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!

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