Monday, April 22, 2013

Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery Catch-up, Past Two Days. Also, Cornfield Swans

Wow, what a spectacularly beautiful day it was today!  Didn't even need any birds, it just felt great to be outside. But we did have birds! And we had birds yesterday. Yesterday, I was ostensibly at the hatchery to walk one of our dogs. Here she is, Miss Shine, wondering how many more times I am going to stop to look at BIRDS!

Maybe if I stare down the trail, she'll take a hint.

     And, one more, because I can, and she's cute!

I think there are some birds over there you haven't stared at yet!

        Swallows were everywhere yesterday. They covered the ground, the cattails, the trees. These are all Tree Swallows, I believe, but there were also Barn, Bank, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.  

     Today swallow numbers were off by about 90 percent over yesterday. There were still quite a few around, Tree, Barn, and NRW, but we did not see any Bank Swallows today. We did get great looks at a cooperative Sora from the viewing platform, and we heard Sora call repeatedly throughout our visit.

     And, last but not least, over the past few weeks I have mentioned a few times the Trumpeter Swans standing in the cornfield at M43 and 40th Street in Van Buren County. Most of the time they were on the other side of a row of trees, or traffic or weather made it not very smart to try to stop for a photo. Then they disappeared for a week, and I figured my opportunity had passed. But this morning, there they were, almost on the corner, very close, and with no shrubbery between us.  They were close enough that even Bob, my allegedly non-birding husband, saw and remarked on them when he went by a little while later.


     So, what do you think? Ebird lists Trumpeter Swans as rare, and requests additional details for all sightings. I don't think it really applies to the WLFH swans, who have been extremely comfortable there for quite a few years now. But what about these guys, standing on a corner like they're counting cars?  Hmm.

And, one more, the Wolf Lake Trumpeters regard me curiously.

Please note, starting next week, the hatchery walk will start at 9:00 AM, since we are moving into landbird mode. Thanks! Bird on!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Purple Martins back at Three Oaks

Don't know what happened to the last post - disappeared like a Pacific Loon in the mist. So, anyway, let's try this again. A pair of Purple Martins have staked a claim to one of the cubby holes in the newly renovated martin house at Three Oaks.

Traveling by air is so tiring!

Time for a scratch.

Enjoying the view over the scenic Three Oaks ponds.

     Next Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery Duck Walk is Monday, April 22. Meet in the parking lot by the information shelter at 10:00 AM. Contact me if more information is needed. Hope to see you then!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Caspian Terns and Baby - or Maybe Not

Berrien Birding Club members enjoyed an extended view this morning of these guys on the beach at Tiscornia. Most are Caspian Terns, but the little guy second from the end is a Forster's Tern, distinguished by his small size and black bill. (Also, Kip said it was.)

Caspian and Forster Terns at Tiscornia, 4/16/2013

      Click on the link for information on upcoming Berrien Birding Club events.  You don't need to be a member to join in the fun!

Tundra Swans versus Trumpeter Swans

        It's swan season and when birders get together, the subject of how to identify swans seems to be coming up quite a bit. So what is it with these Tundra and Trumpeter Swans? They are both big white birds with black bills. Their names even sound alike, adding to the confusion. They can turn up separately or together almost anywhere. I had a flock of 60 Tundra Swans fly over my house once, for Pete's sake. If they call, that is very helpful in separating them, but what do you do when you have a bunch of swans standing silently in a corn field? I have been lucky enough to run into quite a few swans recently in these very circumstances, and I have a couple of photos that might help people start to sort them out.The idea here is to learn to separate them in less than ideal conditions - the way we usually see them. So even though a yellow loral spot (in front of the eye) or a pink lip stripe are diagnostic field marks, often times these are not useful in the field.
The Famous Trumpeter Swans of Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery
        The Trumpeter is the one with the pink lip stripe, if  you get a lucky look in good light. But we can't see that in this photo. The area we want to focus on is around the eye. In these two birds, you can't really see the eye. Notice also the angle formed by the back edge of the bill between the eye and the "chin."  Now compare these areas with the same ones in the swan in the next picture.

Tundra Swans, Somewhere in Van Buren County, Spring 2013
        On the Tundra Swan, the eye is distinct from the bill. Part of this is because of the structure of the bill, and part is an optical illusion caused by the yellow loral spot, in front of the eye. Most Tundra Swans have this spot, although it can vary in size and be hard to see in some birds. Also, to me, the Tundra Swan's head is more gooselike, the bill appearing shorter than the Trumpeter Swan. The Trumpeter's bill appears longer and more elegant. Look at the angle we were mentioning before. The back edge in the Tundra Swan appears more vertical, versus more angled in the Trumpeter Swan.
         If you get a great look and can see the yellow spot, or the pink lip mark, or hear them call, by all means, make the most of these clues. But if the swans aren't making it easy on you, I hope you find these tips helpful.
        Questions, comments or suggestions are welcome! Bird on!

Michigan's "Easy" Swan - the aggressive Mute Swan


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Winter's Last Gasp, I Hope.

     It is getting so that I am so used to birding in the snow that I almost have a Pavlovian response to the sight of it falling - "Must. Go. Bird. Now." So, this morning, when I walked the dogs to the accompaniment of snow pellets bouncing off my jacket, it just seemed right to jump in the car and head to Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery. I found Trumpeter Swans at the hatchery, but also in an old corn field on 40th Street near M43, for a total of 5. Duck numbers are falling, but there are still good variety around. A remarkable 200 or so Tree Swallows were zipping back and forth over the big pond at WLFH.
     When I left the hatchery, I pulled into the boat access at Wolf Lake, across the street from WLFH. There I found this guy, who didn't seem all that troubled as I unloaded my gear and took a few pictures.

Osprey - Wolf Lake

    There was also a Pileated Woodpecker, some Common Mergansers, and a few Blue-winged Teal present there.
     At Maple Lake, most of the ducks have dispersed or moved on, but there was still a breeding plumaged Common Loon and a breeding plumaged Horned Grebe present.
     If you'd like to join me as I try not to miss any of the wonders of spring in Van Buren County, we will be meeting at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery's parking lot on Monday, April 15, at 10 AM. Hope to see you there!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hard Core Birding

Somewhere there must be a rule written down that it must snow on Mondays at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery! Today the snow wasn't much to speak of, but the wind briskly kept us company throughout our visit. Duck-wise, most of the mergansers were gone, but Canvasback numbers were up. There were only a few geese and we didn't see a single swan of any species. The ponds past the observation platform have been drained down since last week, and some Killdeer were foraging in the mud, along with some Mallards and a Green-winged Teal. In the second pond past the observation platform, a pair of Sandhill Cranes tolerated a fairly close approach as they fed, preened, and fended off some other cranes that thought to join them.

The wind followed us to Maple Lake, where I have come to expect it. By the bridge to Maple Isle, a bunch of coots were joined by a couple of  Horned Grebes in close to full breeding plumage. Duck numbers were way down around the island but we did see our first Ruddy Ducks, including a nice breeding plumaged male. The Ruddy Ducks flushed suddenly when a Common Loon came up from underneath them! We were almost as surprised, because that was our first clue there was a loon there at all.

There were still quite a few ducks on the lake on the east side of the road, including redhead, goldeneye, and a few red-breasted mergs. We didn't see any Hooded or Common Mergs today.
      Once again, the tea at the end of the outing hit the spot. I'd like to thank everyone who has been taking the time to come out and share the Van Buren County birding experience, including first timer Jean Ketchum today. The only thing better than being lucky enough to live in this amazing place is being able to share it with friends! We are planning to do it again next Monday. Eventually, I just know it is going to warm up! Check with me for details on time and meeting place. Until next time, bird on!