Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A baby and my babies

I have no doubt that coming soon to this space will be crackerjack photos of a least tern in early morning light with the Tiscornia lighthouses in the background. However, until Tim finds one, we'll have to make do with things my 3-year-old finds.

Hazel was playing in her "fort," the cleared out space beneath a blue spruce in the front yard and apparently flushed out "a birdie!" which she ran to tell Mommy about. I set up the scope when I got home so she could see it better.
She'd found a juvenile mourning dove, probably not long out of the nest. I saw my first juvie mourning doves this year very early in May, so this bird must be part of the second crop.

She didn't really need the scope to get close, she could walk within feet of it before it would walk back under the spruce.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I couldn't really come up with a cohesive theme for today's post. I got to the easy prairie blow-out before dawn, even earlier than last time. In the pre-dawn duskiness I heard 5 prairies and saw 2 fairly close without trying to, heard the summer tanager quietly picky-tuck-ing, and heard a black-and-white warbler singing a song I'd never heard, alternating the pitches of each wee-see phrase in a redstart-like fashion.

I then walked over to the Mt Randall trail but didn't hear the worm-eating.

I cut back out into the blowout with the early morning light but the warblers were now entirely silent. Towhees were still singing prominently though.

I found a flower I'd never seen before on the Mt Randall trail, Poke Milkweed:

Here's the remains of the turkey egg from the other day:

Juvenile chipping sparrows dawdled a little more than the adults did in the open.

Continuing the drossbird theme a catbird perched up to sing as well.

Finally I recorded a scarlet tanager singing in the pre-dawn. When I listened ot the recording it seemed to be singing more slowly than I think of them, I'll have to record one during the day as well. On the sonogram you can see how the the phrases have a wider range of pitches than the grosbeak's tighter phrases

Here's the chip-burr call note, the chip is the vertical mark and then the burr is the wider triangle that narrows its pitch range as it tails off.

Monday, June 22, 2009

One for Four

I arose before the dawn today trying to hit as many spots before the kids got up on my first real day off with "clear" skies in a while. The dickcissel colony on Elm Valley seemed to be thriving, it'd be worthwhile to walk the mile and a half along Elm Valley and Kruger and count how many singing birds there are. I probably heard at least 12 males just cruising slowly. No sign of the western meadowlark though. The dawn was just about to break as I left:

I arrived at the Warren Dunes "easy Prairie spot" to see a faint rainbow overhead, dark clouds over the lake, and what looked like downpours to the south.

I walked along listening for the summer tanager. I thought I heard a picky-tuck call very distantly and took a little side path in that direction. I never did find the tanager but did realize that one of the prairie warblers was teed up singing atop a cottonwood.

I eventually walked around him to get slightly better light and gain altitude (at the cost of distance), but for the first time ever vaguely captured some of the reddish back streaking in a pic...

He kept singing away. There were at least 3 singing males in this blowout (one that doesn't require a hike up the dunes, hence the "easy prairie" name for the spot)
My plan was to walk out over the dunes to the worm-eating spot since the road wasn't yet open, but I didn't really want to get a mile and a half from the car and have the storm hit so I ended up bailing on it, sure enough a downpour started about the time I got back to the car, getting me home before the kids even woke up!

Friday, June 19, 2009

washed away

I had hoped to get out early today to try and track down some of the uncommon breeders, but a pretty substantial storm system scrubbed the morning birding.

It didn't clear until mid-afternoon and didn't cool in the least, hot and very humid. I decided to try Warren Dunes for the summer tanager or worm-eating warbler. I walked out from the easy prairie spot and quickly heard a chattering call. It unfortunately was clearly not the summer tanager, instead this kingfisher gave me best photo-op for the species...

I walked the length of the Mt Edwards trail hearing a few hooded warblers, possibly a black-and-white, but nothing that could even be considered for a worm-eating. I was surprised to find this egg in the middle of the trail unbroken. I would assume that it's a turkey egg washed away from a nest somewhere up the hill onto the trail during the storm's onslaught overnight.

Finally a field sparrow sang prominently from the summer tanager blow-out. Prairie warbler, brown thrasher, bluebirds, and a sing-songing bird that was probably a funny oriole song were also heard.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Well, the sun has officially set on spring this year. It was as exciting as could be expected, though most of the quality rares were in the last half of May; I was starting to get worried in the first 2 weeks of May when I hadn't added any county lifers. Fish crow, Nelson's sharp-tail, and white-faced ibis, however, were all not just county birds but state birds as well (and the Fish crow should be a first state record).

I haven't gotten out that much as you can likely tell, my first few days off this month were spent camping up in Ludington where the photo highlight was this shot of the moon; it was mainly family time. (As was this last weekend when we celebrated Hazel's 3rd (!) birthday).

Today Ginger and I took the kids for a walk in one of the local parks where they most enjoyed the dirt in the path, but this little butterfly caught my eye. It was tiny, probably the smallest butterfly I've ever seen, and turns out to be the (appropriately named) Least Skipper. ID points apparently are the tiny size, fairly dark coloration, relatively smooth gradation between the light and the dark on the upperwing rather than the more typical sharp demarcations of most of the other local skippers, and the rounded lower wing.

Spiderwort is also pretty well in bloom, I adjusted the color on this image somewhat as my camera recorded them as much bluer than they are in reality.

Hopefully tomorrow morning I'll get out really early and see if I can't dash off western meadowlark, dickcissel, worm-eating warbler, and summer tanager for the year list. I'm actually several birds ahead of my 2007 pace when I had a personal-best 260 for the county and that's without having made the efforts after Birdathon this year to find some of the less common migrants, Connecticut warbler, olive-sided and yellow-bellied flycatcher, and Philadelphia vireo that a person definitely ought to have if they were being serious about their year list. Both kids will be in at least half-day school for an entire calendar year starting in 2011, I can feel the countdown for a real attempt (when I won't have to depend on Tim to find most of the good birds) at 270 beginning...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

RB grosbeak profile

Rose-breasted grosbeaks are obviously a fairly charismatic member of our avifauna; they're frequently the bird brought up by people at work when they find out I'm a birder.

When they first arrive from their migration at the end of April and the end of May they hit the feeders pretty hard re-fueling before they really work on setting up territories. Many of the first spring birds still show their age with prominent brown edges to the mantle and un-moulted brown feathers in the wings.
This adult male still has scant brown edging to the fresh back feathers yet to wear off but has solidly black coverts and flight feathers.

And the classic full adult male...
Despite being really common we somehow nearly missed this species on a summer big day back in Washtenaw and was seen by only one team member (Lathe if I remember right).

Of course in addition to being a striking bird, it's also a solid songster. Here's sonograms made from a bird I video'd while atlasing back in Washtenaw a few years ago. These are 5 songs from the same male.
The first 3 phrases are essentially the same but after that it's slightly more variable, though the middle 3 songs are fairly similar for the first 3 seconds. There's a general pattern that the phrases alternate between a higher pitch and a lower pitch though as the song progresses the phrases seem to center around a more similar pitch. I'm not sure if there's a pattern to the variation in each phrase as to how many times it changes the pitch in each phrase or not.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Red"-backed and "Red-breasted" Sandpipers

That finest of alarm clocks, Tim's cell phone, awakened me again this time with news of a red knot at Tiscornia, as well as the "funkiest dunlin you'll ever see."

Apparently Tim was watching 2 dunlin get flushed by a beachwalker then out over the lake they were joined by a white shorebird and a couple others. They circled for a while and ended up on the pier. He scanned the pier intently looking for the white one hoping for a piping plover or phalarope or who knows what and glassed the flock ... dunlin, dunlin, dunlin, red knot, dunlin, where's-the-white-one, wait a second RED KNOT??? By the time I got there they were halfway to Jean Kloch.

If you have an old Peterson dunlin goes by the name of red-backed sandpiper. I guess this one was trying to live up to that name at the very least even if the rest of the bird was screaming peregrine bait.
Here's the knot, aka red-breasted sandpiper. It was the first breeding plumage knot I've ever seen, having encountered 2 fall birds in the past. Except for one row of winter wing coverts it was full breeding. It didn't really hold still.

In the afternoon after meeting up with an old friend Hugo, I followed Ginger around Harbert Park geo-caching. On the way there we passed a Red-headed woodpecker with a hole in a telephone pole and a beautiful cattail marsh I'd never seen before (ITS NEVER TOO EARLY TO START SCOUTING FOR BIRDATHON). This skipper was pretty common. I think it's a Hobomok skipper, but it might be any of at least 4 others...

Ginger spotted this fawn trusting on camouflage and motionless sleep to hide it from predators. I missed it at least.

Warbling vireos were the most common bird still active in the afternoon but this oriole was the only cooperative bird.