Saturday, March 27, 2021


With not a lot doing in the way of migration at Tiscornia this morning, I joined the exodus when an Eared Grebe was reported a bit inland.  I however didn't go look at the presumed Horned and went to walk Whirlpool instead.  Birds were singing, crows were cawing, sandhills were sawing (or whatever they do), and then I heard something croak softly that sounded intermediate between a crow and a sandhill.  It took a second for the sound to register, but when it did I looked up to see a big black bird approaching...

It had to be my county lifer Raven, though the silhouette in the view finder was a little thrown off by its central tail feathers not being fully grown.  If you zoom in you can see the honking big bill

A (considerably smaller) crow started to mob it as it flew away, quelling any worries about the ID.

There reportedly is a nesting pair about 11 miles to the northeast, and Raven sightings have been increasing a lot the last couple years in Berrien ... will we have it at Tiscornia soon???

Friday, March 26, 2021

No ahhhh

 Returning to Mexico, and piggy-backing off of the last post, is Barred Owl's southern cousin, Fulvous Owl.

It was too distant (and lit dimly by flashlights) to see if it's actually warmer colored than ours.

The sound very much had a Barred Owl cadence, but stayed on one pitch, and didn't fall off at the end in the characteristic Barred Owl ending, so no hooo-ahh.  They turned out to be reasonably common since we heard them on a couple different nights, sometimes spontaneously, even though they seem to have a pretty limited range.

Here's Barred's for comparison.  There's a few pips in western Mexico that's currently classified as a subspecies of Barred, which doesn't make a ton of sense given how far apart they are from the rest...

A quick search on SORA doesn't really seem to reveal very much in terms of why the west Mexican ones are subspecies of Barred whereas the east Mexican (and Central American) one is its own species.  (I probably should listen on xeno to see if the other one has a hooo-ahh maybe)

Monday, March 22, 2021


Earlier in the week I was whistling saw-whet in a pine stand.  The wind bit through my clothes, but low in a needle-y knoll there was some (much welcomed) shelter.  And as I whistled, there started to be a little noise in the trees overhead.  It created an eerie feeling, anticipation mixing with the unknown.  Something was there in the night, but what?  Maybe bill clicking, maybe a small mammal, maybe even the saw-whet.  But then 10 times bigger and 15 feet from my forehead, a Barred Owl belted out, "Hooooo-ahhh!"   I wasn't the only one interested in seeing a Saw-whet!  It was a climactic moment.  Though the Barred, as far as I know, flew away hungry.

So today as I was walking some bottomland forest it was again fun to hear Barred Owls, this time calling in the daytime, and quite close.  One soon flushed, but didn't go far, and teed up nicely.

Here it's looking off for the other calling bird.

And now leaning forward to answer.

And lest you think I've strayed too far from the Mexican content promised in the header, Barred has a close cousin south of the border ... stay tuned.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Cactus oasis

 In the late afternoon of Day 1 Alex took us to walk a little entry road which led ... I'm not sure where.  The gate was closed.   But we found a flowering cactus which was attracting an impressive number of birds.  In my mind orioles are one of the hallmark birds of Mexico.  They have a wide variety of species and we encountered a handful that were new for me.

This is Black-vented Oriole, one of the more common black and yellow species in the south.

Followed by Streak-backed.

Even the House Finches were in bright colors, much brighter than the ones on my feeder.

I don't remember Curve-billed Thrashers in the southwest being this heavy billed, though whether that's because there's an actual difference or because it's been years since I've seen one I don't know...

Finally a look at a female Beautiful Hummingbird.  It's a close cousin to Lucifer, but just like Lucifer I've only seen one female

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Oaxacan desert

 Most of the winter trips I've done over the years have visited areas with GREEN.  Well, there was green in the desert ... it was just in cactus form for the most part.

After our morning in a shaded mid elevation slope we dropped a thousand or so feet lower to target some desert birds.  Bridled Sparrow was one of the most dramatic.

It looked like a Sage or Black-throated class bird ... except with some really rich rufous in the wings and upperparts.  There was a pair that came scolding into Alex's recording.

He also showed us a few Oaxaca Sparrows that skulked a lot more.
Of course the stick obscures the black lore and bill.  Otherwise the bird looks a lot like the more widely distributed Rufous-crowned, which reaches our southwest as well.

And speaking of our southwest, the bird that I probably most associate with SE Arizona appeared, Painted Redstart.

A female Elegant Euphonia also preferred to stay as deep in the shade as she could get.

But not Boucard's Wrens, a cousin of our Cactus Wren.  They had no problem scolding away at us in the open...

We worked really hard to get a terrible view of an Ocellated Thrasher; fortunately for us we'd see the much rarer thrasher again later in the trip, but this was our only time with Boucard's or the two sparrows.

Finally a view of the desert...

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Ooooo, oooo, Mexico...

Surprisingly, I don't think any of the people on this year's trip to the neotropics were Jimmy Buffett fans...

Earlier this winter we returned from the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.  It was a relaxing trip that, as usual, tried to cover an ambitious amount of ground.  Our guide started us with night-birding right out of the gate and our first bird was Mexican Whip-poor-will, who ironically trilled his second syllable, making it sound like it too was rolling its R's.

A marvelously crimson-breasted Slate-throated Redstart in some mountains north of Oaxaca was the first bird we saw (while listening to a Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo no less), appropriate since warblers were many of the highlight targets for the trip.  Within minutes (and before the sun had even hit our corner), a Red Warbler materialized out of the duskiness.  Our guide was surprised since they would be more common in higher elevations the next day, but I spent some time following it anyway.

The white cheek on the deeply red bird just popped.  As it turned out, that was our best view of it on the trip so I'm glad I photographed as I could despite the dark!

In reading about Red Warblers, apparently they build domed (ovenbird like?) nests out of pine needles on the ground with the male following, while the female does all the work.  By foraging in the mid-story of the forest they avoid competition with the wintering migrant Audubon's and Wilson's warbs, leaving the treetops for "our" birds. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Swans are loud

 and apparently excited by the spring.

I went down to 3 Oaks to pick up the WF Geese that were there yesterday.  The geese were indeed there, but 5 trumpeter swans were as well.  I guess I shouldn't have then been surprised to find more trumpeters at Avery and Buffalo, but it was the most I've ever seen in the county (the bird 5th from the right is a tundra).

And while we typically see swans swimming placidly on lakes, these were yelling and honking, sounding like really loud geese whose voices had dropped an octave.

Trumpeters can be hard to separate from Tundras, but when they're side by side it's a lot easier.

The tundra's head is much rounder, it's bill is a lot shorter (and less sloped).

The tundras were also yelling away, but their voices were a lot closer to a Ring-billed Gull's (probably fighting words).

If you want to take a listen, the eBird checklist has recordings of the birds.

Finally a pic of the White-fronts (admittedly wretched light since I went before the sun rose) ... along with what else, a trumpeter...

Saturday, March 6, 2021

BBC Spring

Spring might be a relative term just yet, but the Song Sparrows and Killdeer were endorsing it!  

I led the first spring BBC outing this morning scheduled for the New Buffalo area.  The first pic is pretty emblematic of the start.

Coho are running and weekend found A LOT of fishermen in the harbor.  Most of the ducks had moved farther out into the lake.  About 10 WW Scoters started the morning on the other side of the breakwall, but 3 were moving around and giving reasonable looks as the group arrived.  

After a bit we had a comparison look at a young male Black Scoter as well.

I was hopeful that we'd find more birds at the overlooks to the north, but Union Pier was pretty empty (aside from more boats) and the mergansers were even farther out so we headed to Three Oaks.  I managed to forget to take any pics of the redhead, lesser scaup, goldeneye, bufflehead, or ring-necked ducks.  While the birds weren't super close we enjoyed good scope views of the birds on the middle pond with the sun angling from the side.  The group talked a bit about Fish Crows as we looked at the ducks, and as we left at least one Fish Crow flew through, along with its louder American cousins.

Finally we did a loop through the Three Oaks Cemetery.  We didn't manage to find any Saw-whets, but a group of Common Redpolls were a lifer for several participants!

It was fun to kick off the spring season with some vestiges of winter.

Thanks to our participants (especially a couple of up-and-coming young birders!) and to Derek and Lamanda for putting this together.