Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Their bills can hold more than their bellies-can!

Today was one of those days that keeps you going back. I biked out to Tiscornia at dawn again and initially didn't have much. I walked north along the beach, turned to look back and saw that a dog was already flushing shorebirds back behind me. I scanned north and returned to the lookout dune. Fortunately the shorebirds came back, a sanderling and a semipalmated sandpiper, probably the most common bird I was still missing for the Bigby year.

Buoyed by fairly quick success I settled down and started scanning back and forth over the water. There was little movement, though 4 blue-winged teal and a flyby yellow warbler were probably migrants. After an hour or so I picked up some big birds flying in formation out over the lake. I jumped up to the scope, found them quickly, and immediately realized they were not the Canada geese I was expecting. They were indeed enormous brown birds but they were flying entirely differently from geese, with broader wings, slower wingbeats, and much more bend at the elbow, more like a great blue heron's (though not quite as deep). My obvious next thought was great blues, but that made no sense given that they were flying in formation just above the water and what's more were entirely brown, not blue or gray. There was nothing they could be other than brown pelicans. I watched them for probably 5 minutes as they slowly flew away from me, making slow steady effortless progress flying nearly into the wind hoping one would turn and show its bill. I could see something protruding down in front of the birds but never did get a nice profile. I briefly tried to pull out my (broken) camera but it was hopeless. The LED screen is broken and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to digi-scope flying birds with a hand-held camera without being able to see what I was doing.
I thought about the doppler radars I'd checked before leaving on the bike and realized that the storm front that passed through southern Lake Michigan but passed just south of us that had come from the WSW likely picked these birds up as they were dispersing up the Mississippi River. They likely stayed in front of it and then floated north of it and let it pass them and now were heading back from whence they came.

I settled back down to see if they'd come back (though I strongly doubted that), had waited no more than 20 or 30 minutes and what flies through the binoculars but an avocet! One or two have been sporadically seen lately and this bird, along with about 8 sanderling, was being slowly herded south by 2 people (fortunately sans dog) walking along the edge of the water. Eventually it circled them and settled down to preen. I couldn't resist trying to photograph it, broken camera and all. Fortunately it was a stationary target. I tried bringing the camera blindly down over the scope but knew it wasn't working when the flash kept going off. I eventually ended up holding the camera over the eyepiece while I looked at it from the side to make sure I was centered which ultimately worked reasonably well; I was glad I didn't try this experiment though on the pelicans, by the time I'd have figured out how to get even the possibility of images they would have been long gone.

So, all in all a quite successful 3 hours, scoring 3 Bigby birds, and finally tallying a self-found review species this year. I was definitely starting to wonder if I'd be able to manage it this year on the bike.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Seeing spots...

... of orange.

Spent a little bit of time outside today hoping to track down some decent butterfly pics. Last year I think there were giant swallowtails out by now but I couldn't come up with any today. There were loads of pearl crescents though, easily one of the most common butterflies around.

Later on we went by Grand Mere and stopped by a corner where last year there were a lot of Michigan lilies. Unfortunately the road commission was more on top of their mowing this year and we saw only 1 where last year there was a good sized patch (knew I should have dug some up):

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Well, after about 2 months of work to pick up the last dozen species of so, I finally hit 200 birds for the Bigby year (a number I hit in early May typically), finding a Bonaparte's gull at Tiscornia. The adults start their post-breeding dispersal now, in about a week juvies will start showing up on the beach as well. The bird today was still in full breeding plumage; looking back at my records, July birds are usually about 50-50 between fully hooded birds and others well on their way to winter body plumage. I spent about 3 hours on the beach, where despite NW winds, all I managed were about 1-2 dozen sanderling, a least sandpiper, the Bonaparte's and 3 Forster's terns.

Somewhere along the way home I biked mile #600 as well. My knee is pretty sore from going way too many miles last week (~65 over 4 days) and the hills were pretty tough today. I think I'm pretty much done on long rides (20 miles or more roundtrip). I don't see myself going after least bittern out at Smith Lake. I'm not sure when/if I'll return to Sarett either. Sarett is the best place for black-billed cuckoo as a resident bird, I went last week but all I heard was yellow-billed's repeatedly (though a night-heron did fly over as a nice bonus).
The full-hooded Bonaparte's pic is from almost exactly a year ago at Tiscornia, the moulting bird (with fading legs) is from September of last year. I'll have to see if the half-hooded birds in July also have already faded their legs next time I go.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A nemesis no more

Well, 2 nights ago I finally started gaining some momentum back, adding 3 birds to the Bigby list, one more than I managed in all of June. I started off with nighthawks calling over St. Joseph on my way to Tiscornia. Unfortunately it was fully dark by the time I got there and I didn't have a chance at the avocets or godwits seen there. I headed south to Grand Mere SP where after some time I did eventually hear one of the whip-poor-wills that's been heard there after some concerted whistling every 5 minutes or so.

After lazing on the couch for a few hours, I headed back out to Tiscornia, getting there at sunrise. The big shorebirds appeared to be absent from Tiscornia or Silver Beach so I started walking north towards Jean Kloch beach and flushed a shorebird from within 15 feet of me. I could see it was a piping plover the second it popped up. It flew back down the beach and landed. Endangered in Michigan, it's one of a handful of regularly occurring Michigan birds I've never seen in the state. Once I'd spotted the sand-colored bird in the sand, it did give good looks, revealing a fairly worn adult sporting 5 bands (orange, green, black, and silver). I'd never noticed the orange eyering in the past.

Little blue heron is probably now the most common bird for the lower peninsula I still need for Michigan, another bird I've never chased in the past since I assumed I'll eventually just find one. Perhaps though I'd have been better driving after one when gas was $1.80 rather than waiting for a close one at $5... ah well.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Death of a Swallowtail

Recently bought 2 year-old Hazelnut a butterfly net since I spent a lot of time when I was really little chasing butterflies around the orchard besides our house, mostly the little white cabbage butterflies or yellow sulphurs you see everywhere, but now and then a monarch or viceroy or swallowtail as well. At any rate, Hazel was definitely enjoying our attempts in the in-laws' backyard around their garden. Unfortunately, this virtually universally catch-and-release pursuit ended badly for the luckless spicebush swallowtail here. I ended up sitting it on a flower for a nice pic, but obviously a shame that the critter had already crumped.