Total Pageviews

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Long time no post

And not for lack of good birds- just for lack of time! I will not go into a ton of detail with this post, but just provide some bullet points for what has happened in Kent Co. the past 10 days or so.

First, a tight group of 16 young Bonaparte's Gulls with 3 Common Terns mixed in, which were present on Reed's Lake briefly this morning. All of the Bonaparte's are last year's young, which is not surprising given this very late date. After the flock flies behind the trees in the video, I never refound them. Trying to find terns in this county is very difficult b/c the few birds that make it rarely stick around for more than 15 minutes. This was my second observation of Common Tern in the county after getting my county lifer last week at the same location.

Next up are a group of Brewer's Blackbirds at a NEW location: some black earth celery fields in NW Kent Co., which I bumped into yesterday evening:

Next a brief diversion from Kent, a very-difficult-to-chase California Gull found by Tim Baerwald at Tiscornia Park. I was very lucky to arrive shortly before it left and was not seen for the rest of the day:

Next, one of my neatest Kent Co. listing experiences was had several days ago when I pulled up to one of the county's best fluddles (=flooded field X puddle, coined by Sean Fitzgerald), at 13 Mile and Berrigan Rds NE of Rockford. As I pulled up this is what I saw in terms of habitat (the best in memory):Note the bird flying over the mudflat (more in a second). There were LEYE, SOSA, and 3 Least Sandpipers working the mud's edge, literally the first arctic shorebirds I have had here all year! As i was watching these birds I heard the local Starling imitate a Black-bellied Plover perfectly. Then I heard another Black-bellied Plover whistle, but coming from overhead, not in the tree the starling was sitting in! Indeed, it was the real deal, but he wasn't stopping- the bird was beelining NE very high up, probably 400-500 m. So, I rushed back to the car, fired up the iPod and wildlife caller, and blasted the recording of Black-bellied Plover. To my astonishment, the bird, which was nearly 1 mile away, did a quick 180 and buzzed my head, briefly landing on the mudflat, then settling in across the street in a dry ag field. This is a GREAT bird for Kent Co. given our paucity of habitat, and several were able to chase it.

And two final loose ends. I have been chipping away at the less common breeding species in between targeted chases of the rarer life county birds such as Black Tern and Yellow-breasted Chat, and this also included the following two local breeders: Prothonotary Warbler (at the only Kent breeding location: the Grand River near Millenium Park):

and this cooperative Hooded Warbler (near Cannonsburg SGA) which I learned of through Jill Henemeyer via her recent eBird post):

Friday, May 6, 2011

Searching for Goshawks (& a surprise whip)

There aren't too many species of breeding birds I still need for Kent Co., but Northern Goshawk (NOGO) might be one of them. Problem is, nobody knows if they nest in the county. They prefer the largest possible stands of contiguous forest with very large bole trees for nesting, and Kent Co. is on the far southern edge of the breeding distribution, so the only solution to search for them is to systematically survey the largest single tract of large trees in the county: the Rogue River State Game Area. This several square mile tract is a gem, with acres and acres of large oaks which would purport to host this rare raptor during the nesting season. I learned from Michigan Natural Features Inventory staff that the best way to survey such a property is to break up the core areas into 1/4 mile grids, then hiking in and broadcasting the call of the NOGO for a minute or two and waiting for a response. Here is what I have covered so far:
In looking at this area as an ecological unit, it was apparent that several 'fingers' of suitable habitat extended outside the MDNR boundary:One that seemed particularly good is the Long Lake County Park, especially the forest that the public largely doesn't know about and which is WEST of Long Lake Rd. This was the part I wanted to survey today. It was tough going, as the forest was very flooded and swampy in :The habitat I was really interested in, and one which this site has in common with the Rogue River SGA, is that of tall upland deciduous trees:OK now to the point. I did not, and have not yet encountered a NOGO anywhere in these properties, and am seriously starting to doubt that they are present currently. (sidebar: it is still very plausible that this species nests occasionally but not in all or most years). But it is still very interesting to get off the roads and explore the varied habitats within these larger forests. Today I flushed a bird from the ground in the middle of the swampy forests which my brain took 10 seconds to fully process and identify. It was brown and about grouse size, so I immediately thought it was going to be a Ruffed Grouse. However, it flew silently and much slower than the grouse, with frequent glides and overall slow flight. Further, there was obvious red in the primaries, almost reminiscent of Great Crested Flycatcher or Inca Dove. The bird flew about 30 feet, cautiously and clearly out of its element, then landed on the ground. It finally hit me: Whip-poor-will! Or what is now known as Eastern Whip-poor-will, a species I have only recorded in eBird 7 times in my life, and had only actually seen a single time. I knew I had to track the bird down and try to get a good look and photo. It took some effort and another flushing, but I did manage to get on the bird and diginoc it. Here's the best I could do:

This is a magnificent bird, exquisitely blended to look like a log/leaves, and totally unflinching as it sat there watching me through the thin slit of its eyelid (like a potoo, it nearly completely closes the eyelid but keeps it just slightly open enough to watch for predators).

A final note: for anyone wishing to chase this bird, go at night to the main parking area at Long Lake County Park and listen to the west. I do have GPS coordinates for this bird but getting in there is a total pain and it's better not to disturb it from the day roost anyway.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Surf Scoters

I had the better part of the 2nd half of the day Sunday to bird Kent Co. for county birds, and it was a good one. I had thought the strong SW wind and warm temps would bring a strong hawk flight, but 30 minutes at Fisk Knob failed to produce any obvious movements, so I moved on to lake scanning. Targets were terns (esp. Common and Black) and Scoters. Scoters aren't often thought of as a mid spring bird, but the truth is that the inland counties have one of their best chances of getting these sea ducks in early May. Amazingly, while checking Reed's Lake at sundown (after checking at least 9 other lakes throughout Kent!) I indeed found a pair of Surf Scoters, a male and a female.

Light was very sparse, and these videos were all I could get.

In this video you can see the spots on the female's face, and the white nape patch of the male:

And in this video the male briefly puts his head up at the end of the clip, after 10 minutes of waiting! Lighting is so bad you almost cannot see anything! The other birds in these clips are Ruddy Ducks.