Sunday, May 31, 2009

Willow Run Airport this morning

Following Jerry Jourdan's blog entry reporting a singing Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor) heard in the woods near Willow Run airport, I went out there this morning.  No Prairie Warbler for me.  I even went south on Beck Road and approached the woods from behind via a road that ran along some baseball fields.  One of my favorite warblers, and now that I live in Michigan I just don't get to see them anymore.  My only Michigan Prairie Warbler comes from Berrien County last June.
If you want to see a good Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) photo, definitely go to Jerry's blog. But, still I was pleased with my photo from this morning to use here.  I heard and saw quite a few Bobolinks and enjoyed their flight displays.

Fortunately, I was able to first hear - its buzzy vocalization is so revealing - and then see the Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum).  Despite warnings from other birders posted this past week, I got out of my car and walked up to the chainlink fence and poked my camera though.  I took three shots and when I downloaded them to my computer I could not find the bird in any of them.  
Willow Run airport is Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) heaven.  I took many photos of several different birds this morning, but selected this photo because of the raised crest and the bird is perched on the ground and not on the chain link fence.  
At the end of my time at the airport, I found this American Robin (Turdus migratorius) with a broken leg.  The bird flew from this perch down to the ground.  Despite landing awkwardly, he appeared to be okay.

Jerry wrote of missing the Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda) and I missed them this morning, too.  I was discouraged by this.  I was there on Tuesday, May 19th and saw four at that time.  One appeared to be sitting on a nest.  At the time of that visit, the grass appeared to have been recently cut.  As all four were seen in the mown grass, it seemed to me that they would be safe in that spot.

Embury Road

The best place for me to see Cerulean Warbler each year is Embury Road in northwest Washtenaw County.  So, I made my annual trip here yesterday.  It was bright and sunny when I left home; unfortunately, by the time I arrived at Embury Road the skies had changed to deeply overcast.  When looking at Cerulean Warbler a sunny sky definitely lights up this bird.
The Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) singing against the gray sky glare.

There was a lot of bird song around, but not many birds to be seen.  American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina) and Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) were fairly plentiful.  I also saw one each Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica) and Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia).  Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens), another bird Embury Road is reliable for, were present.  At one point, I heard singing that I wanted to be Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum).  The bird had been posted from this location earlier in migration.  In the end, I decided that the "song" was not right for worm-eating and since I never did see the bird, I wrote it off as a chipper.  The thing is, the song was not quite right for Chipping Sparrow either.  Worm-eating is one of my favorite warblers, especially now as I get to see it so rarely in this part of the country.  C'est la vie.
I was fortunate to get this one, not very good, shot of a calling Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).
I shouldn't think of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) as autumn and winter birds, but I do.  There were a couple of flocks present on Embury Road yesterday.  This photo was taken in the marshy area where about five birds dined among these scrubby bushes.

Of note, I did not see or even hear one Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons) yesterday.  I'm still missing this bird for the year.  I am always surprised that I do not also find Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) here.   Still, a great place to bird, Embury Road is.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Kentucky Warbler, butterflies and family history at Maybury Sanatorium

This morning I went to Maybury State Park to see the Kentucky Warbler that was found by Jeff Fisher approximately one week ago.  The hardest thing about finding this bird was the directions.  I ran into another birder who had just seen the bird and he was able to give me more pinpoint directions.  Closer to the bird's location, however, it was difficult to miss his lusty and persistent singing.
Kentucky Warbler (Oporornis formosus)
The bird sang just overhead for the whole time of my visit.  Finding it was difficult, but once in sight it was then easy to follow as it flew around its territory.  At one point it chased away (or flew to) another bird of similar size.  I wonder if it has a mate?  Hope so.  I would have stayed longer but two things happened - my camera batteries failed and I was being attacked by mosquitoes.
I also found this butterfly at Maybury, a "battered" (as described by Roger Kuhlman) Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon).    In flight the butterfly had a distinct blue color.  When it landed on the blacktop trail with closed wings and the bright sun, it essentially blended into the blacktop stones.

One Maybury non-birding point of interest for me was the origin of Maybury State Park.  Maybury was  once a tuberculosis sanatorium started back in the early 20th century.  It was in operation through the 1930's at least, because a family history story exists about the TB sanatorium.  My maternal grandfather was sent here secondary to a diagnosis of TB and my grandmother was told that he would not leave alive.  My mother even has a memory of going here with her mother and siblings and standing on the grass beneath my grandfather's window and waving up to him.  Upon hearing that her husband would not leave the sanatorium alive, my grandmother returned home and began washing her kitchen walls because if her husband was going to die, "the house would need to be presentable for his wake."  Thinking more on this now, I'm sure that this was just a mind-numbing task to help my grandmother alleviate her worry.  Around this time, my grandparents had an infant daughter, my Aunt Margaret, who came down with whooping cough while my grandfather was in the sanatorium.  The story goes that he signed himself out of the sanatorium so he could go home to help my grandmother.  He never returned to the sanatorium and lived until the age of 75.  The trail entrance the leads to the Kentucky Warbler still has the old black metal sign for the Maybury Sanatorium and an educational kiosk that tells the history of the TB sanatorium and shows old photos of the sanatorium buildings. 

From Maybury State Park, I drove to my family's cottage on Commerce Lake on Oakley Park Road in Oakland County.  While waiting for other family to arrive, I drove to Commerce Township Hickory Glen Park on Glengary Road approximately two miles from the cottage.  I found hardly no birds at all here, only Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) and Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalamus), but the park was hopping with butterflies and dragonflies. 
Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela) with wings closed.
And open.
A beautiful American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).  I got several photos of these. 
And with wings closed.
I was torn between Peck's Skipper and Hobomok Skipper for the identification of this butterfly. I emailed Roger Kuhlman and he confirmed Peck's Skipper (Polites peckius) definitely.  I think I knew it was a Peck's, but the habitat, as described in Kaufman's guide, was better for Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok).  I was hoping for this because I have never seen Hobomok.  

I also saw one of the ladies (vanessa sp.) but cannot say which and a fast flying, very dark butterfly, possibly a Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae), but could not get photos of either.  No opportunities for dragonfly photos either (to fast), though there were many.

Happy Memorial Day!  While it is a holiday and a day off work for me, I wonder if this day should truly carry the word happy as a modifer?

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Yesterday evening I went looking for the shorebirds Julie writes about in her Net Results update.  I arrived at the pond around 7:00 pm and all of the shorebirds had either left or were elsewhere in the rocky and weedy field.  With nice south winds to carry them they may have just decided to make their departure.  Julie thought that the south winds, good for continuing migration, had generally cleared most migrants out of the area.

From here I drove to the channeled Rouge River off Rotunda Drive to look for the odd lingering migrant or new potential nesters.

It's possible that this Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) is just passing through, but he was in perfect Willow habitat and they do occasionally nest along the channel. 


Several Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia) were around and they do nest here.

With its big black eyes, bright yellow plumage and bold red breast streaks, this common warbler gets overlooked.  However, for me this evening, their sweet sweet sweet little more sweet song was welcome.

This area is usually good for Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) and Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus), but I found only two of each.

I saw this Green Heron (Butorides virescens) fly into a tall, distant dead tree.  I like the photo because of the open position of the bird's bill.

Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) - no matter where you bird in Michigan, there is no shortage of these guys.

Finally, I did see my first green darners (Anax sp.) (that I can recall anyway; I know they've been around for awhile) and my first Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly of the season.  

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Olive-sided Flycatcher at Belle Isle

Following a full day of birding at Magee Marsh, alias Crane Creek, with my friend Steve yesterday, this morning I went to Belle Isle with the idea of finding an Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi).  As clearly as I am able to recall, they have not been reported thus far this spring.  I did find my Olive-sided and when I got home I saw that two others had also seen Olive-sided Flycatchers in nearby birding locations.
The above two photos of the Olive-sided Flycatcher were the best of six.
I did not have a chance to photograph a Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) at Magee Marsh yesterday, but got this one chance today.
The same is true for Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) yesterday.  This morning, despite the presence of many Ovenbirds at Belle Isle, just this one brief chance for a photo presented itself. 
Finally, as I was leaving, this Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) landed on the curb next to my car.  I rolled down my window and the bird stayed in place for two shutter clicks.   As it happens, Steve and I did not see even one Eastern Kingbird yesterday.  We spent some time in perfect kingbird habitat and even commented on their absence.
It was quite birdy this morning, but it was also cold and I was under-dressed for the chill.  Is it also possible that I was burned out from yesterday?  In addition to many of the the same warblers seen yesterday, I only heard a Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina) this morning.  The woods this time of year (especially this year) are very swampy and I did not wade in to try to see the bird.  It was singing heartily, however.  We missed Hooded Warbler at Magee Marsh, so I was pleased to hear one this morning.

Quick, three beers! 

If this is Magee Marsh, that must be a Magnolia Warbler ...

... or a Bay-breasted Warbler, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler and others too numerous to count.  In all his years of birding, this was my friend Steve Sanford's first visit to Magee Marsh, also known as Crane Creek.  Now he thinks he will make it an annual affair.  Of course, following his move from Baltimore to Sharon, Pennsylvania earlier this spring, he also lives six hours closer.  But, a ten hour drive did not deter other birding friends from Baltimore.  On the boardwalk we unexpectedly ran into Gail, Georgia and Dan.  It was great to have this surprise meeting.  The Washtenaw Audubon Society field trip lead by Karen Markey also took place this day.  No matter who you were or where you came from, no one went home disappointed.  I wanted to leave by 4:00 pm so I could get home for the Preakness.  Conditions were so birdy, I did not meet my deadline and missed Rachel Alexandra beat the colts.    

When I got home, I downloaded 230 photos and then immediately went through and deleted about 200 of them.  I think the survivors can make a respectable showing here, but not in taxonomic order.  Of note, most of the day was deeply overcast and it did rain for at least an hour in the afternoon.  The dark appearance of many of the photos can be attributed to this gray overcast light.  Much later in the day the sun finally did come out.
Oops, that's not a bird.  It's a baby bunny.  Amidst hundreds of birders, this little bunny was trying to find a place to nibble.  It's making its retreat under the warbler sign platform.
A perched Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) spent the day sleeping in a tree behind the warbler sign.  This is the first perched nighthawk I have ever seen.  After viewing this photo, some might argue that I still haven't seen one perched.  However, we did get great views of the bird through Dan's scope.
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens).
Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata).
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica).
Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia), the most numerous warbler of the day.  I overheard one birder comment that the Magnolia Warbler is truly under-appreciated.  I'm inclined to agree with her; perhaps because on days like these they are so common. 
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).
Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea).
Bay-breasted Warbler (Dendroica castanea), arguably the star of the day for photo opportunities.
Here's the Bay-breasted pretending to be a Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotilita varia).
These snuggling Eastern Screech-Owls (Megascops asio), one red the other gray, were perched up high on a leafy branch.  They remained here all day.  We also got scoped views of a young Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) at its nest.  The parent bird, undoubtedly nearby, was not seen.
Female Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens).  I had one great opportunity to also capture photos of a male, but none were in focus enough to meet even my minimal standards.
This silent empidonax flycatcher went unidentified until I got home.  I am calling it an Alder (Empidonax alnorum).  If anyone wishes to disagree, please let me know.  We also got great looks at Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris) but none of my three photos could make the cut.
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophyrs);  probably my best photo of the day.
Veery (Catharus fuscescens).
Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus).  We also had terrific looks at Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus).

In all, I believe we saw 24 species of warblers which included just one each of Cape May (Dendroica tigrina), Nashville (Vermivora ruficapilla), Louisiana Waterthrush (Seiurus motacilla), Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus) and Mourning Warbler (Oporornis philadelphia).  A bird identified as an Orange-crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata) was probably a female Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) despite the fact that it did have an orange smudge on its forehead.  Perhaps it stuck its face in pollen or something.  
In all we saw and or heard at least 84 species (not including starling, pigeon, or house sparrow) without really even trying.  After a more careful review of the photos I have, I may add (or delete) some.  Despite very so-so weather (charitable description) Steve and I had a great day.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Michigan North American Migration Count, 05/09/09

As I do each year on the second Saturday in May, yesterday I participated in May count, birding three distinctly different areas in Wayne County.  I started out at Belle Isle around 6:30 am. This early in the morning I was greeted by Canada Geese (Branta canadanesis), Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis, American Robins (Turdus migratorious), Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and a few Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula.)  These are the usual birds to open early morning at Belle Isle.  The park was busy with people, too. In addition to the walkers, runners, bikers and fisherman there was a sponsored walk to bring people out.
This is my best songbird photograph of the day.  This female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) only gave me one chance, so I am very happy with the way this photo turned out. 
I counted four Black-crowned Night-Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax).  This one posed nicely for its overexposed photo.  The sky was bright cloudy gray and I think this plays a big role in photo exposure.   The weather then turned partly cloudy to sunny.  Around 10:00 am or so, the wind really picked up and the clouds left - at least for awhile.

In about 5-1/2 hours of birding at Belle Isle I found 74 species, none unexpected, but there were a couple of nice surprises .  A Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) was a surprise.   A bathing Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) was a surprise.  A single Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) was a surprise and nearly went uncounted as I saw it floating close to the shore just east of the bridge.  I was leaving the island and my sudden stop in this precarious location caused a few horn blowers to express their irritation.  A Bobolink (Dolicyhonyx oryzivorus) was a surprise in the weedy field just west of the Belle Isle bridge.  Ring-necked Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) at this same location were not a surprise.  If you must find a pheasant, the best place to do so in Michigan is in the city of Detroit.
I never considered that one day I might see a Peregrine Falcon bathing in the Detroit River. This is probably one of the "hacked" birds that nest in downtown Detroit.  The bird remained here for quite awhile and appeared to be really enjoying the water.  It was very windy by this time and the water was choppy.

The other places I birded were William Holliday Preserve in Westland. I got a little lost trying to find the place and did not arrive until around 1:30 pm.  Shortly after that it began to rain for a half hour or so.  I added Spotted Sandpipers (Actitis macularia) and Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo Olivaceus) to the day's species total but in all found just over 30 species here.  I don't think I'll do this area again next year.  A few years ago I atlassed this area for the Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas and I had not been there since.  I thought it might be good.  Also, the time of day and the weather change probably had something to do with the slow birding.
Perhaps the best thing at William Holliday Preserve were the trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) that were in peak bloom throughout the woods.

Finally, I went to Willow Run Airport.  Even though I have been here many times - I believe this was my third year counting here - I got lost trying to get here, too.  I wound up in the GM plant that is near the airport.  That was scary, like a ghost town, and the place was huge.  I had a hard time finding my way out.  The reason for going to Willow Run each year is to add Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda) to the species list.  Fortunately,  two were present yesterday.  Again, the weather - windy in this large open space - probably had a lot to do with it, but other birds typically found here were also present in lower numbers.  I always find several kingbirds, but this year there were none.
My nicest photo from the airport.  This White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) is being buffeted by the wind while perched on the airport fence.  The White-crowned is one of the larger sparrows, but it looks tiny here on the fence.

I think I finished up the day finding 85 species.  Not bad and it made for a good day of birding. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

First United States record of Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher ... in the name of science RIP

The following was copied from Surfbirds:

I collected the bird. I knew it wouldn't be popular, but I considered it important. I could go on at great length about why I feel that's so, but clearly this issue is deeply emotional and philosophical, and in such instances, we're as likely to change our minds as we are to breathe underwater.

I am on the LSU permit, but the focus of anger in this thread against LSU is unfounded. The bird was collected in Louisiana, and LSUMNS was simply the recipient of the specimen. They learned of the collection like everyone else, after the fact.

If I had it to do over, I would. I believe in what I did, just as strongly as many of you believe against it. My intentions and reasons were honest and clear. Some of you will find fault with that; you have that right.

Paul Conover
Lafayette, LA

This article came in my mailbox via North American Birds, Vol. 62: No. 4, 2009, page 638.  I wanted to write about this from the moment I read the article. I didn't know of the Surfbirds thread until I began to do some research for my blog entry.  I'm not a member of Surfbirds so I cannot read all of the, apparently unfavorable, posts written on this topic.  Clearly the comments were strong enough to compel Mr. Conover to reply; in my mind, inadequately.

I am going on record to say that I strongly disagree with Mr. Conover's actions.  He states that he "could go on at great length about why it was important that he collect the bird." He could also go on at very short length, because it was not important for these two individuals (his collaborator was Buford Mac.Myers) to collect the bird for any reason other than self-importance and profound selfishness.  The most egregious thing about their action is also the most disturbing- they collected the bird because they could. Mr. Conover, at least, is named on the Louisiana State University permit to collect birds, and the two collectors carried with them the means to do so.  A review of the AOU guidelines on bird collection suggests that they collected the bird as a museum voucher specimen.  Of note, a member of the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science (LSUMNS), Robb Brumfield, is also a member of the AOU Bird Collections committee.  This seems to me a significant conflict of interest.  Mr. Brumfield should consider stepping down from the AOU committee.   

Without summarizing an article that can be found and read on-line, the event in question occurred on June 3, 2008. Several things stand out about the collectors' actions.  They got photos - good photos - of the bird.  Furthermore, they heard the bird vocalize.  They did not know definitively, but they had a strong hunch, that the bird was a Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher (Empidonomus aurantioatrocristatus) but in the field could not recall the scientific name.  They went into the field with a camera and also with a gun of some sort.  After killing the bird they called the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science and spoke with the collections manager who was able to confirm the bird's identity by comparison with specimens of the same species already in that collection.  Apparently, LSUMNS has one of the largest (the largest?) collections of South American birds.  They took the bird to LSUMNS and it was immediately prepared as a study skin (LSUMNS catalog No. 180361).  The bird was an adult male and was in peak migratory condition.

Given the actions of these two men, I believe the AOU needs to reevaluate its bird collection and permit granting guidelines carefully.  Additionally, consideration should be given to removing the two men who killed this bird from the LSU collection permit, and LSU should be censored and or fined for allowing and supporting the action of the collectors.

Each day I am besieged with mail solicitations to join and donate money to organizations whose mission it is to conserve birds and other wildlife.  As I write this, I have the American Bird Conservancy form on my dining room table waiting for me to renew.  On the other hand, we have "scientists" among us who behave as if they live in Audubon's time.  (It is generally accepted knowledge that Audubon also killed birds just for the sport of it).  
J.J. Audubon's contribution to bird art and bird identification is beyond measure.  In the days before optics and camers, I'm sure he felt that his gun was his most valuable tool.

The Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher is dead.  There is nothing to be done about this now. Arguments that suggest the bird would have died anyway or would never have found its way back to its breeding grounds are empty and shallow.  The Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher is housed in a dusty museum drawer with a tag on its leg.  What have we learned about this bird?  We know that it made an extremely unlikely and amazing migration to become the first record for its species in the United States and only the second record in all of North America.  The collectors knew this before they killed it.  What else do we know?  The answer to this question is the most discouraging.  We know nothing.  For me, the presence of this bird in the LSUMNS taints their organization and that collection.
Mr. Conover closes his Surfbirds response with, "my intentions and reasons were honest and clear."  To this statement I would add that they were also misguided.  He goes on the write, "some of you will find fault with that; you have that right." We do indeed have that right and we are expressing it.  This bird was far more important to science alive and the actions of the collectors take us back to the bleak times of Audubon, Alexander Wilson and other early naturalists, not to mention the plume hunters who shot birds and sold the feathers to decorate women's hats.  
Alexander Wilson (top) and an early 20th century plume hunter.  It is generally thought that Alexander Wilson was not an accomplished artist.  When it became apparent that plume hunting had caused a dramatic decline in numbers of birds, there were forward thinking citizens who put a stop to killing birds for the sake of women's couture.

Wilson wrote of an injured Ivory-billed Woodpecker he captured and imprisoned in his inn room for three days while he drew it. The bird died while being held captive by Wilson and he wrote, "I witnessed his death with regret." One could surmise that Wilson felt regret because he had not yet completed his drawings, but at least he was regretful.