Sunday, May 23, 2010

Some good birds

On Friday evening, May 21st, as I was coming in from work, I unlocked my back door to hear my phone give its final ring.  I could see by the number that it was my English birding friend, Malcolm Richards, calling.  Thinking that something might be wrong with the Port Clinton, Ohio hotel reservation that I had made for him a couple of months earlier, I called back immediately.  No answer.  Hmmm.

At 6:03 am on Saturday morning I drove into the main parking lot at Magee Marsh and got the surprise of this migration birding season.  I was the first to arrive that morning.  I had thought there would already be a dozen, twenty or thirty cars there.  Malcolm was the third to arrive at 6:30 am, our arranged meeting time.  

We set up breakfast on the trunk of Malcolm's rental car and I learned what the prior evening's phone call had been about.

Fortunately, for Malcolm, he was also at Magee Marsh on Friday.  He had called to tell me that he saw a Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii), arguably Magee Marsh's and Michigan's premier bird, so well that it was walking just beyond his toes.  As Malcolm said, "if you gave the bird a camera it could have taken a photo of me."  There was also a well-seen, by some, Connecticut Warbler which spent the day walking along, into and out of, the breakwall rocks on the park and bushes side of the lake.  Much harder to see and he did not get a good look.

I had a list of six target birds, then five, to complement the list we had already accumulated at Point Pelee the weekend before - Kirtland's Warbler could now be taken off the list.  Phew!  The others included Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonas flaviventris), Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus), Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis), Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) and Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii).

Prothonotary Warbler in its iconic pose.

We had a great day of birding along a not-too-crowded boardwalk. Warblers and thrushes were quite good, but it was really the vireos and flycatchers that made the day.  Even a White-eyed Vireo sang for a brief time, but then stopped and never did reveal itself.  Sparrows were essentially non-existent.  We saw only a couple of Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia).  We saw several each of Philadelphia Vireo and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  We met up with Jim McDonald from Ypsilanti for awhile.  At one point the three of us were looking at a silent empidonax flycatcher that we were not going to be able to call. We finally called it a probable Willow and were about to walk away when it gave one brief Alder call.  The Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) was also a new bird for Malcolm.

After lunch and during a lull in the birding, we had a conversation with another English birder about, of all things on such a day, football - or, as the guy from the north London borough of Barnet, suggested derivisively, "what you call soccer."  As often occurs when Americans discuss politics, this football conversation seemed to be going no where good - poor American game commentators, the French called frogs, etc. Overhearing this discussion, another birder lightened it up by volunteering, "I like women's soccer because we actually have a chance to win."  Time to get back to birding.  

Despite searching hard, we never did see Connecticut Warbler though they had been reported by others in a couple of places, or Lincoln's Sparrow.  We spent the whole day, until 3:00 pm when Malcolm had to leave, along the boardwalk.  I made the decision, hopefully a good one, not to bird the trail behind the visitor's center.  We saw several new species for the day to add to the list that Malcolm had already started on Friday.  

Finally, it was time to leave.  I had in mind to try to convince Malcolm to join me to find the Dickcissel (Spiza americana) that had been reported a couple of days earlier in Monroe county.  But, it had already been a long day, and a long two weeks for him and he had family commitments that evening before returning to England on Sunday.  As it happens, I'll be meeting up with Malcolm again in three weeks when I go to England.  He has invited me to bird with him and his wife, Angela, at Minsmere RSPB preserve.  

Beyond the I-75 and I-275 split I decided to try for the Dickcissel that had been found a couple of days earlier by Walt Palowski.


With a bit of sun.   

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