Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It's About Damn Time!

Somehow, I realized this evening that it is already February and I never did an end of year review for 2014.  In fact, I haven't submitted a post in a very long time (more on that later).

2014 was an interesting year.  I had no intentions, when I began the year of doing a big year in the state of Michigan.  I had set a goal of 250 species in the state for the year, but that was it.  In July, as I was already approaching 250, I was visiting a friend downstate and he casually mentioned to another birding friend that I was doing a big year, so decided why not?  In the end I ended up seeing 287 species in the state, which I consider to be not too bad considering I also have a full time career.  The last bird of the year was a Common Eider that was hanging out in Grand Haven.  Here is a picture of it.

And here is also a video of it.

I apologize, but that will be all of the photos and videos for this post (for reasons I will discuss later).

I've spent a lot of time in January thinking about my big year.  I can remember in October I was riding along with a birding friend I met this year, having dropped another friend off in Manistee after viewing the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Ludington, and as we discussed the big year I told him I found myself at that point wondering "why in the hell am I doing this?"  Well, that's pretty much what I have been thinking about and now I am going to discuss that very question.

I can sum up the experience with three "e"'s - exciting, expensive, and exhausting.  It was an exciting year because, well, I saw 287 species in Michigan.  Forty-four of them were life birds for the state.  I haven't bothered to figure it out, but I'm sure that many of those were also life birds.  Some of them were super exciting as well - Black-headed Gull, Ruff, Costa's Hummingbird (in Michigan anyway) and Berylline Hummingbird top my list.  But there is no doubt that all the driving around, sleeping in hotels, and eating on the road were very expensive.  In fact, I believe I probably spent somewhere around $10,000 last year doing this.  There is a certain guilt I feel thinking that that money probably could have gone for better purposes.  Not to mention the environmental impact of all the driving.  Yikes!  And, as I said, it was exhausting.  There was hardly a day on the weekends when I wasn't waking up at 4AM or earlier to get on the road.  I spent some weekends crisscrossing the state numerous times.  And some weekdays I would travel for hours after work to see a bird only to get home well after midnight and wake up early the next morning to go back to work.  When January 1st came around, I felt a deep sense of relief.

I will say there were other benefits along the way.  One of the greatest, was the friends that I met along the way.  Weather from Manistee, Beaver Island, Holland, Ann Arbor, Charlevoix, Marquette, Traverse City, Kewadin, Frankfort, Saginaw, Harbor Springs, or wherever else in the state, you all made it more exciting and less exhausting and I thank you.  There are a lot of wonderful people in the birding community and it was nice to meet every one of you and I hope to see you all in 2015!

Now this is the part where I will get very introspective.  I had planned to spend a lot of time in 2014 looking at birds, what I didn't realize is just how much time I would spend looking at myself.  In many ways my big year was therapeutic.  All those hours on the road allowed me plenty of time to face events from my past going all the way back to my senior year in high school (I don't even want to think of how long ago that was now).  Events that I have never been able to fully understand.  Events that I have now come to realize shaped me in more ways than I ever expected or would have cared to admit, contributing to me becoming bitter, cynical, insecure and distant.  I now realize I have had difficulty making new friends ever since high school and for the last few years I have been distant even from those friends who I have known for decades.  To those friends I offer a sincere apology.  There really is no excuse and I hope to reconnect with many of you in the near future.  2014 was a year of both happiness and sorrow.  I laughed a lot, I cried a lot, and I learned a lot.  I'll have a long way to go to erode all the years of bitterness, but I plan to embark on that journey in 2015.  For those of you who know me, whether it has been for decades or days, I only ask that you please bear with me.  I have no illusions that this is going to be easy, but I think it is time to tell all those things from my past that are holding me back to fuck off!

So where does that leave 2015?  So far this year, I have spent very little time birding.  Most of the birding I have done has been as a field trip leader.  I expect that I will spend significantly less time birding this year, although I'm sure it will pick up a bit in the spring.  I hope to engage in many other outdoor activities this year that I always wanted to try in the past but never did or never did enough of.  It's also time to get my ass in shape.  Sitting behind a desk for hours every day is not so great for health.  So bring on the running, hiking, swimming, snowshoeing, and lots of other ings!  Another goal is to be able to get a group of young birders in Northwest Michigan meeting on a regular basis.  This, I can already tell, is going to be a monumental challenge, but I hope it will work.  I think, for bird conservation's sake, that it is important that my generation get excited about birds.  One of the things I noticed while driving around the state meeting birders, is that very few of them were my age.  Michigan has a great group of Young Birders, but now I want to grow the interest among us Young(ish) Birders.  My hope is that it can grow in Northwest Michigan and then catch on in other regions.  Will this become a reality?  Only time will tell.

This may be the last post for quite a while.  Like I said, I haven't been doing a lot of birding this year, but the real reason is that my internet service provider is no more, so I am on a capped service that only allows me a limited number of GB per month.  And when uploading photos and videos (that's what you all really come to the blog for right?), eats away at that cap very quickly.  I will try to post now and then, but forgive me if they don't come quickly (what's different about that though right?).  Also, for those of you who have been keeping up with this, thank you. But I will apologize for the quality of the writing.  I spent so many hours proofreading my thesis years ago that I sort of lost the taste for it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Northern Hawk Owl and Krider's?

Saturday, I decided to spend the morning birding in the Eastern U.P. again after a report of a Northern Hawk Owl came in.  I was also hoping that I might find an Iceland Gull at the Dafter Landfill.  I picked up my mom and we headed to where the Hawk Owl had been sighted and found it relatively quickly.

On the way to the landfill we also found a nice flock of around 150 Bohemian Waxwings.  It's nice to see so many of them around this year with all of the field trips I'll be leading up that way this winter.  The landfill was closed but we scoped the Gulls that could be seen from the side of the road and came up with one Glaucous Gull and one Great Black-backed Gull in with hundreds of Herring Gulls.  We didn't have a lot of time left, but did manage to find two more Snowy Owls for the year along 7 Mile Road.  Here is the one that was sitting closest to the road.

Sunday was the day of the Petoskey Christmas Bird Count.  It was foggy in the morning and there were not a lot of birds moving.  Still, my mom and I managed to pick up 36 species on the day including a Glaucous Gull and a late Common Grackle.  I didn't have a lot of time for photography, but here are a couple of birds we saw.

Downy Woodpecker

Red-breasted Nuthatch

However, the most interesting bird of the day was a Red-tailed Hawk that we saw about five times throughout the day.  What is so interesting about a Red-tailed Hawk, you say?  Well, it just so happens that this one appears to belong to a subspecies that is quite rare in Michigan called the Krider's Red-tailed Hawk.  If accepted by the Michigan Bird Records Committee, as far as I can tell, it would only be the second accepted record for Michigan.  Here are a few horrible quality photos and a quick slow motion video of the bird.

Tuesday I helped out with the Cheboygan Christmas Bird Count.  It was rainy all day long and the birds were responding by staying deep in cover.  We managed 32 species, but we had to work for them.  Early on we had a White-throated Sparrow, but I think the most exciting part was when we saw six Great Black-backed Gulls on a single sheet of ice.

Another local birder reported finding a Snowy Owl along Burgess Road on Saturday, so on Monday after work I spent some time looking for it.  This is the road my parent's live on and I grew up on, so I still kind of consider birds seen in or from their yard to be my yard list (since my own yard doesn't attract many birds).  I knew that the bird was found in an open field about a mile down the road from my parent's and this is exactly where I found it.  I was meeting friends to play cards with my parent's at their house that evening so I continued down the road to their place.  When I left around 11PM, as I was pulling out of the driveway my headlights lit up an address sign for the neighbors house, and sure enough, there was the Owl sitting on top of it!  Another species on the yard list.

I went back this evening after work to look for the Snowy Owl again along Burgess Road, but did not find it.  However, on my way along Maple Grove Road I did come across one of our resident Barred Owls.

Well, that's it for now.  I'll be doing some more birding and another Christmas Bird Count this weekend, so check back for updates.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Birding Berrien

Last weekend I headed down to Berrien County with my Mom in hopes of finding both a Townsend's Solitaire and a Thayer's Gull.  Both birds had been reported there in previous days so I thought it might be worth the drive if I could pick up two new birds for the year in Michigan.  The fact that there had been a Ross's Goose hanging out in Holland was a nice bonus as well since it would not only be a new state bird for the year, but a life bird as well.

We arrived at Holland around 9:30AM and after a bit of driving around to figure out exactly where we needed to be, we found the Ross's Gull in a pond with a bunch of Canada Geese.  Here is a photo and a short video.

Ross's Goose with Canada Goose

After watching the Goose for a few minutes, we headed down to Warren Dunes State Park to look for the Townsend's Solitaire.  We found the area and spent the next couple of hours looking with no luck.  So we took off and went a few miles down the road to the New Buffalo Beach to see if we couldn't locate a Thayer's Gull.  After about twenty minutes of sorting through the numerous Herring and Ring-billed Gulls we finally located an adult Thayer's.  Here are a few photos of that bird.

Adult Thayer's Gull

Adult Thayer's Gull

Adult Thayer's Gull

Eventually someone walked by and scared the Gulls off.  Most circled around and landed again nearby, but some flew off over the lake.  The adult Thayer's must have been in the second category because we were unable to relocate it.  However, while attempting to refind it we did it we did come accross this first winter Thayer's.

1st winter Thayer's Gull

1st winter Thayer's Gull

1st winter Thayer's Gull

There was still a few hours of daylight left after this, so we headed back to look for the Solitaire again until dark.  Unfortunately, it never showed.  But considering it is December and new state year birds are getting very hard to come by, I can't complain about getting two on a single trip.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend Birding

I spent most of my time this weekend, after Thanksgiving Day, birding around the state.  On Friday, my mom and I went birding in the Eastern U.P.  I found nine Snowy Owls between the Pickford and Rudyard areas.  Here are a couple of them.

We also spent some time at the Dafter Landfill.  There were plenty of Bald Eagles around as usual, although less Gulls than normal.  We did manage to pick out four Glaucous Gulls and a single Great Black-backed Gull, but no Iceland or Thayer's Gulls as we had hoped.

First Winter Glaucous Gull

First Winter and Adult Glaucous Gulls

First Winter Glaucous Gull and Adult Great Black-backed Gull

We were also fortunate to find Common Redpolls.

From there we headed up to the power plant in Sault Sainte Marie.  There wasn't much happening, but we did find nine Bald Eagles.

We then headed toward Dunbar Park where we were able to find Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks.

Bohemian Waxwings

Pine Grosbeak

On our way toward the Pickford area we located this late Sandhill Crane wading through the snow.

We were unable to locate any of the Short-eared Owls that have been seen near Pickford in recent weeks.

On Saturday we went down toward Lake Odessa to look for a reported Ross's Goose.  We saw around a thousand Canada Geese and a single Snow Goose, but no Ross's.  Other highlights include five Tundra Swans and a Ruddy Duck on Jordan Lake.

On Sunday, today, I spent the afternoon at a friend's house near Alanson looking for a Carolina Wren.  This bird has been coming to her feeder for almost two months now.  I spent all of last Sunday afternoon looking for this bird but it never showed.  I was afraid I was in for the same luck today, but luckily it made an appearance just as I was giving up hope.

This was my 283 species in Michigan since January 1.  With only a month left now, we'll see how many more I can add on before the year ends.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Soo Area

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to bird the area south of Sault Sainte Marie with my mom and another friend.  The primary objective was to search for wintering Owls.  It is a little early, but Snowy Owls had already been reported in the state, so I thought it was worth a look.  And it was!

First, we'll start with the Snowy Owls.  In total, we saw eight of them that day.  The first was before we even left the Lower Peninsula.  A few miles south of Mackinaw City we spotted the first one on a telephone pole.

We then proceeded to the Rudyard area, which is traditionally very good for Snowy Owls in the winter (last winter being the exception).  We found an additional five owls nearby.  I managed photos of them all, although not all of the photos are great.

And here is a short video of one of them.

Later in the evening, we were near the Pickford area when we spotted two more.  These birds were pretty far away and it was low light, but here are the pictures.

In between, we were able to stop by the Dunbar Park area where there is a great feeding station, but more importantly given my target of Bohemian Waxwing, lot of trees bearing fruit.  We parked at the park and scanned the trees for Waxwings without any luck.  Interestingly, usually there are hundreds of Tundra Swans in the lake off of the park, but not a single Swan was present at this time.  So we walked up the road to the feeding station.  Along the way we encountered many American Robins.  During a Christmas Bird Count centered at this location we had found many American Robins, so it was no surprise to find them here again despite the cold and snow.  Then, from across the river I heard the familiar high-pitched rattle of Bohemian Waxwings.  They were distant, but unmistakable through binoculars.  We continued up to the feeders, hoping the Waxwings would come to our side of the river on the way back.  And luckily, they did!

American Robin (yes some do stick around all winter)

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwing

As we were walking back to the car, a Pileated Woodpecker flew in and landed directly above us in a tree to eat some berries.  I had to back off to take this short video!

After leaving Dunbar Park, we headed up to twelve mile to check out a traditional location for Great Gray Owl, but as expected, none were present.  So we headed back toward Pickford to search out an area that had a Short-eared Owl the day before.  We got lucky again as the Short-eared Owl was sitting on a post along the road.

We did find those last two Snowy Owls, but by that time it was getting dark, so we headed home.  A successful day I would say!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Whitefish Point, Beaver Island, and a couple of Rarities

Back in September, Michigan hosted a Berylline Hummingbird.  This represented the first time that this species had ever been recorded in Michigan.  In fact, it was the first time this species had ever been recorded in the Unites States outside of the very south, southwest.  Well, about a month and a half later, Michigan is again hosting a Hummingbird that has never been seen in the state before.  This time it is a young male Costa's Hummingbird.  These birds are also normally found in the southwest, and although perhaps not quite as unexpected as the Berylline, it is still an incredible bird for the state.  Incidentally, this bird represents the 300th species I have seen in Michigan!  Here are a few pictures and videos I was able to take of the bird yesterday evening.

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

I've also been spending a lot of time at Whitefish Point over the last month or so.  I was originally hoping to find a Sabine's Gull or a Jaeger, but my real reason for being up there was to improve my lakewatching skills which certainly need some help.  I never found a Sabine's Gull and all the Jaegers I managed to see were so distant they could not be identified.  But I did manage to be there for three of the biggest flights of the season, so I'd like to think that my lakewatching skills have improved at least a little bit.  I did manage to see a few birds on the beach and at the feeders that were close enough to photograph.  A few other highlights include a juvenile Northern Goshawk and a Peregrine Falcon that were both flying around over the point.  Fox Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Purple Finches were hanging out by the feeders, but the best feeder birds were the Pine Siskins.  I didn't see any Pine Siskins all of last year, so it was nice to see them again.  However, my excitement over the Pine Siskins paled in comparison to my excitement over finding a pair of Red-throated Loons swimming just offshore.  It was nice to see this species doing something other than flying by the point a great distance out.

Black-billed Cuckoo

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Northern Goshawk

Peregrine Falcon

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon

Rusty Blackbird

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Horned Lark

Lapland Longspur

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Pine Siskin

I've also been trying to help out with owl banding up near the Straits of Mackinac as much as possible.  Here are a couple of pictures I took while doing that.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Just this past weekend, I was able to make another trip to Beaver Island and back.  There were a lot more birds on Lake Michigan this time than there was on the September trip.  Mostly it was expected species, Herring Gulls, White-winged Scoters, and Long-tailed Ducks, but a Glaucous Gull resting on the water was a nice find.  On the Island itself we didn't find a whole lot of birds, but that is to be somewhat expected in November.  We did manage a couple of late shorebirds in a Pectoral Sandpiper and a Greater Yellowlegs.  Pine Siskins were frequently seen flying over our heads and the harbor was full of Red-breasted Mergansers, Redheads, and Horned Grebes.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper
Closer to home, I did manage to find a few interesting Geese around Charlevoix County.

Snow Geese with Canada Geese

Cackling Geese with Canada Geese

Before signing off, I will leave you with one more rarity that I chased recently.  This is a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that has been hanging out in Ludington.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher