Saturday, May 31, 2014

Greetings from Michigan

[Why go to Michigan?  Here's the number one answer from a birder's perspective, a singing male Kirtland's Warbler near Grayling in the central Lower Peninsula. Click to enlarge photos.]

It's a trip every serious birder must do, the trip to Michigan to see the Kirtland's Warbler in its Jack Pine breeding habitat.  There are, of course, many more birds to see in Michigan than the Kirtland's, but that's the foundation of the trip.  We chose to join one of the Michigan Audubon sponsored Kirtland's Warbler tours, and were not disappointed, as we were put in excellent habitat and eventually got crushing looks at this rare and localized songbird. The day before, we'd found a couple singing male Kirtland's by searching roadsides, but were unable to lay eyes on one. I'm running out of North American breeding birds left to find as "lifers," so this was a nice "tick" for me.

We started our trip by flying to Detroit, renting a car and working our way north.  We stopped at well known migrant trap Tawas Point on the western shore of Lake Huron, where, while there was no fallout to speak of, we did find a few migrant warblers. You could really sense how great this site must be on a fallout, with relatively low habitat at the point making viewing pretty spectacular for the birds we did find.

 [Wilson's Warbler, Tawas Point, MI May 29.]

 [Singing male Northern Parula, Tawas Point MI May 29.]

[American Redstarts are VERY common in Michigan, including this one at Tawas Point May 29.]

After Tawas Point and the Kirtland's tour, we built in a couple days to explore Whitefish Point and other spots in the Upper Peninsula, from our home base in Mackinaw City near the junction of Lakes Michigan and Huron.  Whitefish Point yielded a spectacular Blue Jay migration and a good hawk flight on the last day of the count there, today, May 31.

 [A small portion of a migrating Blue Jay flock at Whitefish Point, MI May 31.  Faced with an open water crossing, which jays do not like whether headed south in Cape May or headed north on the shores of Lake Superior, flocks of jays circle back and regroup.]

 [Whitefish Point Bird Observatory conducts a spring hawkwatch where today for the first time I saw both Broad-winged Hawks, above, and 2 Rough-legged Hawks, below, on the same day.]

[Whitefish also conducts spring and fall waterbird counts.  This Common Loon passed over today.]

[Another spot we hit was Wilderness State Park on the shore of Lake Michigan, where this Barred Owl responded readily to hooting at midday.]

I shouldn't go any further without giving a special shout-out to friend and professional birder/ornithologist Tony Leukering, who has been doing bird surveys in MI and agreed to meet us and bird with us this week.  Tony's showed us some remarkable country and birds, too.  We've got one day left, and have high hopes for that pearl of great price, Connecticut Warbler, somewhere in the U.P. I should also mention, for those who might make this trip someday, that there are plenty of mosquitoes and blackflies in Michigan in late May, so come prepared!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Little Bit of Higbee, and Horseshoe Crabs on the Bay

 [The star, or starlet, of the pools atop the Higbee Beach dike Monday morning: Wilson's Phalarope.]

I went to Higbee Beach WMA, NJ Memorial Day morning with visions of Mourning Warbler and other late migrants in my head, but alas, migrants were few indeed.  I had three birds I believe were likely migrants, those being a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a Willow/Alder Flycatcher and an American Redstart. A previously reported Wilson's Phalarope still lingered at the dike, and there was other action at Higbee, too:

[First Year male Orchard Oriole singing away at Higbee Beach WMA, where they breed.]
[These two Northern Cardinals were intent on battle in the Higbee parking lot, though I didn't see actual contact.  A good thing - having been bit by cardinals while banding, I can say that they probably avoid bill to bill conflict at all costs, because the cost of a bite would be high.]

Memorial Day evening we had signed on to do a horseshoe crab survey at Reed's Beach, and a big spawn was underway as the tide crested and then fell.

[Over two dozen horseshoe crabs fit in our meter-square quadrat at some sampling points Monday night - heartening news for crabs and crab-egg-eating shorebirds.]

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Belleplain Tanagers and Thoughts on Gifts and Life Looks

 [Adult male Summer Tanager in Belleplain State Forest, NJ along Tom Field Road today. A gift. . .]

Every now and then a bird gives you a gift, revealing itself to you in perfect light at close range.  You never know when it's going to happen, which is one reason to keep going in the field day after day and year after year.  Some people use the phrase "life look" to mean what I'm talking about here.  It's not that it's a life bird, but rather that it's the best look you've ever had at this species. The look of a lifetime.

Today was my life look day for Summer Tanager, though I have to clarify by saying I've seen plenty of these at close range on the Texas coast and elsewhere.  But today in Belleplain State Forest we saw males, and females, and males and females interacting together, and a really groovy looking red and yellow-green first year male.  They seemed to be coming out to show themselves to us, too, working the roadsides or landing in trees right above our heads.  Like, for example, the bird pictured above, which we'd been hearing and glimpsing but not really seeing well when it decided to alight in bare branches directly overhead.  I could only say, "Summer Tanager, right there," but that was enough for my companions Tim and Allison to find it.

[One groovy looking bird: a first spring male Summer Tanager in Belleplain this morning, decked out in first year yellow green and second year red. Click to enlarge photos.]

Only the Summer Tanagers were life looks today, but we had other gifts, like two rival male Louisiana Waterthrushes countersinging on opposite sides of the road, or a male Hooded Warbler that sat up for a good if quick view, or a Worm-eating Warbler feeding on dead leaf clusters as they so often do.  You can't make birds do this stuff, you can only hope they do.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Touch of Color at Higbee

[Male Black-throated Green Warbler at Higbee Beach WMA, NJ this morning.  Click to enlarge photos.]

Ah, May.  When Vince Elia's text message about an "excellent fallout at Higbee Beach" came through this morning, I was already on my way out the door.  And Higbee was excellent, all right:  I personally found 20 warbler species, and missed some species that others had.  A Kentucky Warbler popped up right in front of Vince and I, but my best bird was one I only heard:  A Bicknell's Thrush, which sang and gave a flight call near the parking lot.  Multiple Black-throated Green, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, and Canada Warblers were some of the other highlights.

[Magnolia Warbler, Higbee this morning.]

[Looking up at a Chestnut-sided Warbler.]

[Indigo Buntings were in multiples at Higbee, singing and chasing each other around.]

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Along the Roads of Belleplain

 [Ovenbird along Pine Swamp Road in Belleplain State Forest, NJ today.]

My favorite birding companion has a knee injury that confines us to roadside birding for the time being, but the roadside birding was mighty good in Belleplain State Forest today.  Ovenbirds, arriving in droves in recent days, postured and even battled for territory right in front of us, often strutting up and down the roadway edges, singing from perches low and high, and otherwise clearly advertising their presence to rivals.  Visions of Ovenbird as a peaceful bird were shattered as we watched several engage in bill to feather combat, struggling with each other on the ground and then launching into short pursuits into nearby cover.  It was quite the show. Once more I am reminded of the fact that the fun in birding really starts after you've identified the bird and then spend time watching it.

A Hooded Warbler also did a rare thing and cooperated by landing on the road in front of us, also flying back and forth across several times and landing on exposed perches.  I swear with my right hand on the Sibley guide that we don't use recordings in heavily birded Belleplain, and were just lucky to be in the right spot at the right time.

Other sightings included a Broad-winged Hawk overhead near the famous Belleplain "triangle" near Sunset Bridge, a singing Louisiana Waterthrush and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-pewee in, etc.  A good morning.
[You gotta like it when Hooded Warblers cooperate, like this one near the triangle in Belleplain.]