most of my morning on the Wastewater fields south of Apple Avenue, primarily at the abandoned orchard north of the silo by the clay pond. 

There were plenty of birds and a nice diversity of species (28), not surprising considering the plentiful supply of fruit back there.

Species included a Great Egret south of the Clay Pond, 28 Sandhill Cranes on the field southeast of the airport, a female Belted Kingfisher on the far side of the Clay Pond with prey in her beak ...

Blurry distant shot of kingfisher with something (fish? frog?)

... Great Crested Flycatcher, 150-200 Tree Swallows on the field north of the Seba Road woodlot, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Chipping, Field and Song Sparrows, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, this female or immature male (?) at the orchard ... 

... Indigo Bunting, some large flocks of blackbirds and American Crows, and several Monarch butterflies.

- Ric

Saturday, August 5, 2017

After California, Birding the Nature Preserve

Four of the everyday yard birds I enjoyed at my son Andy's house in California are close relatives of four species I've enjoyed regularly behind my house this summer:

Anna's (not Ruby-throated) Hummingbird
California (not Eastern) Towhee
Lesser (not American) Goldfinch
Hooded (not Baltimore) Oriole  

This morning, back in Muskegon, I birded the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.  I found no Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons or House Sparrows!

Among today's 27 species were Least Bittern (at least two, possibly four, with many flights over the marsh), Great Egret, Green Heron, Osprey, Brown Thrasher, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and lots of Northern Flickers and Marsh Wrens.

Fortunately again today my path crossed that of photographer Jerry Vis who took these beautiful images:

Great Egret

Green Heron

Least Bittern

Northern Flicker


- Ric   (photos by Jerry Vis)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Today's Trip Report on Homepage

Thirteen of us found 44 species of birds this morning north of the Muskegon River.  A report is posted on our homepage.

- Ric

Thursday, July 13, 2017

MWS Shorebird Survey, Spring 2016

Each spring (and again each fall) since 2004, an International Shorebird Survey (ISS) has been conducted at the Muskegon Wastewater System. This is one of only a very few consistent, long-term surveys for shorebirds in Michigan (within which 34 species occur annually). Per protocol, one census is conducted roughly every ten days from early April to mid-June, so this equates to eight sessions, with each lasting 2-4 hours and covering all likely habitat north and south of Apple Avenue. As has been the case for the past five years, all eight spring surveys were conducted by myself.

During our long participation with the ISS, the spring seasons have averaged 627 birds of 16 species. As noted last year, the spring of 2015 set new records for both numbers (1,349 individual birds) and diversity (21 species). Spring 2016 proved to be another fantastic season. Our total count of 1,611 birds easily sets yet another new record, and the species count of 18 ranks third.

This success was reflected during all eight daily sessions. Every one exceeded past averages for individuals counted, and all but one exceeded mean species diversity. Moreover, five of the eight sessions established new high counts for individuals, and three of those days set records for both numbers and diversity:

early April (4th): 46 birds, 7 species
middle April (14th): 170 birds, 8 species
late April (24th): 168 birds
middle May (14th): 403 birds, 15 species
early June (4th): 252 birds

As further testament to this amazing spring, sixteen of the 18 species encountered this spring exceeded historical averages (noted in the final table). Only Black-bellied Plover and Dunlin were less numerous. Additionally, 11 species set or tied past record totals. Only three species that have been seen during four or more prior springs (Solitary Sandpiper, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone) were absent. Counts of Semipalmated Plovers, Least Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Wilson's Snipe were especially high.

Plus, eleven species established or tied one-day records:
Semipalmated Plover - 30 on May 13; previous record 24
Lesser Yellowlegs - 47 on April 24; previous record 44
Upland Sandpiper - 11 on May 7; previous record 10
Stilt Sandpiper - 1 on May 13; ties previous record
Sanderling - 6 on June 4; previous record 3
Least Sandpiper - 244 on May 13; previous record 77
White-rumped Sandpiper - 46 on June 4; previous record 32
Pectoral Sandpiper - 81 on April 14; previous record 26
Wilson's Snipe - 8 on April 14; ties previous record
American Woodcock - 2 on four days; no previous records

Another one of these, a male Ruff seen on April 4, was new for the Shorebird Survey. The last report of this species from Muskegon County occurred in 1982!

Here are the full results, with this spring's grand totals and past historical averages:

Black-bellied Plover - 1; mean 2.2
Semipalmated Plover - 50; mean 9.7
Killdeer - 171; mean 130.1
Spotted Sandpiper - 186; mean 136.8
Greater Yellowlegs - 21; mean 8.9
Lesser Yellowlegs - 171; mean 39.5
Upland Sandpiper - 44; mean 17.8
Ruff - 1; first survey sighting
Stilt Sandpiper - 1; mean 0.3
Sanderling - 6; mean 1.1
Dunlin - 81; mean 89.8
Least Sandpiper - 268; mean 38.2
White-rumped Sandpiper - 54; mean 10.4
Pectoral Sandpiper - 165; mean 10.7
Semipalmated Sandpiper - 360; mean 112.3
Short-billed Dowitcher - 6; mean 3.2
Wilson's Snipe - 16; mean 1.4
American Woodcock - 9; first survey sighting

- Brian Johnson

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Piping Plover Update

July 10 Email:

The chicks are almost a month old and still here.  Daddy still keeping a close eye on them.  Mama has not been seen in recent days.

- Carol Cooper

Saturday, July 8, 2017

So It's a Muscovy Duck

July 7 Email:

Ric, attached is a picture I took on the 4th of July at the Wastewater.  Is this another of those Egyptian geese?

- Phil Willemstein

It certainly looks like the others that have been reported.  Maybe someone else can confirm or identify. - Ric

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Plover Chicks Are Growing

July 4 Email:

The Piping Plover babies are getting big at three weeks old.

- Carol Cooper

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ducks and Heron at the Wastewater

 Wood Duck Family

 Great Blue Heron eyeballing some baby mallards.
(I thought for sure he was going to pick one off.)

 He gave up the idea of mallard supper and moved off.

Instead of mallard he decided on fish!

All photos by Carol DeWitt

- Charlie DeWitt

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Birding Snug Harbor

Along Lost Lake Trail -- beautiful but virtually birdless.

There were many birds at Snug Harbor (Muskegon State Park) this morning, 25 species in the first half hour along the parking lot fringes, 33 total for the day.  

Common Yellowthroat with breakfast.

A green-on-green dragonfly, identified later
by Charlie as a female Eastern Pondhawk.

I never saw but probably heard an Acadian Flycatcher in the woods along the trail south of the west parking lot.  Other birds included Belted Kingfisher, Pileated Woodpecker, Marsh Wren, Veery, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager and Indigo Bunting.  Today's missing species: American Robin !

- Ric

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Black Lake Park Bugs before the Rain Today

 Summer Azure

 Marble Orchard Spider

 Ebony Jewelwing 

 Widow Skimmer

Chalk-fronted Corporal

- Charlie DeWitt

Monday, June 19, 2017

Plovers Yesterday

June 19 Email:

Piping Plover Mom and Baby

June 18 Email: 

"Bahama Mama and 1 chick about 2 hours after being born on June 13th."

- Carol Cooper

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Raptors at the Nature Preserve

I birded the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve this morning between the rain and the raptor show.  Great Horned Owl was not among the 25 species I counted, but was part of Outdoor Discovery's presentation at the pavilion intended primarily for kids.

So too were this Red-tailed Hawk and Peregrine Falcon, plus an American Kestrel, Broad-winged Hawk and Barred Owl.

Of the 50 people in the audience, fewer than 10 were children, but everyone enjoyed learning about the raptors and seeing five up close and personal.

- Ric

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ravens Monday, Plover Chicks Tuesday

Monday was Roger Newell's last day birding Muskegon and yesterday from Florida he sent a slew of photos.  I'm posting two because they're timely and may post others later.

Sunday he observed this Common Raven among several others east of the East Lagoon at the WW.  

Earlier in his visit he photographed one of the adult Piping Plovers at Muskegon State Park.  Carol Cooper phoned yesterday (6/13/17) to report that the plovers have two chicks!

- Ric

Monday, June 5, 2017

Big Days and Spring Migration Counts

The Muskegon Big Day Bird Count, traditionally held on the third Saturday in May, has been an annual tradition dating back decades. While immensely enjoyable and interesting, the chase has yielded little scientific data since birds are generally not counted and only a few areas are birded. Plus, the lack of an archival mechanism has limited its historical value.

In 1992, the North American Migration Count (NAMC) was established in Michigan. Operating much like the Christmas Bird Count, but with an entire county as a geographic base, the program sought to rectify such omissions by counting every species encountered on a single day -- always the second Saturday in May.

During the 2002 and 2004 Big Days, with help from Lena and Ric, I counted every individual recorded by the group as a whole. Essentially, these were practice runs for future involvement with the NAMC; and this was realized when we officially joined the program in 2006. Over the next 11 years, the Muskegon County Nature Club generated the following results.

Of the 46 volunteers that assisted during that span, those present for the most years were Dayle Vandwier (10), Ric Pedler (9), Kathryn Mork (8), Jill Henemyer (7), John Will (7), John Walhout (7), Carolyn Weng (6), Feller DeWitt (6), Jim Ponshair (5), and myself (11).

From a personal standpoint, the NAMC was my biggest birding day of the year. This is no small statement since whether for work, for a volunteer project, or simply for fun, there are few days in a year that I do not bird. Even when working out of state, I would still make the trip to attend the Muskegon NAMC.

From 2006 thru 2012, my route basically involved a few discrete areas at the Muskegon State Game Area. I birded several miles at Lanes Landing thru the morning, the DNR Headquarters loop immediately thereafter, Little Cedar Creek in the afternoon, and I would revisit Lanes Landing in the evening. In the 2012-2013 season, I worked on collaborative study at nine local parks along the Lake Michigan shore and dunes. Besides being the most enjoyable field job I have had, the parks study imparted a major influence on my birding. Thus, when Carolyn Weng's departure created a vacancy at Muskegon State Park for the NAMC, I eagerly grabbed that slot. Not only was I working there anyway, but I desperately wanted a lakeshore component in my personal coverage. My new itinerary included a long hike at Muskegon State Park thru the morning, a short lake watch along Lake Michigan, Little Cedar Creek in the afternoon, then the DNR Headquarters, and finally Lanes Landing in the evening.

As indicated by the following table, the species gain was apparent but small.

After the 2016 count, the NAMC was officially discontinued. In fact, as a national program, the NAMC had been defunct for many years. However, the Michigan NAMC had persisted as the Spring Migration Count with results published in Michigan Birds and Natural History. To some degree, the creation of eBird's Global Big Day (GBC) has supplanted the NAMC -- promoting greater participation at the cost of scientific rigor.

Because the loss of the NAMC has been bemoaned by many, a few of us decided to continue the NAMC tradition while simultaneously being involved with the GBC (a pattern duplicated by several other counties in Michigan). Moreover, from a personal standpoint, I was particularly excited with this development as it offered yet another opportunity to alter my daily approach and potentially increase my output.

Meanwhile, since 2005, I have contributed to the Muskegon Wastewater International Shorebird Survey (ISS), and since 2013, I have done each session solely. It occurred to me that I could schedule an ISS for the evening during the GBC. These are conducted once every ten days, and I usually squeeze them in a couple hours before sunset. By following a similar route as 2013-2016, but capping the day at the Wastewater, I would be birding the most popular birding sites Muskegon County has to offer. Essentially, I would be turning this into a personal Big Day. As some of you know, while I really enjoy bird monitoring and study, I have almost no inclination to simply list or chase birds, so I have never before attempted anything like a big day.

I set the following four objectives: 1.) See as many species as possible. 2.) Obtain accurate, representative counts. 3.) Maintain some consistency with past NAMC's. 4) Frame the day in relation to my wider spring 2017 itinerary. The problem, of course, is that each of these goals is rather exclusive. In terms of priority, I pushed #4 then 2 then 1 then 3. Although maximizing my daily species count was a lower concern, it still was a major factor in the day's planning (but under no circumstances was I going to compromise counting just to get a bigger species list).

As for the day:

I had planned to start with a lakewatch at Muskegon State Park. Unfortunately, it had been a tough week, and I only got a couple hours of sleep before the count. I needed to begin this count no later than sunrise. But I was late, and I did not want to fall behind at Snug Harbor, so instead I proceeded directly with my hike. I also did not expect the wind to increase so drastically.

This was my only misstep of the day. The early afternoon lakewatch only gave me 5 species (4 new for the day). That is less than half of what is critical. In other words, you cannot have a successful Big Day without a Lake Michigan component, and starting a watch in the afternoon, in windy conditions, is not the way to go.

Moreover, there were LOTS of boats on Muskegon Lake, so counts of all waterbirds were lousy. I even missed Mute Swan for the entire day. So not only did I miss several Lake Michigan specialists, but I fared poorly on waterfowl in general.

On the other hand, the songbird volume at Muskegon State Park was incredible. In fact, I simply had too many birds. All the counting really slowed me down. I hiked 8.2 miles at the park but it took me 7.25 hours to complete that. That pace is too slow for a good big day result. Of course, I achieved a reasonable pace after the half-way mark, but only because it was too late in the morning to see lots of birds (and add new species).

Here's a historical comparison for my Muskegon State Park NAMC results (lakewatches excluded):

2013: 67 species, 421 birds
2014: 88 species, 612 birds
2015: 82 species, 735 birds
2016: 82 species, 476 birds
2017: 85 species, 826 birds

After the MSP lakewatch, I stuck to my plan and birded my traditional areas of Little Cedar Creek and the DNR Headquarters. Again, heavy volume and a desire to hike my historical route slowed me down, but not seriously.

By the time I finished the DNR, I was at 102 species. Not bad, but skipping the morning waterbird count had cost me 10 or more species. As far as time, I was perfectly situated to hit my traditional close at Lanes Landing. But this year's plan had been to incorporate a Shorebird Survey at MWS.

When I do the Shorebird Survey, I follow a few routines: I follow a regular route; I bird in the evening; and I give myself at least two hours. As far as counting, I obviously include all shorebirds. But I also count "near shorebirds" and certain other waterbirds, since consistent surveys on these species are few. Those include loons (never present), grebes, cormorants, herons, rails and cranes. I do not count waterfowl, gulls and terns. All those birds are entered into Manomet's eBird portal. For my own interest, I also count Grasshopper Sparrows, Brewer's Blackbirds, and other sensitive species that I have banded there. So, by my figuring, if I did well enough during the day, I could plug most holes with the Shorebird Survey. Certain waterfowl (e.g. Northern Shoveler) would be a problem, since I would not count them, and they cannot be found anywhere else in the county.

However, it was already after 7:00 pm, and I simply could do the Shorebird Survey the next day. Yet, Lanes Landing would only provide 5-10 new species. I finally chose the Wastewater. But once there, I almost had to reconsider -- it was loaded with shorebirds! It was the sort of volume that can take four hours to properly tally, especially if the birds are skittish. Thankfully, there were no other birders to interfere with the counting, and the birds largely stayed in place. The final tally established a new spring daily record for both species (15) and individuals (403).

I officially ended the day with 120 species (precisely 2300 birds). There were about 15 species (mostly ducks and grassland songbirds) that I saw at the Wastewater that I did not count.  Even Rock Pigeon was officially missed.

Some final thoughts. For an attempt at a personal Big Day, I knew that counting as I went would indeed be a problem. And I don't think I would change that unless I was truly competing. To me, finding 14 Lincoln's Sparrows on a single day is more impressive, and memorable, than a 160-species total. Moreover, because eBird's Global Big Day uses the same date as the former NAMC, the count must be done on that Saturday -- no matter what the weather or migration holds. Finally, building a large species tally by superficially working many small sites (in order to add 1-2 specialties at a time), even if I still count everything there, seems counterproductive to a larger monitoring goal. Otherwise, I learned a few things that I may implement in the future.

If I truly want to increase my species tally, my whole route needs to be seriously revised. Doing a lakewatch at dawn, unless weather forces it later, is critical. If energy permits, I could precede that with a dedicated stationary count at one of the larger marshes. Ending with a Shorebird Survey is a given -- a big day is not possible without the Wastewater. On the other hand, Lanes Landing may not be the best morning focus. Neither may be Muskegon State Park, but the proximity to Lake Michigan makes it better. The big problem with MSP is that the very best areas are too far from parking areas, so productive trail loops are too long. Also, while probably unbeatable for total species, there are few unique ones. Hence, I would likely need to emphasize the smaller lakeshore parks. For instance, Lake Harbor Park can produce species at a fast rate, as can Kruse and Beechwood Parks. And those time investments are minimal. Adding Black Lake Park to the mix should really boost numbers. The afternoon can be spent cleaning up at Muskegon State Game Area (primarily Lanes Landing and the DNR Headquarters). Muskegon State Park can be skipped altogether.

FINALLY, my results for Muskegon's Spring Migration Count, with highlights:
(this is my favorite part of this long post):

Canada Goose - 6
Wood Duck - 6
Mallard - 10
Long-tailed Duck - 2 (new SMC high count)
Double-crested Cormorant - 8
Great Blue Heron - 5
Green Heron - 1
Turkey Vulture - 15
Bald Eagle - 1
Cooper's Hawk - 2
Red-shouldered Hawk - 1
Merlin - 1 (at Muskegon State Park)
Virginia Rail - 1
Sora - 3
Sandhill Crane - 2
Black-bellied Plover - 1
Semipalmated Plover - 30 (my third best ever count; new SMC high count)
Killdeer - 23
Spotted Sandpiper - 38
Greater Yellowlegs - 1
Lesser Yellowlegs - 34
Upland Sandpiper - 3
Stilt Sandpiper - 1 (first SMC record)
Dunlin - 14
Least Sandpiper - 244 (my second best ever count; new SMC high count)
White-rumped Sandpiper - 1
Pectoral Sandpiper - 5 (new SMC high count)
Semipalmated Sandpiper - 4
Short-billed Dowitcher - 5
American Woodcock - 2
Bonaparte's Gull - 2
Ring-billed Gull - 573 (fly-catching at MSGA)
Herring Gull - 2
Mourning Dove - 12
Great Horned Owl - 1 (at Muskegon State Park)
Barred Owl - 1 (at DNR Headquarters)
Chimney Swift- 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 1 (my first of 2017)
Belted Kingfisher - 2
Red-headed Woodpecker - 1 (at Muskegon State Park)
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 6
Downy Woodpecker - 4
Hairy Woodpecker - 3
Northern Flicker - 7
PIleated Woodpecker - 4
Willow Flycatcher - 2 (my first of 2017)
Least Flycatcher - 9
Eastern Phoebe - 7
Great Crested Flycatcher - 7
Eastern Kingbird - 3
Yellow-throated Vireo - 3
Blue-headed Vireo - 3
Warbling Vireo - 5
Red-eyed Vireo - 2 (my first of 2017)
Blue Jay - 24
American Crow - 8
Purple Martin - 18
Tree Swallow - 2
Rough-winged Swallow - 2
Bank Swallow - 160
Barn Swallow - 2
Black-capped Chickadee - 19
Tufted Titmouse - 19
White-breasted Nuthatch - 2
Brown Creeper - 1 (at Little Cedar Creek)
House Wren - 8
Sedge Wren - 2 (at Little Cedar Creek)
Marsh Wren - 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 16
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 10
Eastern Bluebird - 1
Veery - 5
Wood Thrush - 12 (my highest daily total from Muskegon County)
American Robin - 22
Gray Catbird - 25
Brown Thrasher - 2
European Starling - 7
Ovenbird - 5
Northern Waterthrush - 1
Golden-winged Warbler - 1 (at Muskegon State Park)
Blue-winged Warbler - 5
Black-and-white Warbler - 2
Orange-crowned Warbler - 1 (at Muskegon State Park)
Nashville Warbler - 9
Common Yellowthroat - 24
American Redstart - 16
Cerulean Warbler - 2 (at DNR Headquarters)
Northern Parula - 2 (at Muskegon State Park)
Magnolia Warbler - 5
Bay-breasted Warbler - 2 (at Muskegon State Park)
Blackburnian Warbler - 5 (two singing songs nearly inseparable from Black-and-white Warbler, two singing songs very similar to Cape May Warbler)
Yellow Warbler - 45
Blackpoll Warbler - 1 (my first of 2017)
Palm Warbler - 2
Pine Warbler - 6
Myrtle Warbler - 61
Black-throated Green Warbler - 14 (my best ever count from Muskegon County)
Eastern Towhee - 6
Chipping Sparrow - 29
Vesper Sparrow - 1
Savannah Sparrow - 17 (clearly migrating today)
Grasshopper Sparrow 14 (new SMC high count)
Song Sparrow - 55
Lincoln's Sparrow - 14 (my best ever count - from anywhere)
Swamp Sparrow - 17
White-throated Sparrow - 37
White-crowned Sparrow - 156 (my best ever count from Muskegon County)
Scarlet Tanager - 9
Northern Cardinal - 16
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - 14
Indigo Bunting - 9
Red-winged Blackbird - 111
Eastern Meadowlark - 9
Brewer's Blackbird - 5
Common Grackle - 11
Brown-headed Cowbird - 14
Baltimore Oriole - 16
House Finch - 2
American Goldfinch - 22
House Sparrow - 4

- Brian Johnson

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Saturday Morning Along the Maple River

I walked along the Maple River from DNR headquarters west to the snipe field and back yesterday morning.  I encountered no jays, chicadees or titmice (go figure) but did count 44 species including Black-billed Cuckoo, Barred Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Alder, Willow and Great Crested Flycatcher (no Least), Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler and Indigo Bunting

The only picture worth posting is of a Leopard Frog who thought he was invisible on the snipe field path.  Common Yellowthroats were thick there too!

No problem on no bird pictures, however, because when I got home I found Roger Newell's email loaded with them (and posted below).

- Ric

Pictures from Roger's Muskegon Trip

Roger Newell is a friend who grew up east of Muskegon, now lives in Florida, loves birds (volunteers with large bird rehabilitation down there), is a photographer, and goes birding with me when he gets up this way (like last Saturday posted below).  

Here is his email from yesterday plus the pictures he's referring to.  When he sends the others, I'll post them too.


- Ric