Monday, August 22, 2016

Serendipitous search for an old friend

Now, after living in Michigan for 12 years, I occasionally think about the birds I miss most from Maryland.  Three that come quickly to mind are yellow-breasted chat, prairie warbler and blue grosbeak.  From time-to-time, I have seen chats and prairie warblers in Michigan, Ohio or Ontario, but except perhaps once in Berrien County many years ago, I can't recall having seen a blue grosbeak.  Amongst other memories, I recall blue grosbeaks (Passerina caerulea) singing from the utility wires as I would ride my bike around Blackwater NWR on the eastern shore of Maryland.  They kept me company on those long rides on hot, humid summer days.

This summer two pairs of breeding blue grosbeaks have been found quite nearby.  On Saturday a friend gave me the exact directions to the Blue Grosbeak nest found in Oakland County's Commerce Township.  I had read about this bird but missed seeing it even though it is very close to my family's cottage.  On Sunday morning I drove to Commerce Township to the bird's location just along the M5 freeway.

Darrin's directions were perfect and I found the nest easily thanks also to heavily trampled ground near and around the nest.  Another birder reported seeing the male blue grosbeak on Saturday and this birder also commented on the trampled ground.  He noted that the female and the fledgings were not around.  The nest was well-constructed, but I was surprised at its location very close to the freeway.  This pair had clearly not been picky about real estate.  

Even at 8:00 am on Sunday morning the traffic noise along M5 was fierce. Thanks to nearby road construction gigantic hauler trucks contributed more than their fair share.  At one point a fully-loaded car hauler clamored and bounced by on the northbound side.  When traffic would mercifully cease for 20 or 30 seconds I listened for any sounds. A couple of times I thought I heard intriguing song from the other side of M5.  But I dismissed it as probably belonging to a goldfinch.  

If the female and the fledglings had left, why would the male still be hanging around?  I waited for 30 minutes and then a little longer before calling it quits.  I walked back toward 14 Mile Rd. and became distracted by an interesting orb weaver spider eating prey in its web.  I stopped to take photos of the spider (see prior blog entry) and heard a bird calling that sounded like a cardinal.  Then it sounded a little different.  I let the spider be and walked a few steps south.  The call was clearer.  I looked up to the sound and saw movement in tree leaves about mid-canopy.

I couldn't believe my good luck.  Still here after all!  He remained in this same general location, first amongst the leaves and then perched on an open branch.  I took the photos included here.

Then he flew to the opposite side of M5.  Perhaps I had heard him singing during breaks in the traffic after all.  I felt flush with good luck. What a great bird!  While the possible cause is not good, perhaps blue grosbeaks are expanding their range more northward.

Now, if I could find my Michigan purple sandpiper.  Maybe this November.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A weekend of good things

The first eight images on this blog entry are from a Saturday visit with friends while walking around their yard and patio.

Tree frog relaxing on a deck chair

Monarch caterpillar

Very large Monarch caterpillar

Dagger moth caterpillar - don't touch!

Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae) caterpillar hiding in a B. lactea leaf 

The fruit of the Jack in the Pulpit

Above and below:  Blue spotted salamander

The following photos were taken on Sunday morning.

Above and two below:  Marbled Orb Weaver (I think) spider with prey.

Photos from Sunday morning at Robert Long Park in Commerce Township.

Solitary Sandpiper

Mute swans revealing their breeding success with six cygnets.

Female Belted Kingfisher - pixelated, but full shot of this skittish bird.

Below:  Still Sunday morning, photos from Willow Metropark:

Northern Flickers were feeding in the grass.

Afternote:  My reason for going to Willow Metropark was to look for Russet-tipped Clubtail which is endangered in Michigan.  I did see one dark colored dragonfly in approximately the area where it was described to me that they should be - but I'll never know for sure - and absolutely no chance for a photo.  The common ringlet was my consolation prize. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016


Another visit to the Lower Huron Metropark today did not have any new species of dragonflies for me, but I found a couple of other things of note.  

Obelisking male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

From Field and Roadsides by Tom Whelen:  Field guides call this upward pointing behavior obelisking, I suppose, because a tail pointing up looks like an [architectual-style] Egyptian obelisk.  For example, the Washington Monument is an obelisk.  The belief is that dragonflies do this to reduce the exposure of their abdomen to the sun. Dragonflies breathe through their abdomen. If you get a close look at a dragonfly through binoculars or a camera viewfinder you see the abdomen pulsing as they breathe.

A visit to Crosswinds Marsh earlier in the week gave me a chance for better photos of Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta).

Above and three below:  The mating process for a pair of bluets.  I wish the photos were better.

Face of male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

Immature male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Above:  Living up to his pondhawk name:  Lunching on a bluet.

As I am writing this it is raining.  Hopefully, it will continue to rain throughout the night and our long drought will be over.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hickory Glen Park again

Another visit to Hickory Glen Park in Oakland County this past Sunday revealed some interesting finds.  I was in Commerce Township on Sunday to attend my family reunion and snuck away from family for a couple of hours.  This was my second visit this year.  My first was about a month ago and I wrote about it on June 18th and posted photos of a few finds.  

I wasn't expecting much.  But I found two locations that offered some dragonfly diversity that surprised me.  Three of the dragonflies were new for me.  Add a couple of butterflies that I have not seen in awhile and it was a productive visit.   

Above:  Northern Pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon) - am out of practice with my butterfly ID.  Needed help to identify this.

Above:  Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis), a pretty but alas non-native, perennial summer wildflower.

As I commented, a former meadow of this woodland is now gone to a new housing development.  The house above is the subdivision model and a family of sandhill cranes strolled through the backyard.  They were joined by two others that set off boisterous calling when they flew in.  I commented on this new housing development taking out a former meadow and woodlot, but considering all that I found on Sunday it's proof that when some habitat it taken away, other habitat may be provided.

Above a new dragonfly for me.  I saw it fly and perch and at first thought it looked like a deformed calico pennant.  I had only one chance for a photo and after it flew I was unable to find it again.   It's an Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenura), one of the smallest dragonflies in North America.  I wish the photo was better, but I'll try again on my next visit.

Above and below:  I think both are female Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) but the different angles makes them appear different.  I've seen lots of male blue dashers this summer leaving me with the impression that, along with Common Whitetail and Eastern Pondhawk, it's one of our most common species.  These are the first females I've seen.

Above:  Though it's a tiny photo of a Sympetrum sp. dragonfly, and I know these need to be netted and held in the hand to identify, I'm going to go way out on a limb and call it an immature male 
Autumn Meadowhawk (S. vicinum).  I believe another common name for this dragonfly is Yellow-legged Meadowhawk.  

If I am out-of-practice with butterfly identification, I am way out-of-practice with skipper ID.  Above and below: Going out on a long limb, the only thing I can make this out to be is a Little Glassywing (Pompeius verna).  I am prepared to be wrong.

Above and two below:  Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens).  This was the third new dragonfly for me on Sunday and I was excited about finding it.  I've since learned that this may be the most common dragonfly worldwide and that it's migratory with a worldwide tropical distribution.   Furthermore, in Michigan it's near the top of its northern range in North America.

A Wandering Glider in flight graces the cover of Dennis Paulson's field guide Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, 2011.

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

I also saw other dragonflies here, but didn't want to post photos of those that I have already.  I'll be able to make at least a couple more visits to this park before summer ends and I'll post photos of where I think these great dragonfly species came from.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The monster

I definitely need a better title for this post.  But this common green darner (Anus junius), recognizable to most who pay attention to these things, is big.  For the past couple of weekends on my dragonfly photo sprees I have been seeing them, always patrolling, but not perching.  

Yesterday at U of M Dearborn this female did perch.  I estimate that she was 2-1/2 to three inches long.  It's easy to see what a spectacular creature this is.   

Above and below:  Ovipositing

I have been seeing the same dragonflies - mostly males - in all of the locations I've visited.  Need to find some more species and some more females.