Saturday, January 30, 2010

January birding coming to an end

It was a beautiful day in southeastern Michigan; sunny with some clouds scattered around. It was cold, but the bright sun tempered the cold air to make a very enjoyable winter day. I had some errands to do, but I also wanted to take advantage of the great weather to fit in some birding. After wasting some time in the morning, I finally got out of the house at around 11:00 am. Destination: Vreeland Road in eastern Washtenaw county to look for previously reported Lapland Longspurs.

I found some Horned Larks, but I was stymied on the longspurs. I continued slowly on westbound Vreeland Road, not seeing much, and approached Harris Road. Ahead, over a large field at Vreeland and Harris I saw a raptor soaring and was surprised to see that it was a Rough-legged Hawk, my first of the year. I used to bird this road a lot but not much at all recently. I always thought that the fields along Vreeland were suitable for roughies but had never seen one. Nor do I recall others reporting roughies along this popular birding road.

Click on any photo to enlarge image.

My first photo op came as I approached Prospect Road.

I took many photos of this Red-bellied Woodpecker and somehow decided that this was the best. At the corner of Vreeland and Prospect roads (a very busy road with fast moving traffic) I did not see any oncoming cars. I turned left on to Prospect and immediately saw a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a branch that hung very near the roadside. Photo op. As I sped up, planning to pull to the side, I looked in my rearview mirror to see a line of traffic on my tail. Too much traffic for the hawk so near the road; it took off.

Next destination: Trader Joe's for some grocery shopping. Nichols Arboretum is an easy drive from Trader Joe's and I have not been there in the winter time in years and some good birds had been reported in the Arb recently.

Two courting Red-tailed Hawks were soaring and frolicking (sorry, but this is the best word I can think of to describe their behavior - I know the guys are cringing) over Dow Prairie. The trail around Dow Prairie did not seem all that birdy and the trails were snow and ice covered so my visit was short.

Both of the Red-tails were light with faint belly bands. I took photos of both but could never get them both in the same frame. I think these two photos are probably of the same bird.

The Arb is always full of walkers, runners and dog-walkers and so this Fox squirrel allowed me to approach quite closely. It must have had some personal boundary, because ... it let me know when I got too close.

Every so often I whistled my miserable screech owl tremelo to see if anything would pop out of the bushes and trees. I startled Blue Jays and Robins, but nothing more. I came to an area where titmice and chickadees were calling and whistled my screech again. The titmice were not interested, but the chickadees came in close. I've never taken a decent photo of a Black-capped Chickadee. Every prior attempt has always resulted in an instant delete.

Today was my lucky day. I deleted many but had other good photos as well. I selected the above two from the best of four.

From the Arb I returned to Vreeland Road to look for the Rough-legged Hawk. Not seeing it near Vreeland and Harris, I continued east on Vreeland. Just west of the large farm, I saw a Cooper's Hawk perched in a tree over a brushy area.

Not a great photo, not even a good photo, but this Coop did not stick around to allow me a chance for a closer shot.

Finally, another poor photo, but here's the Rough-legged Hawk perched at the top of a tree on the north side of Vreeland. I tried to get closer for the chance of a better shot, but it was not to be. The best I could do was to get the bird flying away to land at the top of a very distant tree.

Tomorrow, the last day of January 2010, is supposed to be partly sunny and a little warmer. In Michigan, cardinals usually begin singing in February.

Just noticed that there is a full moon tonight. I learned from Harold and Artemis Eyster that this moon is the brightest of the year and is called the Wolf Moon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Camera batteries ... dead

First, I should just start with the disappointment of the day. Get it over with. Put it behind me. Move on. Since I'm a little late in posting this, the disappointment occurred on Sunday, the 17th, at Crosswinds Marsh.

Just as I was entering the boardwalk area from the Woodpecker Trail, an adult Bald Eagle flew in and landed on the tall dead tree just to the right of the boardwalk. I couldn't believe it. What a photo op for me and my challenged little camera. The eagle perched comfortably on the treetop and appeared to have no concern about my presence. I turned on my camera watching the bird more than paying attention to my camera. Hey, what's the matter here? My non-functioning camera forces me to pay attention - DEAD BATTERIES!

I couldn't believe it, but I don't know why ... it has happened to me before with other excellent photo ops. Honestly, you would think I'd learn. I continued walking along the boardwalk and soon my back was to the eagle. I turned around once briefly. The eagle was still there surveying its surroundings.

So what did I expend my camera batteries on?

As with many winter days in southeastern Michigan, yesterday was deep gray and overcast. But, it was not too cold. I picked up my brother's family dog and headed for Crosswinds Marsh, hoping that it would not be too muddy. It wasn't too muddy and, in fact, it turned out to be a beautiful day for a walk. Anything to be out of the house in winter, no matter how gray the sky.

This is the best shot of several of this Song Sparrow amongst some scrubby branches.

I clicked a few of this White-breasted Nuthatch.

But, the biggest battery waste came when I tried to photograph several Tree Sparrows feeding along the snowy/dirt track trail. I took several photos of snow and dirt - that contained no birds at all. The white against the dark made it essentially impossible to find the birds in the viewfinder.

I use rechargeable batteries and these are more finicky than the lithium batteries that the pros use in their big, power cameras. I could use lithium but I don't like the idea of throwing so many batteries away. This set of rechargeable batteries are new so I was overconfident that they would be fine for a two hour walk in cold weather and I did not take along a spare set, which I usually do. But, I had not recharged them before going out. Obvious mistake. Also, I'm wondering if cold weather has an impact on lessening the life of rechargeable batteries?

It will probably be awhile before I am offered such a photo opportunity by a Bald Eagle again. I live in a world of live and learn - always the hard way.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New decade of birding begins

The Detroit River CBC was the last in the 2009 CBC season for me (thank goodness!), but the first birding of the New Year and of a new decade. It was cold, gray, windy ... about as always for our Detroit River CBC held each January 1st. This year there was only a very light snow covering.

The low, gray sky of Detroit; this was our weather for birding yesterday, and fairly typical for January 1st. This is flagpole hill in Ford Field, one of Dearborn's larger parks. Just looking at this photograph makes me shiver. (Click on any photo to enlarge the image.)

The Rouge River courses through Ford Field park and in some weedy branches hanging over the river I photographed this smart, little juvenile Song Sparrow. This bird and a companion Song Sparrow seem to have chosen to brave out the winter here. I found four Song Sparrows for the day; the others also along two other areas of the river. I counted zero of the more typical winter sparrow here - American Tree Sparrow - even though I spent time in good winter habitat for them.

As always, plenty of our ubiquitous Fox Squirrels were around. I also saw one raccoon while owling early in the morning and two white-tailed deer in woods near the Henry Ford Estate.

By the end of the day I was chilled to the bone and this didn't improve at the tally held at the University of Michigan Environmental Interpretative Center. The heat had been turned off for the holidays! A good thing for global warming concerns, but a bad thing for a cold birder at the end of a long day of cold weather birding.