Thursday, May 1, 2008

A big day reduced to a caption contest

Well, Tim and I tried an April Big Day yesterday. Last year three of us tallied 130 just in Berrien alone, just 4 short of the Michigan record. Admittedly we lucked into some pretty tough birds like bittern and moorhen, had very good hawk migration atop the dunes, and some nice retained waterfowl such as long-tailed duck and red-throated loon. However, (as always on a big day) there was some pretty easy stuff we missed like black-and-white warbler and catbird and we hoped that by starting in the SE corner of the state at night we would have a good chance at re-finding some of the quite tough birds. We were undone, I think though, by the cold weather (it was below freezing until after the sun was well risen) and by quite windy conditions at Pt Mouillee. The last few days have been quite cold with winds out of the north the last 2 nights, probably slowing some of the passerine migration (we had hoped that on the leap year one extra day might increase our chances at a few extra passerines).

At any rate, we started off biking into Pt Mouillee SGA in the southeasternmost county in Michigan. As we'd hoped, we tallied moorhen, sora, and virginia rail without much difficulty. However, we found no signs of bittern and didn't hear either marsh or sedge wren in the high winds. We struck out again in the cold (and relatively short grass that hadn't grown as much as I expected) for sedge wren in Washtenaw county though did eventually hear a ruffed grouse drum in Washtenaw, a species we have essentially no chance at in Berrien.

Once we got back into Berrien, we started out fairly well, getting a decent dawn chorus at Warren Woods with both waterthrushes, ovenbird, wood thrush, veery, barred owl, yellow-throated vireo and great-crested flycatcher. We were able to find two very local birds, yellow-throated warbler and white-eyed vireo, at traditional locations in the south part of the county but dipped on parula and cerulean in the cold and really didn't find significant numbers of other migrants. I might have jinxed us, however, by taking a photograph of an oddly yellow, rather than red, prairie trillium. (It's a Big Day, dammit!)

However, we were doing well with shorebirds, finding most of the expected stuff at the 3 Oaks ponds, with a bonus Wilson's phalarope there and a bonus willet on the beach at New Buffalo. We thought that if Warren Dunes SP produced like we hoped with passerines that we could get going as it was warmer, however, it was not to be. There were good numbers of black-and-white and palm warbler, eventually good numbers of yellow-rumped, but only singleton hooded and Nashville. We found a few retained birds from early spring, hermit thrush, winter wren, and brown creeper, but didn't get the push we were hoping for. The tops of the dunes also were disappointing, the wind seemed right, but added only 3 hawk species rather than the 6 we scored last year.

After stops at Grand Mere, Tiscornia, and Sarett Nature center we had at best exchanged species from last year, and for the most part found less. A dead sora by the side of the road (the only species we found in all 3 counties) seemed to sum up the day. Tim was going to turn it in to the Andrews University folks to add to their collection as it was really fresh. We couldn't resist taking a few pics though, first a more traditional spread wing study:

And now a new feature to the blog, a caption contest:

Options I've come up with:
1. American Crocodile bird in its native habitat
2. The birding bum dental plan
3. Sora tartare ... clearly an idea whose time is now

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