Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stellar day at Point Mouillee

I went to Point Mouillee this morning, this time hoofing it from Roberts Road to cell three of the banana. On the walk out I stopped to take a few photos.

From a distance I saw a large, black butterfly struggling to move across the gravel dike road.  When I got closer, I found this beautiful female Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) that was so fresh it was still wet. Originally, I called this a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) but was quickly corrected. 

This copulating pair of Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) butterflies flew awkwardly across the dike and were well-camouflaged when they landed on leaves to complete their business.

Another fresh butterfly, this male Black Swallowtail was fast flying and not cooperative for photos.  This was the best I could get.

When I finally reached cell three I found that the Jackson Audubon Society was having a field trip led  by Don and Robyn Henise.  Gary Siegrist, Don Chalfant, Tex Wells, Brad Murphy, Will Weber and a few others were also out this morning.  Jerry Jourdan had been there earlier.  My reason for going out this morning was to try for Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) posted earlier by Will Weber.  I immediately found one within close viewing range.

As the Jackson group was leaving, Don Chalfant told me about the close Baird's and Buff-breasted sandpipers at the other end of cell three. The others left and I walked toward where I could see Brad Murphy and Will Weber.  Brad called out that I was approaching the Buff-breasted Sandpipers (Tryngites subruficollis).  There were three walking together and actively feeding along the dry ground.  

I crouched down and began taking photos - well over one hundred shots.  The photos here and a few others survived the delete key.  The bright sun and the pale color of the bare, dry soil conspired against me and created exposure challenges for my automatic camera.  Considering this, I was still very pleased with a number of the photos.

Brad said that earlier there had been four buffies and suggested that the fourth might still be out on the large mudflat.  

Preening Buff-breasted Sandpiper!  I think it has been two or three years since I last saw a Buff-breasted, but never as close and as easily and enjoyably viewed as these guys.  As Brad said, they are usually a speck far out in some sod field.

When the buffies wandered out of my camera range, I turned around and saw this Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) feeding right behind me.  This Baird's (above and below) associated with the buffies and I occasionally mistook it for the fourth buff-breasted. 

When the buffies were momentarily out of camera range, Will told me of two Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) in cell three on the Lake Erie side that had been close enough to photograph.  I walked further along the dike, with Lake Erie on my left, and found that the phalaropes were still present and relatively close enough for photos.  All of these shots are cropped way down.  Double-click on each photo to enlarge the image.

This single Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) was also near enough to try for photos.  Again, cropped down, but still clear. The bird's larger size, longer bill and overall paler appearance is apparent.

To take the phalarope photos I found a stump to sit on where I could conveniently hide behind some weeds.  To approach the stump I scared off the few birds that were feeding along the shoreline.  After a few moments, this Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), above and below, was the first to return.

Migrating Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies were seen everywhere all morning.  Stop - this is not a monarch, but rather a Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) - I might add, a rather large one. Received many emails to correct me on this misidentification.  This one landed close to the phalarope spot and opened its wings.  I snapped the shot quickly, noting only its large size and never gave it another look. Correction made.  Both monarchs and viceroys were around in good numbers today.  

When I returned to the buff-breasted sandpipers, Brad was still there and said that the fourth buffy had rejoined the group of three.  I took a few more photos and then reluctantly had to leave.

But it was hard to leave quickly.  I kept being stopped by other interesting creatures along the dike.  This cooperative pair of bluets, male (top) and female, cannot be identified to species by my photos, but the most common is Familiar Bluet (Enaliagma civile).

A worn male Black Swallowtail was more cooperative for this open-wing photo.  On the other side of the dike from the swallowtail, a Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) family was all in a tizzy and I found out why when I looked just in time to see a mink scampering along the cement chunks that line the water's edge of the Humphries Unit (formerly called the Lead Unit) dike.  The wren family were right to sound the alarm.  In England the invasive American mink (Neovison vison) is responsible for the predation of many nesting birds there.  And how did American mink come to be in England?  American mink are in England and Europe thanks to the ill-conceived actions by animal rights groups who released the animals from farms where the mink were being raised for their fur.  Such rash actions, no matter how well-intentioned, have consequences - often dire.    

Further on, this juvenile Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) was nicely teed-up on a spent flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus).  For a moment the identification of the kingbird threw me - it didn't look quite like how I expect a juvenile Eastern to look.  

A couple of other nice finds closed out the day - Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) and Fiery Skipper (Hylephilia phyleus).  The Fiery Skipper was a first for me.  I also saw several of the large numbers of Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) that have been reported, but none more cooperative than the fresh buckeye I photographed a couple of weeks ago at Crosswinds Marsh.

I learned from Brad that the numbers of shorebirds (regardless of species) at Point Mouillee peaked one to two weeks ago.  However, he also commented that the diversity of species of shorebirds is peaking now.  With visits two weekends in a row, I may try for a third next weekend.  Point Moo has had a great shorebird season and I recommend getting out there if you are able.  I wouldn't be surprised if a Piping Plover is reported in the next week or two, and yesterday two King Rails were seen in their location near the Long Pond.  In a couple of weeks Point Moo will closed to birders when the hunting season opens.  Now is the time!     

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thin as a rail, nemesis no more!

Today was a good day!  Not only did I get to do some shorebirding - I'm embarrassed to say, for the first time this summer - I also saw a life bird.  After this I had lunch with my birding friend, Robert Epstein, and I even had time to clean my house - overdue.  It also rained - much needed in southeast Michigan.

Point Mouillee has been a shorebird mecca this season with godwits, avocets, and phalaropes all being seen.  This morning I joined about fifteen others for the Oakland Audubon Society field trip to Point Mouillee led by Jim Fowler.  For the first time in a long time we had an overcast day in southeast Michigan.  Our first bird was a Willet (Tringa semipalmata) - always a good bird in Michigan.  Following this we moved on to find Snowy Egret (Egretta thula).  By the time we arrived at cell three of the banana, we learned from Will Weber and Jerry Jourdan that earlier two Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) had been present.  Jim quickly found Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) and Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor).  More searching turned up White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis), Red Knot (Calidris canutus) and Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres).  All of the other more common shorebirds found in Michigan this time of year were also present, but according to Jim, in numbers much reduced from his scouting the day before.

As there was no chance for photos of the Willet or of any of the distant birds in cell three, I thought this still beautiful swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) worthy of a photo.  It began to rain hard enough where it seemed apparent that the field trip would soon come to end. We drove down the north dike toward the Sigler Road parking lot to try - successfully - for a second look at the Willet.  We came upon a small group of people with bikes, scopes and binoculars.  Jerry Jourdan was amongst them and came quickly over to Jim's car.  This could only mean one thing - good bird.    

Indeed!  Larry Urbanski had found a juvenile King Rail (Rallus elegans) feeding in the puddles of a protected ditch.  He had his scope set up on the bird and, gratefully, the arrival of fifteen people eager to see it did not scare it permanently back into the marsh.  I have heard King Rail many times, but have never before seen one - and not for lack of trying.  This was my life King Rail.  

We started out viewing the bird from the distance as seen in the photo above.  It was extraordinarily cooperative and we were able to move closer and closer - very important for me to try for decent photos. 

I took over a hundred photos of the bird - about 90 of them immediately deleted upon downloading.  But these and a few others survived. Double click on each photo to enlarge the image.

I like this photo because, though the bird is not slipping into marsh grass, it is the iconic "thin as a rail" pose.  See David Allen Sibley's, The Sibley Guide to Birds, page 153 in the first edition, for Habits of Rails.

The King Rail was certainly having feeding success in the puddles as demonstrated in Jerry's YouTube video. Perhaps seeing this while flying over, a Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) joined the rail and they companionably fed side-by-side for awhile.

For really good photos of the King Rail, see Robert Epstein's Flickr site by clicking here or in My Favorite Websites on the right.  Also, keep an eye on Jerry Jourdan's blog as he will also have more photos and improved quality video when he has time to post.  Both of Jerry's blogs are also linked in My Blog List.

The only thing missing from this otherwise perfect day was the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) bonanza that had been reported by others who visited on prior sunny days.   

The loud calling of a killdeer overhead would occasionally scare the rail back into the tall marsh grass.  But not for long.  Once the killdeer commotion was over, it reliably came back out to resume feeding.  I took the photo of an end season flowering rush (Botomus umbellatus), an invasive plant from Europe first introduced as an ornamental plant for water gardens.  I initially labelled this as a swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).  Jim sent me an email to correct my identification.  You can read more about flowering rush here.  Why I ever thought it was swamp milkweed ... 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eurema lisa at Crosswinds Marsh

Last Sunday, 08-08-2010, I met Roger Kuhlman and Ron Gamble at a parking area in the phase II section of Crosswinds Marsh to hike out and look for Little Yellow (Eurema lisa) butterflies.  We were also looking for Common Ringlets.  Roger seemed confident that we would see Little Yellows, a new butterfly for me, but less confident that we would see a ringlet.  This was my first time in the phase II section of Crosswinds Marsh.  The main Crosswinds area is a Wayne County park that I have visited many times.  I am ashamed to say that I have not been to Crosswinds this year since early spring.


As can be seen from the photos, it was a bright, sunny, hot day with a warm, but welcome, breeze.  The above photo is the partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) - host plant for the Little Yellow - habitat.  It is a beautiful location.

Little Yellow butterflies are very active, especially the males flying around to look for mating opportunities.  The butterfly is a bright yellow-white color and some females have a variant white color.  This color, along with their highly active nature and the bright sun of the day, conspired against me for good photos.  Above and below are the best I could achieve.  For the best look, double-click on each image to enlarge.  

I had to leave around noon and Roger and Ron continued on and ended up finding a record number of Little Yellow butterflies for this location. Later, too, they also found an Inornate Ringlet - the other butterfly I had wanted to see.  In the time I was there, the diversity of sightings was not high, with Least Skippers and Cabbage White being perhaps the most common.  Other butterflies, and one dragonfly and one bird, that I was able to photograph include the following.

Horace's Duskywing

Field Sparrow

Halloween Pennant

No where near the water of Crosswinds Marsh, this Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) was the only one I saw flying around a very dry, grassy field.  It perched on the tops of the spindly grass and was buffeted by the breeze.  The was the best photo I could get.

Peck's Skipper

Common Buckeye

I have no idea which butterfly is my favorite.  I asked Roger what his favorite butterfly was and he had to pause, too, before offering a response.  Having said this, whenever I am looking at a fresh Common Buckeye, I think it is my favorite butterfly.

Monarch caterpillar on common milkweed

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Butterflies, et al at Petersburg SGA for the NABA count

This past Sunday, 08-01-2010, I participated in the annual NABA count led by Roger Kuhlman at Petersburg SGA in southeast Michigan.  This is probably one of my favorite field events of the year.  It seems to be always hot and sunny and we do a lot of trudging around in difficult habitat, but we see a lot of great butterflies.

Double-click on each photo to enlarge image.

Worn Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus)

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

Sympetrum sp.

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)

Spicebush (Papilio troilus)

Giving new meaning to worn - Spicebush.  This butterfly was still flying weakly.

Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites themistocles)

White-lined Sphinx Hummingbird moth (Hyles lineata)

Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe)

The habitat at Petersburg SGA

Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae)

Wings open - Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Wings closed - Painted Lady.

Sympetrum sp.

With regard to Sympetrum sp. dragonflies - for an interesting read on identifying these by photo please read Julie Craves' and Darrin O'Brien's blog Urban Dragon Hunters - about the fifth paragraph down starting with:  The problem is similar, perhaps worse, with several common species of meadowhawks.

Hackberry (Asterocampa celtis)

Copulating Eastern Tailed Blues (Everes comyntas)

Hidden unfortunately - fresh Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Bending over backwards - worn Horace's Duskywing (Erynnis horatius)

Out of focus Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

While I am waiting for Roger Kuhlman to publish the final butterfly count; by far, Spicebush and Viceroy were the most common of the day. There were also Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, one Giant Swallowtail, one Little Yellow, Greater Frittilarys, Clouded Sulphur and Cabbage White, other skippers included Least and Broken Dash.

In all, 1816 butterflies from 37 species were counted; many species which I didn't see.