Saturday, May 25, 2013

Over Turned Stones, or Something Like That

      I'll explain that post title in a minute, but first, the report and some pics from the BBC outing to Tiscornia and the Whirlpool World HQ grounds. It was our final Tiscornia outing of the spring season, when heat and bugs are usually making us look forward to a break. This year, we looked like we were dressed for the first outings, not the last outing of the year. Mittens, winter hats, and layers yet again. Sigh. We'd better keep an eye on the warbler migration points this summer. If it ever warms up we might still get those warbler fallouts we've been missing all spring!
     Today numbers were low, except for swallows, but we had some high quality bird encounters. Kip found a breeding plumage Franklin Gull on the water on the Silver Beach side of the jetty. A breeding plumage Common Tern and a first year Forster's Tern were with the Caspian Terns on the beach, and gave us great opportunities to compare the differences in structure between these two similar species. (Hint: Forster's have longer legs and bigger bills, in addition to silvery upper wing surfaces, and a whiter breast.)
     Running up and down the beach, sometimes with a little encouragement from a certain human bird dog, were two breeding plumage Ruddy Turnstones, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, and a breeding plumage Dunlin.
One of two Ruddy Turnstones at Tiscornia

     Eventually, the birds felt comfortable enough with us that they relaxed and took turns bathing in the surf.
Ruddy Turnstones, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Dunlin tidy up.

Some of the many Caspian Terns we saw this spring at Tiscornia

       When we were finished at Tiscornia, we moved inland for some land birding. At the Whirlpool HQ, there were still several Red-breasted Nuthatches, lots of Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and a couple of Willow Flycatchers.  We were also entertained by some hungry Eastern Kingbirds, who actively fed in the grass without paying much attention to us. Orioles and Warbling Vireos were in the trees around the pond, and our attempts to track down an elusive Willow Flycatcher in the parking lot turned into some really nice looks at a Gray-cheeked Thrush. I don't know about the other members of our group, but I drove home a little sad that the season is drawing to a close, but happy, as always, to have shared it with friends.


        Well, back to the title. Just a reminder before I start. 

Ruddy Turnstone

      My dad has been gone for a long time - he died in 1983, but part of his sometimes strange legacy is that I think of him every time I see a Ruddy Turnstone, or for that matter, any species of Tern. He was alternately mystified by, irritated by, or (rarely) proud of, my devotion to birding. On a good day, he wasn't above teasing me about it. One day, he very seriously asked me if I had read in the newspaper about the terrible tragedy at a seabird breeding colony in Florida.  When I asked him what happened, he told me that a group of fishermen, believing the seabirds competed with their fishing, had staged a raid on the colony and thrown rocks at the nesting seabirds. His timing was perfect, honed by thirty years of life as a standup comic. Just as I was about to explode with outrage, he delivered the punch line deadpan. "Their motto was, 'Leave no tern unstoned.'"  

Bird on.

All photos by Dixie Burkhart

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shorebird Bonanza and Hawk of the Night

Look for the Dowitchers just behind and to the right of the goose.
     Today was a very productive day for me, birding in Van Buren County. The flooded field on 38th Avenue, about 2 miles east of 46th Street, repaid all my careful checking in spades today with a shorebird bonanza. The three Short-billed Dowitchers I reported this morning multiplied to at least 15 by this evening. There were 8 to 10 Semipalmated Plovers, 12 or more Lesser Yellowlegs, a couple of Spotted Sandpipers, 6 or 8 Least Sandpipers, around ten Solitary Sandpipers, Green-winged Teal, Sandhill Cranes, Wood Ducks, and a lone Savannah Sparrow running around with the Least Sandpipers and looking very odd!
One of a few Semipalmated Sandpipers
Solitary Sandpiper looks for supper.

     I also stopped by Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery briefly today. A Green Heron flushed from one of the first ponds and offered nice looks. A Willow Flycatcher was singing from the edge of the same pond. The Common Goldeneye male still lingers, and pops up on ebird as rare at this date.
     Brigg's Pond has also picked up a few shorebirds, solitary and least, as far as I could see, but there is quite a bit of grass on the sandbar to conceal them.
      The Common Nighthawk peenting overhead in the yard this evening added species number 107 to my yard list and is number 198 for Van Buren County. The dowitcher was number 197 for the county, so all in all, a pretty productive day. Best wishes to all for a terrific birdathon and for the remainder of the spring birding season!
Some of the fifteen short-billed dowitchers present this evening.

FYI - This Monday's walk at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery will be at the usual time - 9 am. However, there will be no walk the following Monday, which is Memorial Day.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Report from Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery

      Six BBC'ers once again donned their winter gear to bird Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Van Buren County. Temperatures hovered around the freezing mark, but the sky was clear and the ponds were like glass.  Many swallows working the ponds gave us terrific opportunities in perfect light to compare field marks of five species. The Trumpeter Swans were on nest duty. Sheryl's sharp eyes picked out an Indigo Bunting in a treetop, although it wasn't the most cooperative bird. With a little patience, we had better luck with a male Bay-breasted Warbler in the woods. Eventually, he came out in the open and gave us all some pretty nice looks.

Lisa and Barb check out some swallows.

     There were quite a few pairs of Canada Geese with downy young.

     And it wasn't just about the birds. 
This bullfrog didn't seem to mind our attention.

Neither did this female Tree Swallow at the nestbox

     When  we were finished at the fish hatchery, we took to the cars and the back roads. The flooded field on 38th Avenue was occupied by three Solitary Sandpipers, although the Blue-winged Teal I had spotted earlier didn't wait around for the group. The special treat of the day was probably when a wary pair of Sandhill Cranes emerged from cover followed by two very small downy red chicks. The chicks' antics kept us enthralled, although, unfortunately, most of us missed the moment when the chicks faced off and did a baby version of the crane dance, stretching up tall and bouncing while waving their stubby red wings! 
     We finished our day with a visit with the Prothonotary Warblers on 44th Avenue, and spent a few minutes communing with the peaceful spirit of the Paw Paw River. I reflect on the day as I walk the dogs for their last outing. The sun is sinking, a Wood Thrush is singing in the woods behind the house, and I once again realize how lucky I am to live in this amazing place.



     Please feel free to join us for a morning of good birding and good company next Monday, May 20, at 9am. Meet in the parking lot at Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery near Mattawan, Michigan.  Hope to see you then!                              

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Swallow Extravaganza at Maple Lake

I was going to drive by Maple Lake today, because all the waterfowl have been gone, and, frankly, it just hasn't been that interesting. As I tried to drive by, however, I was forced to put on the brakes to avoid running over hundreds of swallows that coursed back and forth low over the roadway, some passing from lake to lake, and some trying to land on the roadway! I turned around, went back to the boat launch area, and found literally thousands of swallows flitting over the surface of the water, or high in the air, or landing on the ground around the edge of the lake. I have no idea what caused this behavior, unless it had something to do with the unseasonable cold temperatures. I have seen large flocks of swallows here before, but this was several orders of magnitude beyond what I have ever seen. Barn Swallows predominated by a wide margin, but there were also quite a few Tree Swallows, and every once in a while a single of another species would flit into my binoc field. Pretty soon, I had all the regularly occurring Michigan swallow to my credit, and a wildlife experience that will stay with me for a long, long time. Photos can't give any idea of what I was seeing, but here are a couple. I have some video that turned out pretty well, but I will have to wait until I can get to a faster connection before I try to upload that.

A tiny fraction of the many swallows present today.

Multiply this by "as far as the eye can see" and triple it for the density of the flock that was coursing low over the lake.

         The flooded field on 38th Avenue, 1.5 miles east of 46th Street is still providing promising habitat for shorebirds. There weren't any there today, but it is still worth checking if you are in the area. Today the only birds of interest there were a couple of latish male Green-winged Teal.

         If you would like to join me for a morning walk at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery, and a road trip to try for some grassland birds, as well as a visit with the Prothonotary Warblers of 44th Avenue, meet me in the parking lot at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery at 9am 5/13/2013. (Monday). 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Whooping Crane 14-12 AKA Lily

     In 2000, various crane conservation partners collaborated on developing a program to establish an second wild-living freely breeding Whooping Crane flock in North America, breeding in Wisconsin and wintering in Florida. For more information on the successes and failures of this project, go here.
      For our purposes, suffice it to say, that as a result of the ultralight and direct release programs associated with this project, it seems that stray Whooping Cranes can turn up just about anywhere. Quite a few wind up in Michigan. Currently, crane 14-12 has been gracing the Farm Unit in Allegan with his presence since April 30. Although this crane is a male, the fourteenth hatched in 2012, he was given the name Lily. Go to the link for more information about him. I was lucky enough to spot him today.
     Lily was captive bred and raised then released as part of the Direct Autumn Release cohort for 2012. 

 Photos by Dixie Burkhart

       I took these pictures from about a quarter mile away through the windshield of my car, and have seriously magnified them, losing resolution.  The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership requests that if you see a Whooping Crane, do not approach closer than 200 yards on foot or 100 yards in a vehicle. They have worked very hard to keep the cranes wild, as their wariness helps them to survive. I would also ask that you be sensitive to the crane's or any other wild bird's behavior, and back off if you see they are becoming  uncomfortable. That said, if he is around, you shouldn't have any trouble spotting this magnificent bird. He is blazingly white. Good luck if you go!

Til next time.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Solitary Sandpiper Shares

          Last Monday, this Solitary Sandpiper obliged us with the chance to observe it at pretty close range for as long as we wanted. While we oooed and ahhhed, swapped scopes and binocs and cameras, it went on feeding in the little stream of running water it had found. We were very interested to watch as it quivered it's foot in the water to stir up the bottom, then ate what floated to the top. Such fun to watch!

     This male Northern Cardinal, on the other hand. was scope viewing only, as he perched high in a tree, and sang loudly. 

     And when we didn't have birds to entertain us, we had flowers, turtles and frogs. 
Blanding's Turtle, a Michigan species of special concern.
        Although I took this photo of the Blanding's a few years back at the hatchery, we have seen quite a few there in recent days.
Bullfrog at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery

      As always, we will be exploring the hatchery next Monday at 9am. Hope to see you there!

All photos on this blog are taken by me, Dixie Burkhart, unless otherwise noted. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Baby Geese

  It is always reassuring to me to see the first baby geese of spring. It is as though the coming of the first downy yellow fluff balls is somehow a sentinel event that validates my trust that, yes, spring is really here, and that we really are coming to the end of the grey, icy days.  When this goose first started incubating her perfect oval eggs in the cattails, she had ice on her back more often than not, but she was hard-wired to know that this is the time, and this is the place.  Mostly, the Earth rewards her offspring for going with their gut impulses, so much so, that it doesn't even need to be a conscious choice. If left alone, natural systems follow their seasonal pulses, and maintain themselves pretty well. I wonder why, when we gained our special capacity for self-awareness, we lost our ability to listen to the heart beat of the Earth, and to be a functioning, balanced participant in those natural systems.