Monday, December 22, 2008

"They're all the same, all you can eat is the breast,"

Said my father-in-law when I told him my theory that at least 5 different forms of white-cheeked geese occur in Berrien.  I think that puts it into perspective.

Due to Christmas preparations, a boring CBC, and serial blizzards, I haven't gotten out as much as I'd like so I've decided to produce (drumroll please) yet another goose post!

These are birds photographed when Tim and I tried our big day back in early December.  How many different forms do you see?
The 2 birds in the foreground are obviously Canadas, given that there were about 200 of them, they're probably the migratory interior race.  The 2 birds in the rear on the left appear to be Richardson's hutchinsii cacklers.  They're small, the left-most bird definitely has more prominent edging to the scapulars, and  both have a quite vertical forehead.  The right-most of these 5 birds was giving me problems.  The next picture shows it on the left with one of the cacklers having walked down behind it now on the right.
It definitely seemed to have a much more sloping face and seemed to be a slightly different color brown than the others.  It seemed to be just bigger than the cacklers though definitely closer to them than the Canadas.  Unfortunately I didn't do a good job of documenting its scapular pattern, but my impression in the field was that there wasn't much contrast (though the 2nd cackler had less contrast than the brighter of the cacklings as well).  I'm not sure if this bird is a cackling goose or if this could be a parvipes type lesser Canada goose 

Finally my best photo of the brighter of the 2 cacklings, showing the head shape and the scapulars fairly well.  Perhaps I should have worked on better pics of the duller one.
A note on the photos, they were taken on a bright sunlit day and my camera somewhat under-exposed them so the brightness and contrast have been increased on pics 1 and 3.  They're also shot through a chain-link fence which doesn't help matters.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A harlequin and a puzzling grebe

This afternoon the sun broke free from the clouds and I made a casual run to the St Joseph beaches with a very modest goal of just finding some Herring gulls to photograph in the sun for once.  Well, I did find a few photo-worthy birds, but at Silver Beach I found a good number of birds sheltering from the mild north winds on the leeward side of the southern pier.

In front of a flock of buffleheads was this smartly-marked duck, no ID problem here:
It's a male harlequin duck with the crisp crescent in front of the eye, white ear patch, and a subtler vertical whitish mark on the neck.  In the very best of lights it did have some bluish gloss.  It didn't have any other white on it, none on the body.  I thought it was probably a first year bird given that it lacks the whitish marks in the tertials that Sibley shows a full winter-plumaged male as having.

There was also a small dark grebe.  My initial reaction when I first saw it was that it was an eared grebe.  With closer study it wasn't holding up that well.  I had called Tim after I got a few shots of the duck and he asked me if there was an eared grebe there too.  He'd seen the duck that morning and seen a/the grebe last night.  Before we could talk further a fisherman appeared behind me and I hung up to try to get photos before the birds were pushed farther out and we didn't talk about it at any length.  I don't know for sure that this is the same bird.

First is my best overall pic of the bird; it was difficult to get a good front-lit photo because of the configuration of the pier and the southern winter sun.  The bird has a dark face.  A typical horned grebe has a very crisp dark gray crown and white cheek and throat.  Per Sibley either species should be in full winter plumage by now, and certainly I can't remember seeing anything but that plumage in horned grebe this time of year.

There are structural clues; an eared grebe typically has the peak of the crown in front of or about even with the eye, in horned this is farther back on the head.  The eared has a thinner and upturned bill.  Horned does have a pale tip to the bill though this can be hard to see and either could probably show it if backlit enough.

The next 2 pics show the head shape, eared has a more peaked crown than horned, this is one of very few birds where looking at the bird as it is going away from you is actually quite helpful.

Another side view of the bird, probably the sharpest of the bill shape (I had to play with the contrast and brightness of this one as it was underexposed)

Here's a composite of my 4 best side views of the head (ignore the one random gray line) followed by old photos I've taken of the two species (eared on the left, horned on the right obviously):

I think the bill of today's bird is thicker than any eared grebe I've ever seen; the maxilla appears convex rather than concave.  I got the suggestion of a pale tip, though again that could be artifactual due to the lighting conditions.  The head seemed to peak behind the eye, but seemed rounder than the typical horned.  I don't know if a first year eared grebe would have a thicker, less up-turned bill than an older one would; Sibley does not show that however.  The other thing to think about on this bird is that the longer I watched it, the more I seemed to see the left leg.  I wonder what a horned grebe would look like that couldn't preen its cheek and chin; I suspect that it would look a great deal like the bird today.

If you go to look for these birds, BE CAREFUL on the pier.  It's covered in ice.  Despite being really careful on the way back, I took a fall and banged the scope down hard (thank goodness it seemed to be unaffected).  I continued to the beach to try photos from a different angle and wondered why my fingers were sticking to the camera, they've never frosted down before.  I looked down and saw my fingers all bloody, I took a picture but decided to spare you the image.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My juvies are all grown up

I've been thinking that I've been a little sloppy with my terminology in how I've been reporting 1st year gulls lately, I've been calling them all juveniles (juvies).  Juvenile plumage really refers to the initial full plumage that a bird leaves the nest in.  In most species of bird this is a briefly held plumage and either moult or wear quickly gives a new appearance (i.e. the spotted newly fledged robins quickly become red-breasted).  Gulls, however, hold that juvenile plumage longer.  But, they soon start moulting into what Olsen and Larsson term 1st winter plumage, undergoing what Howell and Dunn refer to as pre-alternate 1 (PA1) moult.

Here's a true juvie herring gull, photographed in August.  Note the wholly brown plumage:

Next is a bird from September.  It still looks mostly like the first bird, but note how a few scapulars are brown-black with gray edges rather than brown with white notching.  This is part of the onset of PA1 moult:

I slacked off acquiring herring gull moult pics in fall, so we skip on to where we are now.  This bird is from yesterday in New Buffalo.  Note that the back is mainly formed by the blackish scapulars with white edges.  The bird has also moulted much of its body such that it is grayer overall and has a whiter head (the bill is also well on its way to becoming bi-colored).

This is another December Herring gull from a year or so ago, fairly similar in appearance.

The last 2 birds are what would generically be called 1st winter plumage.  Herring gulls, like most large white-headed gulls, suspend their PA1 moult during the tough times of winter, reserving calories for things like not starving to death rather than growing new feathers.  Herring gulls are fairly variable in their moult, some apparently do very little moult in their first fall.  This is also regional as well; if you look at the pics in Howell and Webb of birds on the west coast they will be far less advanced in their moult in photos taken 2 months later than these are.  Our midwestern birds apparently follow more of an east-coast schedule.  Also to add to the confusion, once they re-start PA1 moult in the spring, they don't actually reach an alternate plumage, they just keep right on moulting such that PA1 apparently runs into PB2 (pre-basic 2nd year moult) more or less continuously.  But we'll leave figuring that out for next year.  Howell and Webb captions the current birds 1st cycle in "post-juvenal molt" in his pics, but describe them as undergoing PA1 moult in the text.  Olsen and Larsson would call them 1st winter.

And I haven't forgotten my threat to do another white-cheeked goose post!

Monday, December 8, 2008

End of the Bigby?

With 32 degree precipitation today on what was supposed to be the nicest day remaining this week, I think my Bigby year is over (barring a big surprise at the feeders).  I totaled 227 birds without using gasoline, 123 of them required the bike while the remaining 104 were seen around my house.  Given that I went a little over 1000 miles this year, that's a new bird every 8 miles or so.  Since I averaged about 10 miles an hour on the bike, the math gets pretty ugly quickly in terms of the ratio of time spent birding vs spent on the bike.  From a weather stand point I picked a lousy year to try this given that some parts of Berrien had record snowfall last winter and we had a top-5 all time amount of snow in November (including a single day record).  Considering that 2 years ago it was 40 degrees and snow-free on Christmas and that this year it was a white Thanksgiving, a person could certainly have 4-6 more weeks to really work at it in a year with luckier weather.  I made a total of 54 trips, therefore averaging a little less than 20 miles per trip.  The farthest I went was 66 miles to get down to the south county to pick up southern warblers.  I also made a 52 mile chase early in the year after a staked-out saw-whet owl.  On about half of the trips (22) I saw birds I would only see once, highlighted by my (long-awaited) Michigan lifer piping plover and 4 hurricane blown brown pelicans (also obviously Michigan lifers).

What could be possible?  I've totaled 246 birds this year in Berrien without focusing on year listing when not on the bike.  Therefore there were 19 that I've seen on various big days, chases, and at other random times.  Four of them (evening grosbeak, spotted towhee, northern shrike, and snow goose) were only seen when snow prohibited biking so wouldn't really be possible.  A handful of them (Thayer's gull, Iceland gull, black tern, white-rumped sandpiper, Brewer's blackbird) were found only in the extreme southern part of the county that would have required 50-60 mile trips to find.  I missed some of them by not having time to chase after them with my work schedule or not being able to attempt it until after they were gone (marbled godwit, long-billed dowitcher, worm-eating warbler).  A couple were rather inexplicable/inexcuseable that I missed them (orange-crowned warbler, lesser black-backed gull, and rusty blackbird).  For a few of the birds I just didn't have enough time in the early breeding season to get them while they were most vocal, going after easier birds cost me (virginia rail, least bittern, black-billed cuckoo).  And a couple were just simply transient birds that I saw while not on the bike and would not get another shot at (glaucous-winged gull, magnificent frigatebird, and golden eagle).  It would probably take another 500 miles to tally most of those, or to make up for some of the impossibilities with other birds that would also be possible. SO, I rather doubt I'm going to attempt this again.  A person who lived closer to the lake or specifically a great passerine spot on the lake (like Warren Dunes) would be able to attain these numbers with far less effort.  That being said, as far as I can tell from various reports on the internet, this is one of the higher numbers tallied by someone who works full time and probably the highest for this latitude away from an ocean (though an inland sea doesn't hurt).

Pics today were from the New Buffalo harbor.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

a not so big day

It's been several months since I'd attempted a Big Day, and I convinced Tim to try one today.  Obviously this was a bad year to run one in December given the 18 inches of snow that fell in November in Berrien (top 5 all time locally), much of it on a single record-breaking night.  The little water areas all froze up after that.  They've since re-opened, but all the dabblers that might have been holding out in a normal year were no where to be found and we had a lot of difficulty with the half-hearty birds (towhee, zonotrichia sparrows, hermit thrush, etc etc etc) that would have been much more findable in a better year.  I think we both sensed this given that we made no route beforehand and didn't bother owling in the morning (or the evening either for that matter).  We totaled 60 species unless I missed something.

We started in the south county, not picking up any uncommon birds in New Buffalo and found the morning passerine spots fairly windy.  We found pileated and hairy woodpeckers at traditional locations, but aside from a kingfisher tallied little else.  We headed on to the landfill ... can you find a bird that looks different?
Not in that picture, but you get a sense of what a person is up against.  Eventually we'd found juvie/1st winter (I forget which of these have distinct 1st winter moults) greater black-backed, Thayers, and glaucous gulls; the glaucous is below.  Their fawn-on-white coloration and crisply contrasting pink and black bills makes them stand out.
We were able to add lesser black-backed at 3 Oaks, as well as cackling geese (for more on these simply fabulous birds, stay tuned for a subsequent post in a day or so, oh loyal readers), but no new ducks.  That was the way the rest of the day went, we found some of the birds we looked for (red-headed woodpecker in Warren Woods for example), but missed far more and really didn't come up with many bonus birds.  We found all 3 scoters off Grand Mere.

I thought I was going to record a nice photo when a pipit appeared in gorgeous light at one of the Andrews ponds, but by the time I'd gone back to the car for the scope and set up on the birds they'd moved twice as far away and the sun had retreated back behind the clouds.  This bird is perched up on a big pile of compost, continuing the garbage theme.
We finished at Paw Paw Lake under 37 degree sprinkles, ironically finding another lesser black-backed gull (the bird I probably should have spent the afternoon biking to Lake Chapin to pick up as the gulls come in to roost there).  Hopefully the ice will again be off the roads by early next week, the next time I'll have a chance to get out.

Monday, December 1, 2008

You know it's windy if ...

 ... a long-tailed duck won't even stay in the water:
Tim and I had hoped to cover the county pretty thoroughly today.  We started at New Buffalo in what I thought was a hole in the snow on the doppler and found the beach getting just pounded by the wind and waves.  Water was getting blown all the way up to the dunes.  The full-winter drake long-tailed above must have looked for shelter in the harbor (where the wind was blowing the current up-river) and decided it was more comfortable on land, not something I ever really expected to see in Berrien.  The picture was only possible directly in the lee of the truck's tire out of the windy and frozen spray; it would have been nice to get that reed out of the duck's face, but would have required moving the truck.

We estimated about 40mph winds.  There were about 3 gulls left over the beach, one of which was a juvie glaucous.
I think I would need an SLR camera with some choices of lens to really capture the size of the waves, but just the fact that Tim would go out without bothering to take his scope (and that we'd go no further than about 5-10% of the length of the breakwall in peak purple sandpiper season) may say more than the pics.
We continued on to the landfill and 3 Oaks, ultimately seeing several juvie glaucous gulls, an adult and a 3rd winter lesser black-backed, an adult greater black-backed, and 2 juvie Thayer's gulls which offered good studies both at rest and in flight.  One of the Thayer's was slightly paler and longer billed than the 2nd (which briefly sat directly next to a small juvie glaucous, would have been a nice pic with a lot more light and a lot less wind...)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It feels like Iceland too

I spent about 45 minutes in NW gales at Tiscornia this morning.  When a common loon crash-landed amidst the gull flock (setting them all to flight) I should have known that there wasn't going to be much movement.  It was actually banded green over silver on the left leg and soon flopped back into the surf.  It was really too windy to get much use out of the scope and I headed south.

After not seeing a whole lot at the landfill (though there were loads of gulls), I headed on to 3 Oaks where Tim found a California gull yesterday (for an interesting challenge click on Tim's bird pics under Michigan links and age the bird, it's not a common one).  Today there were glaucous gulls and a lesser black-backed as well as this quite white-headed bird:

I first picked it up facing straight towards me and it stood out as its head was virtually unstreaked, contrasting from the herring gulls.  With closer study you could note pinker legs, a dainty bill and a slightly darker (but still yellow) eye than the Herrings.  The eye might briefly make a person think Thayer's, but they are more heavily hooded than a Herring generally.  I waited for it to turn broadside to see how much gray it would show (Kumlien's Iceland gulls are quite variable in this regard), and it eventually revealed neat charcoal patterning to the leading edge of the wing fading to white on the trailing edge.

Here's a comparison of another Kumlien's Iceland gull from February 07 which showed more extensive, and blacker, wingtips than today's bird.  Today was the earliest I've ever had an Iceland gull.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A tribute to the Buckeyes

As we speak Ohio State is finishing up a beat-down of historic proportions on one of my alma maters, Michigan which I guess I will acknowledge with the above photo.  I don't think I would have named my school after a butterfly, but if it works for you OSU-fan, so be it.    The pic is from some time last fall when Tim and I were trying to kick up sharp-tails. 

Earlier in the week I took this pic of a winter plumaged horned grebe in the St Joseph harbor.  I'm finishing a string of night shifts tonight so hopefully will be able to do some actual birding this upcoming week if Thanksgiving preparations and November blizzards would stop interfering...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

1000 miles

Today I hit one of my goals for my Bigby year and somewhere along the way to Tiscornia beach this morning biked mile #1000.  A flyby juvie glaucous gull put me at 227 (other recent additions are cackling goose yesterday close to home - unfortunately found during 45 degree rain so no pics and faithful readers are spared another goose post, and a few purple finches about the yard).  I had somewhat hoped to get to 1200 miles, averaging 100 miles per month, but given that bicycling during the winter months here is dangerous, if not impossible, I don't think that's a goal I'm going to push for.  At this point my goal is to reach 230 which I may be able to accomplish with just 2 (or maybe 3) more rides.  Lesser black-backed gull should start roosting on Lake Chapin in a few weeks (I should probably check that it's not already there) which is about a 20 mile round trip.  Long-tailed duck and Lapland longspur should be at Tiscornia on any given December north winds day.  There's also the chance that I could run into a snow goose or shrike close to home and duck back out after them (that's what happened with the cacklers, and I attempted it with a golden eagle less than a mile from the house that crossed the road and perched in a snag as I drove home a week or so ago, but that had flown by the time I returned 10 minutes later on the bike).  I could also theoretically get motivated to go for long-eared owl should one be teed up in the Sarett pines, but at 30 miles round trip, I don't know if that will happen.  I actually toyed with the idea of trying the 65 mile trip for Franklin's gull down at 3 Oaks, but if there's one thing I've learned chasing birds, it's that gulls are not reliably re-found.  Fortunately I slept through the 4:30 am alarm I'd set this morning.

Today's pics are from the berry trees in the cul-de-sac in front of the house.  Waxwings and robins were swarming, but not being very cooperative about holding still:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Black skimmers

Today I continued my ongoing efforts in multiple states through multiple times of year to dig up any variety of saltmarsh sparrow. I added Back Bay NWR to that list of places where I couldn't find a sharp-tailed or seaside sparrow. I pished up swampies, marsh wrens, got rises from sora and (appropriately) Virginia rail, but found no candidate ammodramids.

Today's pics were taken yesterday and show some moult in black skimmers. I assume that this first bird is a bird that has nearly completed the moult out of juvie plumage and into adult winter:

This is an adult in the process of moulting into winter plumage, you can see there are still retained brownish-black feathers in the wings. The bird is only starting to form the white nape that's the hallmark of winter plumage.

This bird is still in breeding plumage with a completely black nape. I'm a little surprised that it has glossy black feathers with the fully black nape since the previous bird moulting out of breeding plumage had a lot of faded feathers in the wing. In the field my assumption was that it had completed the moult, not realizing that winter birds have white napes. I think this is a female, I also didn't realize until I later cracked open Sibley, that females are smaller with less hefty bills. I remembered seeing one smaller all black-backed bird in the group, I think this is it. Perhaps there's some difference in the sexes in the moult timing or maybe differences in how fast the feathers wear depending on parental duties.

random final Virginia Beach thoughts and pics

Here's Hazelnut at the Virginia Zoo with what I assume is a black swan. Unlike most of the zoo's denizens, this one did not qualify as "big and strong."

Cormorants in front of the sunrise:

This photo is dedicated to the stalwart souls/freakshows at Whitefish who keep track of the puny little freighters that pass through the straights. This, I believe, is the USS Eisenhower (based on the 69 on the bridge), a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Another 20% or so of the ship's stern extends out of the photo. I tried to get flight pics of the F/A-18's that were flying around (as well as some F-16's - though I didn't think F-16's were based on carriers), but the flat gray coloration just makes them disappear immediately into the blue sky if you take your eyes off them for a second to try to line up the scope. I'm told the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area has the greatest concentration of naval bases anywhere, or something like that. Some days there was a constant din of fighter jets on exercises (mostly the crappy weather/misty/foggy days). Apparently a lot of the beaches around here are owned by the military without public access or significant development.

Finally a view of a habitat you don't often see in Berrien, a cyprus swamp from First Landings State Park. It inspired me to bang out some double-knocks on the boardwalk. A bird quickly flew by and I heard a loud "kent" call. While I did see a blue jay about, I took the experience as undeniable proof of the continued existence of ivory-billeds. Oh and the cormorant sunrise photo obviously has first state record red-faced, pelagic, and Brandt's cormorants in with the flock.

the holy graelsii

Like I said last post, it's not a birding trip ... but I did get out for 2 hours this morning to First Landings State Park to (successfully) look for my lifer brown-headed nuthatch. And though it's not a birding trip, I did manage about 60 images on the beach during naptime (hooray nappytime). I focused mainly on the lesser black-backed gulls (L. fuscus graelsii) since we don't get them in great numbers in Michigan, finding multiple individuals of most of the age groups.

First is a juvie. Both of the first two pics are of the same bird. In the lighting of the first pic it has the cold dark brown typical of the plumage, in the low evening sun of the second it takes on more Herring gull warmer medium tones. ID points include the very long primaries (which I cut off on the first pic), the very neatly marked wings (especially of the greater coverts), and the cold dark gray tertials with narrow white edging:

I'm not entirely sure of the age of this bird. I think it's acquiring 2nd winter plumage given the (scant) gray coming into the back and scapulars, but it still has the juvie pattern (though very faded and blurred) of the coverts. I think (though I don't have the literature with me to be for sure) that this species probably moults its wing coverts as it acquires 2nd summer plumage as the 2nd winter typically has solidly medium brown wing coverts. I think this bird probably skipped that step. The tertials have the charcoal gray feathers with bright white marbling at the edge typical of 2nd winter plumage for lesser black-backed's though:

Here's a more typical individual acquiring 2nd winter plumage with charcoal gray feathers making their way into the mantle and coverts. Its eye is lightening (the previous bird's was dark). It too sports the brightly marbled tertial edges:

Moving along, we have the 3rd winter bird. It has nearly acquired the adult look to the back and wings, has a bright eye, but has the very dirty bill typical of this age group in this species. This one's legs are still fleshy-pink. Note this bird is also moulting its primaries and so appears short-winged:

Finally we come to the adult winter type birds. They have a quite variable amount of head streaking. Both of these 2 are middle of the road. The first bird's primaries are probably missing at least 2 feathers as they're very short:

I think lesser black-backed is probably my favorite gull of the medium and dark backed group (it'd probably be Iceland amongst the whitewings and Little for the hooded group (though I reserve the right to change those picks should I ever see an ivory or Sabine's gull. Not sure where Ross's would fit in...)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

They don't look like they're laughing to me...

We're in Virginia Beach to visit my in-laws who just had a beautiful little (red-headed!) baby. And while this isn't a birding trip, I did bring along the scope, camera, bins (oh and hip waders, hopefully more on that tomorrow or the next day).

After driving through the night there wasn't time for much other than some visiting in the morning, an afternoon nap, and more visiting in the evening, but I did hit the gull flock behind the hotel (there were also brown pelicans and gannets well out).

Predictably laughing gulls were well-represented, showing all of the plumage types for this time of year, first off a first winter bird with a fresh gray mantle and retained (worn) juvie wing feathers:

I haven't entirely made up my mind on the ages of some of these birds (it's hard without bill, eye, or primary color differences that can make it easier in the big white-headed species). The two with their heads in their mantles are first winters, I'm not certain if the dark lead bird in the foreground is an advanced first winter, or more likely a 2nd winter that's still in the process of moulting the wing feathers:

Here's a similar bird on the left (also probably a bird attaining 2nd winter plumage) with a bird that's pretty much full 2nd winter on the right:

Finally we have the adult winter-type birds:
There were also good numbers of both black-backed gulls though relatively few herring gulls, hopefully I can manage some decent ranges of them as well. Tomorrow I'm hoping to try to track down brown-headed nuthatch and depending on how much time that takes, may try to hunt for sharp-tailed and seaside sparrows with the waders if I can find some habitat. (Are there alligators in Virginia???)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I vote for parvipes

I've been putting a lot of thought (yeah, yeah, entirely too much) into these ridiculous small geese.  I had hoped today to find a snowy owl that's been reported close to home, though is not pinned down to any one location over about a 8-10 square mile area it's been reported from.  I didn't find the owl.  What I did find was more small geese!  Clearly the fates were with me in that they're from the group that has been causing me problems: small plain birds the same color as Canadas without bright scapular edging.

I spent a lot of time in the last blog discussing whether small runty interior Canada geese (the common migratory form in Michigan) could be part of the cause for confusion.  The small birds, however, are all about the same size.  Unless dwarf geese are common in that subspecies for some genetic reason, if the small birds are small because of poor habitat where they're fledged, then there should be a range of sizes which there isn't.  Though I maintain that the support that David Sibley gives based on his interpretation of the data for runty interiors being unlikely to cause confusion with hutchinsii  Cacklers isn't entirely valid, it seems unlikely that he would write something that doesn't jive with his experience (which obviously is quite valid).  Therefore, if these birds aren't all small interior Canadas, and they aren't hutchinsii Cacklers that means they're something else.

The Michigan Bird Records Committee 2005 report (viewable here) discusses the specimen record in Michigan.  The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology has specimens of several hutchinsii Cacklers ... and one "assigned to the subspecies taveneri."  Tavener's Cackling Goose is a bird of the Arctic coast of Alaska and winters in the Northwestern U.S.  It is also the subspecies of cackling goose closest to the parvipes Lesser Canada goose, and some authorities apparently consider them difficult, if not impossible to separate.  I think this would lead me to suspect that a 4th white-cheeked goose occurs in Michigan, the parvipes Lesser Canada Goose.

I did some google searches and came up with a couple of enlightening webpages from birders in the western U.S. in the expected wintering range of parvipes Lesser Canadas.  This excellent one from Denny Granstrand in Washington has nice photos of most of the Cackling goose subspecies as well as the western Canada goose subspecies with notes on ID.  Harry Krueger's from Idaho further details ID of parvipes Canadas and hutchinsii Cacklers.  The biggest general difference they describe is that hutchinsii Cacklers have very square heads with very vertical foreheads (think more like a Barrow's Goldeneye) whereas parvipes Canadas have rounder heads whose foreheads slope more evenly into the bill (think more like a canvasback).  If you pull out your big Sibley, you'll find this illustrated as well (although again not field marked).

Here's my two geese from today.  You see a forehead that slopes into the bill (admittedly somewhat accentuated by the positioning):

The next 2 photographs show 2 things, first the effect that the birds in the background of a digi-scoped (or any shot taken with a big lens) will appear relatively larger.  The small goose in the first photo is not dwarfed by the nearby presumed interior like it is in the second.  To me the patterning in the scapulars seems to change somewhat with the lighting, appearing slightly more prominent in the sidelit sun but slightly less prominent in the shade:

Finally another view of the scapulars in direct sun showing little edging to them (note that the interior it's with has a weak white crescent at the base of the neck, something they don't often show - though don't make that mark a priority of study in the field if you have limited time to view an individual, almost everyone agrees it's a variable feature in all populations)
The bottom line, is that I think that parvipes lesser Canada occurs in Michigan, and accounts for a lot of the small brown white-cheeked geese seen in late October and early November.  It seems that the shape of the forehead provides a lot of the sense of a bill's relative "stubbiness," so add vertical forehead for cacklers to the vertical bill base for Ross's goose for things to study in small geese.