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!

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