Sunday, May 28, 2017

Feather Fancy

Have just returned from Annapolis, Maryland where I attended the Naval Academy Commissioning of my best friend's son.  The weather in Maryland, typically hot and humid by this time of year, was cool, gray and rainy as in the battleship grey sky of my title photo.  On my return, I stopped off at Magee Marsh with hopes that I would find some of the late migrants.  It was quiet.  I think this migration has been of concern to us all.  Of note, a young birder named Alex Eberts (may not be recalling Alex's last name correctly) did find a Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica) in the left pond just at the left turn on the road to the boardwalk.  Not that a spring time Hudsonian Godwit isn't a really good bird, but Alex was disappointed - with a wink - that it wasn't a Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa).  In lieu of any new blog material from yesterday's MM visit, I offer the following.

From the New York Times - after suffering through a 30 second ad that you may or may not be able to skip - the 1:30 minute video is worth viewing.

Feather Fancy by Robin Lindsay, James Gorman and Meg Felling.

Here's another from a few weeks past - 1:39 seconds.

The Real Manakin Challenge by James Gorman, Flora Lichtman and Robin Lindsay.  If you go to Panama you will mostly hear and, if you are very fast, possibly see this Golden-collared Manakin (Manacus vitellinus) trick.  As in the photo above I was not fast, but you'll recognize the bird's body positioning in the video.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Rainy Belle Isle morning

As I drove to the woodland trail I noticed a few small drops of rain on my windshield.  As soon as I stepped out of the car, the heavens opened up.  Umbrella in hand, camera wrapped inside raincoat, I decided to soldier on.  

On the trail, I saw three other crazy birders - Jim Bull, Larry Urbanski and another birder whose name I didn't know.     

When I thought I would not get a single bird photo, I took this photo of, I think, a species of honeysuckle.  I was hoping it was spicebush.  No such luck.

My first bird photo was of this robin on her nest.  Every single time I've observed a robin on her nest I am always struck by what great parents they are.  The male bird was nearby.

She's using her wings to cover the basket of the nest to protects both eggs or nestlings and the nest itself.  In the top photo it easy to see how the rain has made the nest a little soggy.  Nevertheless, robins generally build a sturdy nest.

Swainson's Thrush

Adult male American Redstart singing.

A little further on a first spring male redstart was also singing.

I may have one more day of migration birding in Michigan at the end of next week.  However, tomorrow morning I am off to Annapolis, Maryland to attend the graduation of my best friend's son from the Naval Academy.  I've been to Annapolis many times, but never to the Naval Academy.  There is a week of festivities that we are all looking forward to.  The icing on the cake is that my friend's son is a great kid and is graduating in the top 100 from a class of 1,000.

I'll try to squeeze in a hour or two of birding somewhere, too.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Spring is tough on birds

On Sunday morning I returned to Belle Isle.  After three days straight of non-stop birding I wanted to give it a miss.  But, after Saturday's near 100% absence of neotropicals, I've been worried.  So I decided to return on Sunday to check if things were improving.  

I decided to stop off at Rivard Plaza first.  I took a quick walk around the marsh area.  The dog walkers and bike riders were already starting to gather.  As I was getting ready to return to my car, I found a female redwing blackbird lying on the ground on her side.  I picked her up from the ground and was surprised to see that it was still alive -breathing and blinking - but expressing no other kind of alarm at me picking her up and handling her.

Her feathers were in essentially perfect condition.  There was no sign of a broken wing or other kind of fracture.

However, and unfortunately it's not seen in these photos, her lower beak appeared to have taken some blunt trauma, but the beak was still intact and not too damaged.

Otherwise, I looked the bird over and over and there appeared to be nothing else wrong with it.  I picked her up from the silver flooring that shows in the photo below.  Not seen in this photo was a largish metal electrical box just to left.  I guessed that the bird had had a crash with this metal box and landed on the metal flooring stunned and perhaps with fatal head trauma. Springtime redwing blackbirds go into these reckless chases and it's not hard to imagine such an event.

For photos only, I put the bird back on the pavement.  Her feet curled up beneath her.  During this time I was thinking about what to do with her.  I knew I was not going to leave her there.  She was in such perfect condition that I thought about putting her in my car, waiting for her to die and then taking her to Janet Hinshaw at the University of Michigan Natural History Museum.  I have a couple of other birds in my freezer that, when I get a chance, I would also like to take.  I thought about placing it deep in the bushes - ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But, something about just waiting for the bird to die did not appeal to me.  I noticed how the bird's feet griped my fingers strongly.  

I found a slender limb of a small tree right next to the marsh pond well away from the sidewalk with dog walkers and bike riders and transferred the bird to the slender branch and snugged it against the trunk for support.  I left it there and walked away.  What would be would be.  I drove on to Belle Isle.  

Birding was still very slow at Belle Isle.  But there were at least a few new warblers.  Along the trail I found a dead and somewhat decayed gray catbird.  I picked it up for photos and thought of my redwing blackbird back at Rivard Plaza.  

The only other photo I took was of this wood duck pair on the woodland trail creek.  Something about this photo appeals to me.  

On the way home from Belle Isle I got the crazy idea to check on my bird at Rivard Plaza.  It had only been about an hour and a half since I propped it up on the slender branch.  If it had died and fallen off its perch, I would collect it and take it to Janet Hinshaw.  Upon arrival I could see from a distance that there was no bird on the perch.  I walked up to the area and there was not a dead bird at the base of the tree or anywhere else around.  I was relieved and happy.  The bird had likely been stunned, but not so severely that it was unable to recover.

I'm happy I made the decision I did and learned a good lesson from the experience.  I'll end by commenting that female redwing blackbirds are completely beautiful.  I've always thought this but having the chance to hold one in my hand confirmed it.  


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Point Pelee

Sometime in late winter, my good friend Vee, (always good discussion on sports, career, family, politics and birding) and I made plans to go to Point Pelee on May 11th and 12th.  I hadn't been to Point Pelee in years (at least 5 or 6) and I recalled the most recent of those visits as being slow for birding. So when we decided that the mid-May dates of the 11th or 12th would work for both of us - they seemed like good safe dates.  There would be birds.

Also, 2017 is Canada's 150th anniversary and all of their national parks have free entry.  This is a very good thing because I recall that Point Pelee's entrance fee was expensive.  Getting in for free was great.  But, the park was also thronged.  The main lot near the Visitor Center filled up before 7:00 am and parking had to be moved to the more distant lots.  The weather Thursday was cold and gray all day.  Friday was sunny and bright but only slightly warmer until late afternoon when it really warmed up.

Cut to the chase - good year to revisit the famous Point Pelee for the free entry fee, lots of birders and people activity, but very few birds.

We parked in the West Beach lot and began to bird along the trail there.  The very first bird we saw was a Veery.  Above, White-crowned sparrows were present in large numbers on many trails throughout the park.

Patches of the pretty little Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) were all over the park.

I don't recall that wild turkeys were present in the park at the time of my prior visits.  We saw toms and hens may times.

Apparently there were two, but we saw only one very confiding Protonotary Warbler along the Woodland Trail.

Ruby-crowned kinglets were around.

On Thursday, the 11th, Palm warblers were present throughout the park.  On Friday, the 12th, we did not see one.  So some migration must have been occurring.

Above, Horned Grebe.  The west side of the lake was calm.  Otherwise, Red-breasted Mergs in a relatively large flotilla were close enough to see well.  A few scaup species were present on the lake as well and on Friday we say one Common Loon still in basic plumage from the West Beach.

Two male scarlet tanagers and one female were present at the tip and the only scarlet tanagers we saw either day.

Point Pelee's famous tip was gone as waves from the east pounded the slender, sandy point.  Below, the flock of birds seen in the middle of the photo, tiny dots well beyond the rocks, were common terns diving and fishing over the rough water.

Above, the first Orchard Oriole we saw at the tip.  For the two days we saw three in total.

Above, somewhat messy-appearing first spring male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and below a female Rose-breasted on Thursday.  By Friday, Rose-breasted Grosbeak numbers had increased.

Somewhere along the Woodland Trail, after seeing and photographing a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, another birder, eeerrr photographer, asked us "was that an unusual sparrow?"

Above and below:  Often a mid or high-canopy bird, this Nashville Warbler came in at eye level.

Essentially every field guide, I think, will show the male Nashville warbler (Vermivora ruficappilla) with a red cap on the top of its head. This is a field mark seldom seen.  Using a couple of Apple Preview highlighting tools, the photos above and below show not red, but a sort of bumpy feathering - the best I can describe it - on top of the bird's head.  Given the bird's bright yellow throat and breast, I think this is a first spring male moulting into his red cap feathers.

Point Pelee is also interesting for its botanicals.  Attractive fungi and wildflowers, not to mention prickly pear cactus were present in areas throughout the park.

On Friday the weather continued to be cold, but it was bright and sunny.  A few new birds were being found.  Any time a large crowd gathered on the trail a bird, usually a warbler, could be seen.

The setting moon.

The large flotilla of red-breasted mergs were still present on the west side.  

 Barn swallow roosting on the railing of the tip visitor kiosk.

On Friday Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrived en mass.  We found many throughout the day.

Along the Tilden trail this Lincoln's Sparrow delighted many.  We saw another later in the afternoon along the Sanctuary trail.

There were a couple of Rusty Blackbirds (late I think) that captivated birders from England and those with cameras (like me).  I think of rusty blackbird as an April migrant.

We saw two Blue-winged Warblers, one at the tip and another along the Tilden trail.  The Tilden trail bird was low and right in front of us.  Above, is my botched photo attempt.

Finally, a Yellow Warbler caught perched and singing for a photo.  Vee and I speculated on the number of yellow warblers at Point Pelee.  Five hundred?  One thousand?  More?

In the field I'm not patient enough to differentiate lesser from greater scaup.  A male and female were found in the first pond along the DeLaurier trail.  I took a series of photos and from these I identified the pair as Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis).  But ... I could be wrong.  The back of the head and neck are  straighter than I think a lesser might be. Otherwise, the time of year, location and habitat favored lesser.

We ended our two days of birding at Point Pelee along the Sanctuary trail where we found another orchard oriole, another Lincoln's sparrow, and more rose-breasted grosbeaks.

The road from Point Pelee to the bridge is entirely new and re-configured.  The way home along this new road was quicker and better driving.  However, we waited behind ten other cars for approximately 45 minutes to get through to the U.S. side.  I don't think I'll be visiting Point Pelee again anytime soon.  Nevertheless, I was happy to visit with Vee in 2017.     

Sunday, May 7, 2017

DAS Lake St. Clair Metropark field trip

Sixteen birders, including a six year old who turned out to be quite a game and good little birder for his age, showed up for the Detroit Audubon field trip this morning.  It was sunny and bright, but cold. When the wind blew it was more like a sunny November morning.

The park's very reliable Great Horned Owl mom had two fledglings. Only one fledgling shows in this photo; the other was on a branch directly over the mom.

A pair of wood ducks were doing their little mating dance.  Unfortunately, the video below is not as clear once I uploaded to You Tube.

A Sora was well seen and photographed by all.

A cold and sluggish northern water snake moved slowly over the marsh debris.

We saw two of the seven red fox kits along the lakeside.  Only one was photographable.  One of the participants knew the story that accompanied these fox kits that left me shaking my head.  

After the official end of the field trip, I found Brown Thrasher and Eastern Kingbird.  The brown thrasher photo is my best thrasher photo ever.  I always have trouble with kingbird photos because of the dark eye and head blending together.  From many photos of this bird; I chose the one below because the bird's eye shows up - barely.

For this upcoming birding season, I am going to try to be stricter with myself with deleting lousy photos.  I've made this pledge before but never seem to achieve it.  This year has to be different.

57 species were seen and of these the warbler species included Palm, Northern Waterthrush and Yellow-rumped.  That's it for this, so far, cold north winds and rainy May.