Monday, May 18, 2009

Birdathon wrap-up

Tim and I were joined for the second year in a row by Craig/Kreg/"unknown birder" Bateman for a successful Birdathon effort. Going into the day we were somewhat pessimistic given predicted wind and rain during the night and predicted winds during the day. Fortunately it rained only for a little over an hour or so with the exception of some occasional sprinkles and the wind was much less than predicted.

Last year we had only one owl, this year we had all 3 in the first couple hours. A distantly singing yellow-billed cuckoo gave our team, the Fanatical Cuckoos, our first cuckoo in the 3 years I've been on the team. A mockingbird was kind enough to answer our whip-poor-will whistles outside Coloma which we thought might just be our best bird of the day. That was until a least bittern started calling within seconds of getting out of the car at Big Smith Lake in a period of relative calm. We blundered into a chat somewhere in the eastern county when we stopped to unsuccessfully listen at one of Tim's potential sedge wren possible spots (we blanked on all of mine too during the night). Our luck held through our first stop at the Jones/True Rd block where we stopped behind another team who had just whistled up a whip-poor-will. We spent the better part of the next hour and a half hoping for chuckie but joined the great majority in not hearing him.

The day took a truly surreal turn at Forest Lawn Rd. We had walked along it to pick up yellow-throated warbler (as usual it took me 3 times as long to hear the bird as my younger teammates, that after it took me 3 times as long to hear the Louisiana waterthrush until it took pity and flew closer to the road, and 3 times as long to hear the white-eyed vireo, but really, I wasn't getting frustrated. not at all. ok actually I hate those yellow-throateds. Thank goodness last year when I led a tour for Washtenaw Audobon one was singing close to the road) when we started hearing strange calling from a treetop next to the road, cawing but only with "soft a" sounds, no "aw". We stopped. It sounded like a fish crow. We waited. Then the crow flew out calling "ca-ha." We ran to alert the other team present on the road. The bird was nice enough to fly over twice again, the final time both Tim and I recorded the "ca-ha," giving us far better hopes of documenting the bird than the experience we've talked about one of us probably eventually having sometime of a flyby bird at Tiscornia. After making a bunch of phone calls we reached no one who could come chasing after it immediately and since we weren't seeing it anymore, we continued on. For the next hour we were pretty high. We managed to walk through Warren Woods and add exactly 0 birds, some of which was probably due to the storm front that had been south of us all night undoubtedly blocking migrants, and some of which was probably on us.

When we reached Floral we actually were quite close to the number we arrived there with last year, though were half an hour later arriving. We knew, however, that we probably weren't going to pick up all the migrants we needed to keep pace. We found a lot of redstarts, as Jan said, probably 70% of the birds. I'd say 70% of the rest were magnolia, leaving about 10% of the birds with potential. We picked up some birds, Wilson's, Canada, a couple of orange-crowned, a yellow-rumped, a couple kinglets, a beautiful golden-winged, as well as resident hooded warbler and hairy (and downy!) woodpecker and a few others but left well off last year's pace.

For the second straight year we blundered into a woodcock on the ground, this one 6 feet off the trail at Lincoln Twp Beach:
From there it was up and down the county picking up specific birds at specific spots, most of which turned up quickly like prothonotory warbler, red-headed woodpecker, grasshopper sparrow, some of which turned up with difficulty like sedge wren and blue-winged warbler, and some of which did not show up at all like Carolina wren. We were surprised to find gadwall at Brown and a peregrine over the old black rail field in Royalton Twp. A SB dowitcher at Rocky Weed pond was also a Royalton Twp bird for me.

We ended with 158 birds (155 unanimous) while driving about 275 miles (our least yet, and just one tank of gas), a much better total than we expected given the near utter lack of waterfowl, the windy predicted weather and our inability to comfortably stake out some of the just-returned birds (i.e. chat, orchard oriole though we did end up finding these). Of course the (potential) first state record Fish Crow was a bit of gravy we couldn't possibly have hoped for. And with news yesterday that the bird was re-seen and re-heard by other observers who were reportedly much more in our camp than some of the other people who also heard the bird originally, along with photographs Tim got of it yesterday showing an apparently diagnostic primary pattern, I'm much more optimistic that it will be acceptable. Tim's pic is viewable here.

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