Friday, September 16, 2016

Prelude to HawkWatch 2016 - 16 Sep 2016

Clear skies and winds from the west prompted hope for a good flight today at the Detroit River Hawk Watch, but alas, the birds did not cooperate. A handful of Broad-winged Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and Northern Harriers flew over, but the big kettles of birds did not materialize.

Broad-winged Hawk

American Kestrel

juvenile Ring-billed Gull molting into 1st-winter (1st Cycle) Plumage

Northern Harrier

Eastern Pondhawk

Rain is forecasted for Saturday, but Sunday looks to bring clearing skies. The counters hope that Sunday or Monday will bring lots of birds.

HawkFest 2016 is Saturday and Sunday, 17-18 September 2016 at Lake Erie Metropark!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Detroit River Hawk Watch - 11 Sep 2016

Hawk watching was a bit slow today, but still very enjoyable. Partly cloudy and mild temps made for a nice visit. Broad-winged Hawks would fail to materialize, but a few were seen. The best bird of the day was this Red-tailed Hawk that floated overhead and soared for some nice images.

Cedar Waxwings were flying out over the water and provided a BIF challenge. They were easier to capture in the trees.

Next week is Hawk Fest!

Some Nice Yard Visitors - 10 Sep 2016

A look out the back window revealed a nice Brown Thrasher below the feeders this morning.

A few minutes later a nice Warbling Vireo made a brief appearance.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds continue to hang around. A pair of juveniles continue to be seen at the feeder.

A Song Sparrow also appeared in the underbrush.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Birding Wisconsin! - 03 - 09 Sep 2016


Robin and I are heading to Lac du Flambeau, WI for a week long art class with Joan Fullerton at Dillmans Bay Resort on White Sand Lake. We were going to take the fairy across Lake MI from Ludington, but couldn’t find a place to stay (Labor Day Weekend). So, we opted to drive through the UP and stay in Escanaba at the Comfort Suites Hotel.

The drive was fairly uneventful; traffic was light, skies were clear, and we listened to Michigan pound Hawaii 63-3 along the way. One birding note was a bird roadkill that looked like a juvenile Peregrine Falcon while driving along US-2. I was unable to pull over to check it for leg bands (grrr). A Broad-winged Hawk soaring overhead was also a nice sighting among numerous Common Ravens and several Bald Eagles.


We left Escanaba and headed toward WI at Iron River and Menominee. I saw a Gray Jay perched in a shrub just as we drove through Iron River and entered Wisconsin.

A juvenile Broad-winged Hawk was perched on the side of the road as we drove a 2-lane highway and was beautifully lit by the morning sun. So, I pulled over, drove backward, and proceeded to get some nice images from the car as traffic whipped by us. We managed to avoid hitting some deer along the way, and saw no other good birds along the way.

We checked in at Dillmans shortly before noon and had some time to kill before our cabin was ready, so we walked down to the lake. The resort is at the tip of a tiny peninsula and is a local favorite for wedding parties. Common Loons nest on the lake, so we’re hoping to see some during the week.

After getting into our cabin we unpacked and got ready for the evening reception of artists attending Joan Fullerton’s class. There was also several folks here for Greg Disch’s Photography Class that I decided not to sign up for. I did meet Greg and chatted with him and several of the gentlemen who were taking his class. In fact, we all sat together at the Little Bohemia Lodge during dinner. Little Bohemia is well-known for being the hideout of the gangster John Dillinger during the Prohibition years. The hotel has bullet holes from a shootout w/ the Elliot Ness / FBI when he was found.

Greg gave me a great tip about using extension tubes w/ my 300/2.8 VRII instead of buying a macro lens, so I plan to do that when I get home.

I did not sleep well our first night in the cabin. Probably because I was planning to take a kayak out to look for loons the following morning and was too excited to sleep.


Happy Labor Day. Folks are leaving the resort this morning so I hope that the lake will be quiet. It was windy this morning and it had just rained, but with Robin in her first day of class I had the day to myself. So, I decided to head to the lake, anyways. I had the choice of taking a kayak out, or a canoe. After trying the small kayak out on the grass it didn’t feel all that comfortable (or stable), so I decided to put the canoe in the water. Mistake - it was a two person canoe, and the front end stuck way up when I sat in. Plus, the wind was so strong I couldn’t get it off the break wall.

I pulled the canoe out of the water and was ready to call it a day when I decided to try the kayak again. It went in the water easier, and I was able to paddle away from shore. It felt unstable, but I got used to it after a few minutes paddling. I brought the Nikon D500 and 300/2.8 VRII and was worried about tipping and/or getting the rig wet, so I put it in a garbage bag between my legs.

I paddled the shoreline to my right as there was a small secluded bay with some marshy area and a portage stream to another lake. A Broad-winged Hawk flushed from the trees ahead of me and disappeared into the cedar and White Pine forest that surrounds the lake.

Incidentally, this is cranberry bog country. This portion on northern Wisconsin is peppered with small lakes and bogs, and is a bog-lovers paradise! Spruce, pine, birch, tamarack, ferns, serviceberry and cranberries grow everywhere. Common Loons are abundant, and Bald Eagles are more abundant than Common Ravens.

As I paddled into the small inlet at the corner of the lake an adult Bald Eagle flew out from the trees ahead of me. It circled around me and landed in a tree at the end of the inlet, so I pulled over to an abandoned dock and got the camera out. It was clumsy trying to get pictures of it while sitting in the kayak, but I managed a few sharp images. The difficulty of photographing in this kayak is that I had to rest the 9’ paddle across my lap, and had to worry about losing it in the wind and the waves.

A second Bald Eagle flew in and flushed the first bird, so I was able to get some nice flight shots as it flew along the shoreline. I was lucky I shot RAW as the bird was overexposed by 2-full stops as it flew along the dark shoreline, but I was able to recover the exposures in Lightroom. Both birds would soon take off and fly around close enough for some nice flight shots.

I paddled over to the small portage stream connecting White Sand Lake to a smaller lake. The canal was about 8’ wide, which meant that my 9’ paddle was too wide to maneuver the kayak through the water. I couldn’t take it apart, so I did my best use it as a pole and a rudder to steer my way through the portage lane. I would later find out from our host that the canal was dug by hand by native americans who were paid by a local property owner who wanted to connect the two lakes (and several others) for a resort he built during Prohibition for illegal activities.

The small lake had signs indicating loon nestings, but I did not see any. I enjoyed the calming winds and the brief show of morning sunshine before heading back through the canal to the big lake. Along the way I saw several Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a single Black-and-White Warbler.

Back in the big lake I paddled along the shoreline and looked for birds. The Bald Eagles were actively soaring overhead and eventually landed in a huge White Pine nearby, but I kept paddling into the adjacent bays looking for loons. A few fishing boats were out looking for Walleye, Pike and Muskellunge, but otherwise the lake was mine. A mild breeze was pushing me toward shore whenever I would stop paddling, but it was comfortable and I didn’t worry about losing my hat.

I got to the far end of the 1223 acre lake and had to turn back when strong winds and current starting to put a chop on the water. I had paddled about 2 miles away from the lodge so I had a ways to go back.

As I turned a corner of a peninsula I spotted a Common Loon floating in the water ahead. I paddled toward it hoping that it wouldn’t fly off. It dove several times while I approached and finally floated, stretched and preened. I drifted toward it ever so quietly so that I wouldn’t spook it, and got within about 300 yards when a boat coming the other way was approaching between me and the loon. I waved frantically for it to slow down, and they (a family of 5) eventually killed their motor once they had seen the bird on the water. Luckily they floated past the loon without chasing it away.

Once they drifted by I was able to float within about 200’ of the bird and get a few photos of it as it swam lazily nearby. I didn’t seem to be bothering it w/ my presence, but didn’t stick around. Besides, the winds were picking up, and I almost tipped the kayak w/ me and my camera destined for a watery grave in the deepest part of the lake.

I paddled on away from the bird as it stretched and wagged its foot as if to wave ‘bye-bye’, and made my way back to shore. By now the waves were starting to chop and forcing me to turn headlong into them to avoid getting swamped. At one point I paddled directly below the Bald Eagle pair but was too afraid to try and get the camera out for fear of tipping, so I had to just enjoy them with my naked eyes.

I eventually made it back to shore exhausted, but exhiliarated with my experience. I dragged myself back to the cabin and collapsed into an adirondak chair for a quick lunch in the afternoon sun. I could’ve slept there all afternoon.


Day 2 of our vacation at the resort started with lightning at 2 am. Thunder started about 3 am, and a drenching thunderstorm about 5 am. It would rain heavily for the next 4 hours with intermittent bouts of lightning and thunder, so the day was a wash. I managed to get out for a 2-mile run in the downpour but enjoyed the cool rain and smell of wet pine and cedar and gorgeous woodlands. I would spend the rest of the day working on images and resting my aches from yesterday’s workout on the lake. The sun would eventually come out late in day. That, and winds finally dying, made the lake a sheet of glass that had me tempted to back out. A pair of loons were out on the lake, but far away. I did have one fly over the lodge during lunch. Robin and I would also see a Pileated Woodpecker in Minocqua after dinner at the Minocqua Brewery.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Very Interesting Yard Day - 27 Aug 2016

Last night's rain left water all over the windows. So, after I squeegeed them off I could see a Skunk foraging under the feeder. Since I needed to change the hummingbird feeder I decided to head out, anyway. No issues, it skedaddled out of sight as I approached the first time, but decided to stand its grown the second time. Tail up, it looked fearsome (for a second) before running back into the underbrush. I went back into the house and watched it for a bit when it came back. It would feed, then have a tail-up standoff w/ an unseen enemy, make several short charges forward, then run off. Really, very cute to watch.

Once the sun came up and the skunk headed out, the birds came in. At one point I had 8 Baltimore Orioles at the jelly feeder, including 4 brightly-colored males.

I spotted a juvenile Eastern Towhee on the ground and got some great digiscoped images. I just forgot to put a card in the camera. It was gone by the time I corrected my mistake.

A 1st-year female American Redstart made a brief appearance in the yard! It was a difficult ID to make, but luckily I was able to see it black-tipped undertail spots. Otherwise, I would've thought it was a juvenile Magnolia Warbler.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been hammering the feeder all day. I got a few digiscoped images as they fought the wasps for a place on the feeder. I would go out later and vacuum as many of the wasps as I could in order to protect the hummers from getting stung.

I decided to clear away the brush at end of the grass so I borrowed my brother's weed-trimmer. A trip to Lowe's to get string resulted in another 12 bags of mulch, and a dozen perennials to plant once I'm done. I weed-sacked mostly grass, some emerging buckthorn, and a few willow sprouts, and mulched around some dogwood, black-eyed susan, and a few queen-ann's lace that I decided to keep. I managed to get the mulch down just before a nasty thunderstorm hit mid-afternoon.

Once the storm passed I checked the feeders again, and found a Brown Thrasher (adult) foraging next door under the cover of shade. The Eastern Towhee also made another appearance, and this time I was able to get pics of the juvenile bird.

Song Sparrows have returned. They look like little chicken poults as they were all missing tails!

I managed a short digiscoped 4K video of one of the juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbirds just before dark.


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