Michigan 2017

We’ve arrived in Grayling, tune in tomorrow to see how our first day goes.

June 6, 2017

I was up early and off to meet the morning group touring the KIRTLAND’S WARBLER habitat in Hartwick State Park. Our guide for the morning was Bryant Eddy, an employee of the Audubon Society. We started our morning getting some background information on the history, decline and conservation of the Kirtland’s Warbler. It was an enlightening presentation, that just geared us up to get out into the field. About twenty participants caravanned to the site where we would hike in to see the birds. Almost immediately I could hear Kirtland’s singing in the distance. They can be tough to see in the Jack Pines. Bryant led us to one of the best areas to see the birds and we weren’t disappointed!

My first shot of a nearby Kirtland’s Warbler would be the only close one I would get today.

One bird after another could be heard and it was just a matter of getting to see them. Almost all of them eventually would sit up in a snag or Jack Pine and sing. One particular bird (photo in snag) was the most cooperative of all, remaining for at least 15 minutes. Bryant gave us some more information on the habitat and cowbird control which are both key to the survival of the species. They are currently doing very well, having exceeded the target number of birds that is needed to sustain them. Ongoing measures must take place to ensure their survival, and the United States Fish and Wildlife and Audubon Society are doing a great job to see that that happens. We had lots of other bird too! Brown Thrashers, Nashville Warblers, Field Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds and many of the more common species were seen. Back at the Visitors Center we had some nice sightings as well. Evening Grosbeak and Rose-breasted Grosbeak were both at the feeding station, as was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Warblers like Ovenbird and Black-throated Green Warbler could be heard singing in the woods.

Bryant (on left) fills us in on some of the conservation efforts used to preserve the warblers habitat.

It was a great morning overall and we had an opportunity to see and hear at least seven Kirtland’s Warblers on this tour. I highly recommend it to anyone who has yet to see this rarest of warblers!

Singing male Kirtland’s Warbler.

June 6th PM

This afternoon we headed over to Staley Lake Road to try for some birds I had seen reported there. We had a pretty good run, but the habitat was not what I expected. It was actually great for Kirtland’s Warbler, but in the late afternoon we heard none. We did get some target birds though. BREWER’S BLACKBIRD was actually pretty easily found. It walked right down the road in front of us giving good diagnostic views. A photo however didn’t go so well. It took off and landed in the top of a tree, where I got one shot of the bird facing away from us. It then dropped down and wasn’t seen again. We also added VESPER SPARROW here. We only had good looks at one, but I think a couple of other sparrows that flew were the same species. The bird that was the most fun was an UPLAND SANDPIPER! I saw it fly across the road well ahead of us. Just by the size and manner of flight I was sure that was what it was. Once we reached the spot, Eddie was surprised I was able to find it again since the area was quite dense with foliage. The bird remained for a good ten minutes until we finally drove away. We missed Clay-colored Sparrow here (as well as this morning) which surprised me due to the number of reports we’ve seen of this species. Maybe tomorrow.

Upland Sandpiper in the dense Jack Pine.

6/6 Dusk

We decided to head out one last time this evening to try for COMMON NIGHTHAWK and Whip-poor-will. We actually added quite a few species for the trip, including our first Bald Eagle. We had four Common Nighthawk, but dipped on the whips.

June 7th

I was up early and headed north this morning. Eddie decided to sleep in. I headed to the upper peninsula to a large area of grasslands on the eastern side. I had a target bird, SHARP-TAILED GROUSE. I knew that they had been being seen at a lek on Hancock Road, as many as 15 on Monday. This is a great grassland area with an abundance of birds. Due to a bit of disorientation due to missing road signs, it took me a little extra time to be sure I was in the right spot. I was. I worked an area about a mile long, knowing the lek was right near the road somewhere between two homes. I went back and forth a few times, just trolling along at three mph. I would scan from side to side as I went. Suddenly as I looked from left to right, a Sharp-tailed Grouse walked right out into the road only about 25 feet in front of me. If only it had been farther away, I would have had more time to see it. As it was, I only got out a “WOW” when the bird bolted and flew far off into the field, never to be seen again. This was quite similar to my experience with my life bird 15 years ago. Other birds in the area included Bobolink, Savannah Sparrows, American Kestrel, Eastern Meadowlark and a surprise find, a WESTERN MEADOWLARK! I know the species well and as I drove along I instantly recognized its familiar song. I finally pulled myself away and headed down state again to bird Wilderness State Park on the Lake Michigan Side of the lower peninsula. This was a very birdy spot and I had about fifty species there. Highlights included Herring and Ring-billed Gull, Caspian and Common Tern, Common Merganser and Double-crested Cormorant. Remember, this is my first real birding trip to Michigan, so most of these birds were new to my state list. There were also many warblers, mostly the common species. I also had my first Red-breasted Nuthatch and Winter Wrens here. It was a great day of birding. I got back to Grayling in the late afternoon. Tomorrow, we head to Nayanquing Point SWA for more great birds!

A nice mixed species group of birds on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Thursday June 8th

Today Eddie and I headed south to Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area just north of Bay City Michigan. This is a fabulous place and I had many target species for out trip here. We were quite successful.  I haven’t been west in several years after nearly thirty years of going west annually. Since this is as far west as I am going to get this year, I was hoping to add a number of western species on this trip. It has been going fairly well as you probably have noted. Today, my main target was YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD. I really enjoy seeing this bird and was hoping this rather eastern breeding population would come through for me. We had five birds, at least three males a female and one we never really got a look at but that called frequently from some dense branches in a tree. Another gentleman told me there were more in the south marsh. I also had my first SEDGE WRENS and Marsh Wrens of the trip here. I added many new trip birds including Common Gallinule, Trumpeter Swan, Virginia Rail, Pied-billed Grebe, Spotted Sandpiper and Swamp Sparrow to name  a few. This was our last birding stop for the trip and we ended with 106 species for the trip, 103 new for Michigan, and one lifer (Kirtland’s Warbler). It was a great birding trip and we really enjoyed getting to see the beautiful scenery of Michigan. Tomorrow, the long trip back to New York!

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A beautiful male Yellow-headed Blackbird at Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area.

Addendum: A few more thoughts

I had wanted to see as many western species as I could on the trip. I had a target list, and as usual I got some of them but not others, and I got some I hadn’t really planned on. Here are the ones I got: Sharp-tailed Grouse, Kirtland’s Warbler, Brewer’s Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Sedge Wren. Here are the ones I missed: American White Pelican, Clay-colored Sparrow and Wilson’s Phalarope. Pelicans had been being seen right up until our trip, but had simply vanished by the time I got to the likely spots. Clay-colored Sparrows were said to be “everywhere” and ebird certainly indicated they were. Not one at any location! Another birder and I mused that they must simply have gone quiet at the height of nesting season. Lastly, Wilson’s Phalarope (and many other shorebirds) simply vanished just at the time of our arrival due to a sudden dry spell that dried up the flooded fields where they had been being seen. Another notable miss: Red-tailed Hawk! Hawks in general were few, but to have never seen a Red-tail just doesn’t seem possible.

This was a fun, easy trip. We traveled just over 2000 miles and for the most part were very successful. Grayling is a nice friendly town and the scenery is beautiful, especially Hartwick State Park. We enjoyed our stay at Woodland Motor Lodge, the owners were very friendly and accommodating. You can check it out at woodland-motel.com I’d like to thank Eddie for his help and accompanying me on the trip!

A few additional photos:

A distant shot of the Western Meadowlark on Hantz Road in Chippewa County.

One of my best shots from the trip (a photo poor trip) was this female Yellow-headed Blackbird that posed nicely.

A Trumpeter Swan at Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area.

Another shot of the Upland Sandpiper.

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