Sunday, May 21, 2017

Pt. Mouillee at 30 mph - 20 May 2017

Forster's Tern
Winds, that is. A strong, persistent NE wind made birding and digiscoping a challenge this morning. I know its going to be a tough day when I have to remove my hat in order to bike the place.

I started at Mouillee Creek parking lot at 7 am and quickly picked up Warbling Vireo and Yellow Warbler  just as I got out of the car. A Swamp Sparrow was singing just on the other side of the gate. A ride to the Pump House yielded the usual suspects: Eastern Kingbird, Song Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, Bank Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Mallard.

A short jaunt down the Bad Creek dike to the flooded farm field yielded 200 Dunlin, but no other shorebirds. I heard a Sora on the way back to the Middle Causeway. A lovely male Baltimore Oriole flew across my path as I bounced along the grassy dike.

As I headed E along the Middle Causeway to the junction of Walpatich and Bloody Run Units I spotted 8 American White Pelicans in the NE corner of the Walpatich Unit. Rather than bike, I hiked the ⅓ mile to them to see if I could get any pics. Along the way a Common Yellowthroat kept me company by teasing me w/ brief glimpses. Ruddy Ducks were bobbing in the shallows, and a half-dozen Dunlin flushed from one spot along the bank to the next.

I managed to get the scope on the pelicans just as they began to stir. Still 60 yds away they saw my approach and decided to lift off. With dark skies and partial clearing they made a wonderful subject in flight. A Black-crowned Night Heron passed by as they disappeared. A dozen or so Gadwall nearby were a nice surprise.

The couple dozen Dunlin out on the flats with the pelicans were skittish, and flying back and forth between the open water and near shore, so I spent a few minutes trying to photograph them in flight. Unfortunately the vegetation blocked my best exposures.

A pair of Short-billed Dowitchers were the only other shorebirds nearby, so I spent a few minutes digiscoping them and the Dunlin.

A Song Sparrow perched on the rusty flood gate blended nicely into its surroundings while singing on territory. The Common Yellowthroat finally appeared long enough for a digiscoped portrait!

As I continued along the Middle Causeway I checked the dike between Bloody Run and Long Pond  Units. A pair of Green-winged Teal had my brief attention until I heard the distinct grinding noise of Yellow-headed Blackbirds! Sure enough, there were six YHBB squabbling among Red-winged Blackbirds on the dike ahead of me and in the cattails to my left. I'd spend the next 30 minutes or so trying to digiscope them among cattails and severe backlit conditions.

I returned to the Middle Causeway and headed into the teeth of the stiff wind and made my way to the Banana Unit. I stopped along the way to record sightings: Red-winged Blackbirds (50), Blue-winged Teal (2), Marsh Wren (2), Canada Goose and goslings (36), Mute Swans (20), Eastern Kingbirds (2), and so on... Cell 4 had whitecaps, and nothing notable other than a Double-crested Cormorant or two. I made my way around to the east side of Cell 3 and Lake Erie, picking up 3 Least Sandpipers in the puddles next to all of the construction equipment parked at the south end of Cell 4.

Yellow Warblers were the only birds singing this windy morning. But, there was open water in Cell 3 and a nice flock of 1 Spotted Sandpiper, 96 Dunlin, 12 Short-billed Dowitchers, 2 Killdeer, and 1 Whimbrel! The Whimbrel was sitting by itself on the mudflat and permitted a quarter-mile digiscoped image.

The ride to the North Causeway was not fun. I had to stop a few times to adjust the backpack - slash - parachute. During those times I counted Forster's Terns in the Humphries Unit (86) and a single Black Tern

When I got to the Vermet Unit, however, I could at least turn my attention to a fly-by flock of Common Terns that numbered 70 birds! They kept flying behind me, so I couldn't get my camera around on them w/o falling off the bike, but it was still nice to see them passing by.

Finally reaching the NE corner of the Vermet Unit I finally had the wind to my back. The rest of the ride would be easier, and allow me to enjoy the birds on the way back to the car. The Long Pond Unit and western side of Vermet Unit held a count of 62 Mute Swans! Another large flock of American White Pelicans were among them, however, and they were different birds from the groups seen in the Humphries Unit and Lake Erie I saw while riding. I also saw another 6 Whimbrel roosting at the edge of the mudflat just moments before they took off. I could only get a flight shot as they flew to the west. I would have to settle for fly-by Osprey, Bonaparte's Gulls and Great Egrets.

Despite the windy conditions I still managed 61 species and some nice photographs that made the trip worth taking.

Pte. Mouillee SGA, Monroe, Michigan, US
May 20, 2017 7:30 AM - 10:30 AM
Protocol: Traveling
12.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Stiff NE winds at 30mph the entire morning made biking difficult; birds, especially waterfowl, were lacking on Lake Erie and large Units. Whimbrel flights reported in Ontario prompted trip;
61 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  130
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  148     Heaviest concentrations in Long Pond (NE end) and Vermet (NW) side where they were a bit protected from wind.
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)  1
Gadwall (Anas strepera)  16
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  78
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)  4
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)  2
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  2
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  3
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  2
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  37
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)  30     Separate groups of 8 - 10 birds in Bloody Run, Lake Erie, Cell 4 and Long Pond Units.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  5
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  16     Odd seeing 2 birds flying directly into teeth of wind east over Lake Erie w/ no land in sight.
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)  1
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)  4
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)  1
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  2
Sora (Porzana carolina)  1
Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)  2
Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)  5
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  6
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)  7     One bird in Cell 3 the other 6 in a group in NE corner of Long Pond Unit.
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)  1
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)  396     Largest concentrations in Bad Creek Unit and Cell 3, otherwise all over in small flocks of 3 - 10 birds.
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)  5
Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus)  14
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)  5
Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)  8
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  2
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  30
Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)  1
Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)  1     Flying far out over Humphries Unit
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)  70     A constant stream of Common Terns flew directly overhead screaming "keeeeerrrrr" while I rode the dike along the east end of Vermet Unit. They were flying directly NE into the wind and out to Lake Erie and Huron River. Darker gray than Forster's Terns, which were mainly in Cell 4 and Humphries Unit.
Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri)  86     Actively nesting and foraging over Humphries Unit and feeding in Vermet and Cell 4. Lake Erie shoreline, as well.
Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii)  2     Walpatch Unit near pump house
Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)  12
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus)  3
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)  2
Purple Martin (Progne subis)  3
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)  10
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia)  23
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)  12
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)  6
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)  1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  12
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)  5
Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)  12
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)  2
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  7
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)  5
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)  1
Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)  6     Antennae farm
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  340     nesting all over the marsh. No large flocks seen.
Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)  1
Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)  7     Six immature males (brown bodies, yellow hoods) on dike between Long Pond and Bloody Run. 1 more on dike between Vermet and Long Pond Units.  Squabbling w/ RWBB's and mostly foraging.
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  13
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)  2
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)  1
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  8

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Friday, May 19, 2017

Yellow Lady-Slipper! - 19 May 2017

While Asia and I were walking along the back of the yard (a mere 20 feet from the house) I spotted a tiny yellow plant next door in Judy Heck and Larry Scheffer's yard*. Yellow Lady-Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin)!

I had seen one of these tiny orchids last year at this time, and started looking to see if one would pop up in our yard, but to no avail. This year I found 4 separate plants, including a clump of 3. This single plant is literally at the edge of the mulch line, so I able to safely lie down on the ground to photograph it. This tiny plant is only about 4" tall with a flower (lip) that is about the size of a fingernail.

Donald Drife (aka. Michigan Nature Guy) has a nice writeup on Michigan's Lady-Slippers. Its worth a read. He describes the varieties that can be found, and where to look for them in Michigan. The plants are found all over the state w/ the var. makasin (also called Smaller Yellow Lady-Slipper) mainly found in the southern lower peninsula. With the property here at Brownton Abbey part of the historic Sibley Prairie this area of Brownstown is ripe w/ rare plants not found anywhere else in the State of Michigan!

So, congratulations Judy and Larry.  Had the one plant I found been a couple more feet to the left I'd be congratulating myself!    

* - Technically, the property belongs to Gene and Cindy Quinlan a few doors down from us, so the orchids belong to them. Congratulations Gene and Cindy!

Friday, May 12, 2017

An Hour at The Biggest Week - 07 May 2017

A quick run down to Magee Marsh on Sunday morning turned into a cold, windy, slow morning. I made a quick walk on the Boardwalk after spending a few minutes in the parking lot photographing a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and a Baltimore Oriole. A Blue-winged Warbler brought a crowd to the west entrance of the boardwalk and quickly made the place a bit overwhelming. Leafout was well underway and that made birds like Black-throated Blue Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers difficult  to photograph. A few-too-many tripods on the boardwalk didn't help, either.

Yellow Warblers were loud and proud this morning. I managed a few pics of one bird overhead, but otherwise was staring into the sun as I walked east on the boardwalk. A Northern Waterthrush was a nice find, but too far away to photograph.

The winds were strong this morning. The drive into the marsh revealed water up to the road on either side of the causeway. However, the pond and canals next to the boardwalk were practically dried up. I can only assume that the water was pushed out.  On the way out a pair of Snowy Egrets were worth stopping for.

Naked Birding in the Bahamas - 01-06 May 2017

Robin and I spent the week on Nassau in the Bahamas. We visited the Sivananda Oshram Yoga Retreat and spent the week meditating and learning yoga. As part of the Essentials of Yoga schedule our days started early: Meditation at 6 am, Yoga at 8 am, Breakfast at 10 am, Workshop at noon, Yoga at 4 pm, Dinner at 6 pm, and Meditation at 8 pm. As such, there wasn't much opportunity for chasing birds and photography.

And, that was ok. Our week was relaxing. We had a cabin on the beach with a balcony overlooking the ocean. I decided that the cameras, digiscoping equipment, scope and even binoculars would stay in my backpack, and I'd just enjoy chasing birds with eyes-only (naked birding).

I had gorgeous looks at Red-legged Thrush, Bahama Mockingbirds, Loggerhead Kingbirds, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, Bananaquits, and Osprey. Only a few warblers eluded me, and that was due to backlighting and lack of binoculars.

My highlight bird was a lovely White-crowned Pigeon that landed in the tree next to the balcony.

I wish I had a camera...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Yellow-headed Blackbird - 13 Apr 2017

While visiting Barr Lake State Park, Denver, CO I spent some time digiscoping the male Yellow-headed Blackbird that was singing near the shoreline. The bird spent time between the trees and the small cattail marsh along the shoreline. I spent time digiscoping it from about 50' away.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds have the coolest call of any Icterid sp. I was fascinated by the way this bird not only stretched his neck when calling, but contorted it, as if it needed to be twisted in order to get the sound out. So the question is raised, "Is this normal behavior?"

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