Sunday, June 25, 2017

Henslow's Sparrow in Wayne Co. - 25 Jun 2017

I drove back to Willow Metropark in Huron Twp., Wayne Co., MI to look for the Henslow's Sparrow that Robin and I found yesterday. I parked at Washago Pond parking lot and found Don Sherwood and Cathy Carroll viewing the bird(s) in the same location as yesterday. I quickly joined them and waited for one of the birds to appear so that I could digiscope it. If anyone told me I'd have to wait 10 years to get the photos I got today I would have gladly waited.

Within minutes a Henslow's Sparrow appeared atop the largest milkweed plant in the field (about 30' away) and posed and sang for several minutes while I digiscoped it against the dark woods in the background.

Don was just telling me about seeing a Red-headed Woodpecker at Pt. Mouillee when one appeared on the trees just behind us! It posed for several minutes while we turned our attention away from the prize in front of us.

We spent the next 30 minutes or so viewing and digiscoping the bird as it posed and sang atop the milkweed. A second bird was singing about 100' away near the Willow Tree.


Just before leaving a Red-tailed Hawk appeared overhead carrying what looked like a baby Robin.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Hiccup's Sparrow - 24-Jun-2017

"Tse-LIK!" Sparrow lovers will recognize this call almost instantly. It comes from one of the most sought-after Ammodramus sparrows in this area, and one of the most inconspicuous birds, at that. Henslow's Sparrow (A. henslowii) has been somewhat of a nemesis bird for me as I have never been able to get a decent photo of it. Until today.

I drove back out to Superior Twp. this morning to look for the Henslow's Sparrow that's been frequenting the Conservancy Farm fields. Since I only had a very short time to bird today it was a good choice. Hell, it was a GREAT choice!

I walked around back of the big red barn and immediately heard the calls of Bobolink, Song Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and even a Dickcissel! As I walked the two-track toward the woods I got no farther than the mulch piles when I heard the distinct-but-faint "hiccup" call of the bird. How I heard it over all of the racket from the other birds I'll never know, but there it was. So I planted the scope, grabbed the cameras, and waited.

In short time it popped out of the grass and fluttered over to some other grass just 30' away and proceeded to sing. Since winds were picking up and the grass was swaying I got the scope on it and decided my best chance for a clean frame would come from a 4K video.  After several minutes of recording it I took the chance to digiscope it. It did not disappoint.

For seconds at a time the grass would seem to part, exposing the tiny olive-green bird to a burst of frames from the Sony a6300. Focus-peaking helped tremendously, allowing me to get some nice feather detail in its head and back feathers.

When it finally dropped back down into obscurity I headed back to the organic garden area and took a few images of the many male Bobolink that were singing from more traditional perches.

The male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was perched nearby, but too far for any pics. It buzzed passed me and disappeared into the garden area.

I heard the Dickcissel singing from the corner of the garden, so I walked over just as it flew to one of the bluebird boxes and sang for several minutes. I managed a few digiscoped images before it flew off into the field.

Since I needed to be back home by 9 am I headed out and back to the car.

I swung back through Willow Run Airport and picked up another 3 Dickcissels, several Eastern Meadowlarks, and a dozen Savannah Sparrows before getting home. But the great morning wouldn't end there.

When Robin and I drove over to Willow Metropark in Huron Twp., just 10 minutes from Brownton Abbey, I parked at Washago Pond parking lot. Getting out of the car at 10:30 am I heard a loud "Tse-LIK!", followed by another! Wow, I ran over to the unmowed portion of the grass and spotted another Henslow's Sparrow singing from atop a milkweed plant while another answered it about 100' away. I could only wonder if they have a nest nearby as its already the end of June. I'll be back tomorrow morning when the winds die to see if I can relocate them.

Here's a nice write-up from Audubon regarding the Henslow's Sparrow.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Digiscoping Dickcissels! - 21 Jun 2017

2017 is turning out to be an irruption year for Dickcissels in the Great Lakes Region. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is finding these rare sparrows and posting wonderful photos on social media and personal websites. This evening, I had the opportunity to join them! A total of 10 Dickcissels were seen at Pt. Mouillee SGA in Monroe Co., MI.

Four were seen along the North Causeway at the south end of the Long Pond Unit. Another was seen at the junction of Vermet and Long Pond Units, and two more along the Middle Causeway and south end of Vermet. I then saw 3 driving down Haggerman at the Antennae Farm.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Conservancy Farm Grasslands - 18 Jun 2017

Earlier in the week Jack Smiley and Professor Siri Jayaratne reported Dickcissels, Bobolinks, Henslow's Sparrow and Sedge Wren at Conservancy Farm in Superior Township. Since everyone in Michigan had been posting photos of Dickcissels from all over SE Michigan I felt it was time I got in on the fun. So, I grabbed the gear and headed to Conservancy Farm via Willow Run Airport in Romulus.

The grass around Willow Run Airport had just been mowed, so I thought my chances for an Upland Sandpiper were about nil. I was correct. Savannah Sparrows were all over the place, though, so that was good. I even heard several Eastern Meadowlarks singing from the burns to my left as I drove the south end of the airport. A Bobolink was perched on the fence to my right, but flew off as I pulled up.
I heard a Dickcissel singing next to the fence to my left, but refused to show itself. Winds were picking up so I wasn't too surprised. I would see two more Dickcissels before driving out of the airport.

An American Kestrel was perched on the fence and flushed as I drove by. I felt bad as it had just dropped the mouse it caught in the field nearby.

I arrived at Conservancy Farm and saw several Eastern Bluebirds perched on the bluebird boxes posted around the organic gardens.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were perched in the shrubs near the fence where feeders were placed. I had my first experience of watching a male court a female by performing an arial, U-shaped flight pattern by swooping down on a female while flaring its gorget feathers. For several minutes it swooped up, then swooped back down trying to impress one of two females in the area. I managed to get lucky and a get a few digiscoped images of the male as he turned my way. Gorgeous!

A small sparrow was singing inside the garden area and making a "Zeep" call that had us thinking Henslow's Sparrow, but it would take a bit of research to conclude that it was a baby Song Sparrow. Note the dark bill. Baby Savannah Sparrows and Henslow's Sparrow have yellow bills.

Bobolinks were thick in the grasslands behind the farm. I spent a bit of time trying to photograph a male in flight, but overhead skies were dark and producing seriously back-lit subjects.

A Sandhill Crane flew overhead and I managed a few pics as it passed by. When I reviewed images I was stunned that it could fly at all; look at the extent of molt on its flight feathers! This was not a lousy Photoshop job trying to clone out background defects...

I walked out the two-track toward the woods and heard the familiar "Tslik" of a Henslow's Sparrow. I was about 3 feet from the bird, but could not get it to show itself. I had to settle for listening to it call below my feet while listening to the Sedge Wren singing 50' away. It too refused to show.

So, I settled for digiscoping some singing Savannah Sparrows nearby. They did not disappoint.

I returned to the garden area and finally got close enough to digiscope a nice male Bobolink singing 60 feet away. I heard a Dickcissel singing several times but failed to see it. By now, however, winds were howling and it was time to head home.

On the way out I got a few photos of a House Wren as it spent several minutes on the edge of the picnic bench in the yard.

While driving down Denton Rd I spotted a Wild Turkey walking across the road. Traffic was light enough for me to be able to get a few pics as I drove by.

I decided to make another run through Willow Run Airport on the way home. Despite the winds a single Dickcissel perched itself on the barbed wire fence and sang away "Dik-Dik-Cere-Cere-Cere" while nearby Red-winged Blackbirds flushed at my arrival. The Dickcissel didn't appreciate their flying so close...

Once it had regained its composure the Dickcissel continue to sing away as I photographed it from the middle of the road. Despite the winds it provided some of my best photos of the morning.

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