Monday, August 25, 2014

One Summer Day

It is worth a blog post. Today we had summer. It was hot. It was buggy. It was humid. It was great.

This beautiful cicada was near the end of its long life. The wings looked like someone had spilled golden glitter on them, but I couldn't make that show up in the photo, except for a hint on the edge crossing the back.

Cardinal flowers are blooming abundantly along the Paw Paw, at least at the bridge over 48th Avenue. Unfortunately, these long-distance pics with my digital point and shoot were the best I could do.

These mushrooms were growing out of the heart of a half dead maple tree next to the East Arlington Baptist Church. They were the size of salad plates! They looked vaguely oriental to me.

And, yes, we also have birds. A pair of Sandhill Cranes and their single surviving chick were crossing 44th Avenue yesterday between 48th and 50th Streets. They paused long enough for me to take a few pictures from the car.

 The local turkey family is also doing well, but they don't cooperate for photography. I am happy to report that the two hens have managed to raise eight chicks to the half-grown stage. It has been great fun to have them hanging around the yard. We see them almost everyday.

I hope you all have managed to find a little bit of summer to enjoy this year. Until next time.

All photos by Dixie Burkhart. Use with permission only.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Idle Summer Thoughts

Like most of the rest of Michigan, we have slipped into the fullness of summer here in Van Buren County. The corn is as high as, well, maybe not the elephant's eye, but certainly his elbow. Young rabbits are everywhere, making me think of renaming the months according to their most noteworthy features. Julius Caesar has been gone for a long time, but hundreds of bunnies are risking their young lives on the roads now. I would rename July Leveret. Yes, I know the word leveret refers to a European hare in its first year, but leveret is such a great word, isn't it? It deserves to come out and play more often. Or I could call it Nuthatch Moon, for the broods of noisy nuthatch fledglings chasing their parents through the trees in our yard as I am writing this. Or Blueberry Moon. Goodness knows, blueberries are a striking feature of July. Or maybe I won't name the month at all. Maybe I will just let it be what it will, let it define itself by its own events, playing its part as the wheel of the seasons turns.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Farmer's Market Livens Up Lawrence

Welcome to the Lawrence Farmer's Market

The village of Lawrence, (exit 52 off I94), is usually pretty sleepy - the sort of town that you can drive through on Red Arrow Highway without even realizing it. But on Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm, it wakes up and becomes a lively place. The cause is the Lawrence Farmer's Market, and today was the first market of the season. When I visited around noon, there was still quite a bit of foot traffic, and lots of visiting going on. Several of the local organizations had fund raising booths and there were a variety of crafts, baked goods, and honey and soap products available. Produce is still on the light side, but there were a few berries, flowers and herbs available. A local woodworker operating under the name Wood Be Beautiful had a nice selection of his wares on display.

Intriguing handmade wooden boxes

This hickory bench was priced at $70
This local landmark, the Circus House, is across the street from the farmer's market
  Local lore states this house was a wintering residence for a circus family, and that, even though it has changed hands a few times, each owner is asked to commit to maintaining its bright color scheme.

I never know what I will find at the Lawrence Farmer's Market, but, as the produce starts to come in, I know it will be on my weekly list of shopping stops. There may be  live music, free range meats, or a selection of artisan cheeses. Whatever is available, I recommend checking it out if you are in the area. 

All photos by Dixie Burkhart
I am not affiliated in any way with the Lawrence Farmer's Market or any of its vendors.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Migration Heats Up Van Buren County

    Today's walk at Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery coincided with what was, for me, the first true day of spring. There was so much bird song that it was hard to sort through it. We found Gray Catbirds building a nest behind the equipment barn. The Trumpeter Swans were working on their nest, as well. The male pulled vegetation off the bottom, piled it at the edge of the nest, and the female arranged it to her liking. We had three species of vireos, five species of warblers, and eight species of shorebirds.
     Speaking of shorebirds, we saw this guy, who stood out in the crowd of Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers.

Photos by Dixie Burkhart

I have seen tons of Pectoral Sandpipers. I thought I knew what they looked like, but this guy did not look like any Pectoral I have ever seen. I was forced to realize that, although I have seen a bunch, I guess I have never had one at my feet where I could actually see the details. My toolbox for sandpiper ID is not comprehensive. 99 percent of the sandpipers I have seen have been at the outer limits of my optics, where I am dependent on size and shape relative to the other birds present, and one or two obvious plumage issues, like the clearly defined breast markings on the breast of the Pectoral. So I guess the question of the day is, is it possible to see a bird too well? : ) And the lesson of the day is that you are never done getting to know a species of bird, even ones that you see all the time. There is always different lighting, different substrate, different distances, that can change what you thought you knew.

We wound up with 48 species for the day, at the hatchery, at least. I added a few more at home, as did some of the other people who joined me for the walk. It is some kind of an indicator of how dramatically things have changed today that I added nine species to my year list, even though I have been out birding almost every day for weeks, at least for a few minutes a day.

For those who would like more details, here is a link to our checklist on ebird.

Email me at for more information about birding Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery. Until next time, Bird on!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trip Report: Closing out April at Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery

It was damp, it was windy, it was overcast. The sensible people (everyone except me) stayed home. I almost got back in the car and headed back home for some hot chocolate. Then I decided, since I hadn't been there for about ten days, I would at least check and see how the Trumpeter Swans were coming along. As I geared up, I found a Pine Warbler singing in the trees over the parking lot.
This fellow was hunting the show pond.
Great Blue Heron

I headed back around the hatchery buildings where I found this little guy sitting on the fence. The fuss with the scope and camera didn't bother him and I was able to get a few nice shots.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, as opposed to the Southern Rough-winged Swallow

        Yes, there is such a beast, but it has never been seen in the US, as far as I know, and I really don't want to try to separate the two. I have enough trouble telling them from Bank Swallows!

     Yellow Warblers were everywhere - my first of the year for Van Buren County. The female Trumpeter Swan was busy building her nest while the male kept watch near by. Most of the ducks are gone, but there was a single American Coot left of the hundreds that were there two weeks ago, a few Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddies, Mallards, and a really gorgeous pair of Wood Ducks. 
      From the big pond I went through the woods, where I picked up my FOY Warbling Vireos for Michigan. Towhees were also everywhere, as well as Yellow-rumped Warblers. 
       The first pond I came to was still dry, but there wasn't even a Killdeer to be seen. I hit the jackpot when I got to the ponds beyond, however. The first clue was the Spotted Sandpiper that flew by on stiff wings. It landed along the edge in the pond where the gallinules nested last year. Then I saw a second bird which I thought was a peep at first. It turned out to be an American Pipit, though. Before I could look as much as I wanted a Red-winged Blackbird chased it off. 
       Maybe it is just me, but I can casually look at a mudflat full of shorebirds and not see a thing. It is only after I look carefully through scope or binocs or both that the birds slowly start to take shape to me. That was what happened today. First I saw this guy stuffing himself with some fat tadpoles. 

Greater Yellowlegs

 Then I spotted my FOY Solitary Sandpiper.

Solitary Sandpiper

There were also a few Least Sandpipers, early enough that when I put them in ebird, the check box came up asking for more details. 

Least Sandpiper - note the brownish color and the yellow legs.

Just to confuse matters, there was also this Least, definitely not as far along in his spring molt as the first one. 

The real excitement of the day started, though, when I got the scope on this bird. 

?! Note the bright orange legs.

There are two species of a shorebird called a Redshank - Common and Spotted. They look a LOT like this guy. And you probably have a better shot at winning the lottery than seeing one in the lower 48. After some sweating and stalking and a few dozen pictures, and a shout-out to Kip Miller (thank you, Kip!), I was able to confirm that it was just a really orange-legged Lesser Yellowlegs, before I wound up in the ER with a heart attack! If you Google Common Redshank and look through the photos, you can see why I was getting worked up about this bird. I now feel I am well prepared for the next Redshank that crosses my path. As a public service, I will get down to details in my next post. : ) 

In all, I had great looks at around thirty shorebirds of five different species. The total for the day was 48 species for the hatchery only. 
Don't forget that the weather is improving, the birds are moving, and we will be walking the hatchery again next Wednesday, May 7, starting at 9am. Drop me a line if you need further details. Hope to see you there.  Until then, Bird On!

All photos in this post by Dixie Burkhart. Feel free to borrow, but give credit, please. It is just nice! : )

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Winter in the Rear View Mirror at Last!

After a winter that seemed like it would never end, a few brave wildflowers finally raised their heads last week. I think I have the ID's correct - any corrections more than welcome!

Rue Anemone
Spring Beauty peeks out of last fall's leaves.
Dutchman's Breeches is one of my favorites. Too bad they bloom so briefly.
Toad Lily dresses up the junk pile.

May Apple always tickle us with its sudden appearance - like an alien army that appears overnight.
All photos by Dixie Burkhart. 

Thrill of the Chase

Recently birders in southwest Michigan were in a frenzy over the presence of, not just one, but two birds that are megarare for the state. A Black-bellied Whistling-Duck found a haven for a time at the dairy at Andrews University. And, after some initial confusion, a Snowy Plover was identified at the harbor in New Buffalo. In general, I am not much of a chaser when these rarities show up. But these birds were withing fifty miles or so of where I live, and even if I didn't find them, Berrien in the spring is always a worthwhile birding destination. Results of my chase are in the photos below, even though the duck photo deserves some kind of award for Worst Identifiable Picture. Plus, I share with you the gorgeous Glaucous Gull that shared the beach with the Snowy Plover and his Sanderling buddy that day.

This first winter Glaucous Gull was hanging with the gull flock at New Buffalo.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

    Hmm. Somehow I managed to take a picture that showed only the field marks for this duck. I wish I could attribute it to quirky awesome photographic skills. I can't.   

Sanderling, left, Snowy Plover, right.
            This little western plover stayed close to his Sanderling buddy throughout his stay. Actually, the Sanderling was unusually early, and elicited a details request on ebird. For some reason, most viewers only used him as a landmark for the Snowy Plover. "Look for the Sanderling." "He's still there with the Sanderling." "He's to the right of the Sanderling." Sort of like the rare bird stepchild. : )

All photos by Dixie Burkhart. Use with permission only. (Except for the duck - use that one anywhere, as long as I don't get credit!)