Darkness was the start of my day today at 4:30am. When the goal is night birds, one either has to ride late into the night or start well before sunrise. Today would surely be a long day starting on the bike at 4:30am and hitting the road by noon for St. Louis. Ah the things a brother does for his sister. Our last Field Ornithology trip was scheduled this morning at Lux Arbor but not until 8:30am. Knowing I’d be gone most the day today and Sunday, I decided this was my chance to ride early after night birds, make another attempt at the private property known for Warblers before meeting my group at Lux by 8:30am. Plans were made and followed to a T.
I rode the 16 miles to Otis Sanctuary hoping for Eastern Whip-poor-whil, American Woodcock and any other night bird. Luckily my ride in the dark was uneventful, I had a surprise Sora call along the way and I made it to Otis in just under an hour. Within about a minute of walking out on the boardwalk, a Sedge Wren called which certainly perked my interest! I soon heard my Woodcock and within 10 minutes, heard a distant Whip. Not a bad 10 minutes. I hoped for owls but no such luck this morning.
From here it was a short 3.5 miles to the Warbler spot. I arrived to Eldon and Dan already there, ready to bird. Jack arrived shortly after that and we were on our way down the trail. We hit what we felt were the high percentage spots and while I didn’t get any new Warblers, I did get a Black-billed Cuckoo which was pretty great. I soon had to rush off the trail to get on the bike yet again in order to meet my group at Lux on time. Along the way I picked up a Chestnut-sided Warbler as well as Chimney Swifts in Delton. The Swift sighting was excellent as it saves me another long distance ride to Hastings. That, matched with my easy Common Nighthawk from Thursday night means a savings of almost 90 miles all together. 8.5 miles there, I arrived and was ready to continue birding.
One of the reasons I decided way back when to ride this morning was for nesting Osprey at Lux. It would be my shortest distance shot at this fish-eating Raptor and the birds did not disappoint. While slowly walking the Lux property I was also able to pull away with a Blue-headed Vireo which was really great. I’ve been looking for this little bugger!
After saying goodbye to my group and getting on the bike again, I had 12 miles left to finish out my morning. If you’re counting, that would be a 40 mile journey. About 3 miles from home I heard the crazy labored call of the Bobolink. What a nice way to end. My trip to St. Louis will be quick as I’ll be home mid afternoon tomorrow almost as if it never happened. I doubt I’ll ride unless the guys find something rare. Keep your fingers crossed!
A great plan was made for today. I planned to awake at 4:25am this morning ready to get on the bike and ride up to Otis after some night birds. From there, I would have a short ride over to Hidden Pond Nature Preserve for more elusive buggers before meeting up with Eldon at a phenomenal private property hoping to add a big list of missing warblers to my BIGBY list.
Well, I awoke at 4:25 like planned but pouring down rain and fog would divert the plan a bit. Riding at night is already risky enough. Adding rain and fog was enough to keep me from the roads until a bit later. I decided to hit the road around 6am, skip Otis and head through an area known for Waterthrush before checking out Hidden Pond for some recently reported Henslow’s Sparrows.
Within four miles of riding, I was already soggy but heard an early Wood Thrush singing which helped keep my spirits high. After roughly 14 miles, I secured an Ovenbird, Blue-winged Warbler, several Cerulean Warblers, an American Redstart, and one of my goals for the day, a Northern Waterthrush. Many may perk up to Ceruleans but in Barry County this is about as easy as it gets. When arriving to Hidden Pond, some walking through wet trails yielded White-crowned Sparrow, Pine Warbler and the illusive Henslow’s Sparrow. Soaked to the bones, a list of 9 so far was pretty good!
Upon meeting up with Eldon and my Dad, we began walking a beautiful property with high hopes of warblers. With the rain and dropping temperatures, we had low numbers and low diversity but we did pull out some goodies. Warbling Vireo was the first addition to my BIGBY list here and then 5 more found their way to my list including Black and White Warbler, Great-crested Flycatcher, Veery, Hooded Warbler, and a Scarlet Tanager.
Given the low diversity, I decided Pierce Cedar Creek might be worth checking out before returning home. My dad joined me there and we thought it was a bust as we walked through an eerily quiet forest. I was hoping for at least an easy Black-throated Green Warbler and after what seemed like forever, we finally heard one.
With not much else singing, I decided to take some time looking around the area and found a couple trees loaded with movement. Enter the honey hole! Most of the birds were Yellow-rumps (already on the BIGBY list) but I did come away with a gorgeous Blackburnian Warbler that popped into my field of view unexpectedly. Can I get a WAHOO!!!???
Being only a mile and half from Jack’s Louisiana Waterthrush spot, we zipped over there and headed into the spot. One more time, the bird didn’t show. ARGH!!! We did have a first of spring Eastern Wood Pewee and while getting suited back up for the final leg of my journey home, two warblers flew in. I’m glad I didn’t just assume it was more Yellow Warblers because one of them was a female Wilson’s Warbler. What a fantastic way to end. All in all, today’s additions to the BIGBY list add up to 19 species. Take note of this as I doubt I’ll have a day bigger than that the rest of 2013. Click HERE to see the full list. I’m currently at 145 species… I want to send out a big thank you to Eldon for inviting me out to the amazing property he showed us today and another big thank you to my dad for his endless support in these tough rides. While waiting for the next post, check out my 40 mile route from today!
Today’s beautiful weather brought my good friend Danny over to join me for a long ride Northeast after shorebirds. The plan was to ride up to a spot near the North side of Barry County to a farm field with small flooded ponds that previously had decent diversity. I also figured I might score some passerines knowing the amount of mileage we’d put in today.
After getting underway, within a few miles I had an Eastern Kingbird calling away from a power line along Jones Rd. Immediately after that, a brilliant Indigo Bunting darted across the road and perched atop a tall Pine Tree. This was a great start! As we approached our turn on to M-37, I was greeted with the song of a Nashville Warbler. Not a huge surprise as that was the bird of the morning at Kellogg Forest today.
As we rode, birds like Gray Catbirds and singing Baltimore Orioles kept the pace quick. Two riders equals a faster pace and we ate up the 28 miles to the shorebird spot quickly. As we laid the bikes down, I quickly found both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs when the bird of the day (along with over 100 of its friends) took flight. The birds were Lapland Longspurs, a species I rode after a number of times in January and February. How exciting to see this spectacle in May. I never would’ve thought I’d see one, let alone over a hundred and also in breeding plumage. Awesome…
On the journey back, we stopped at another pond where both Jack and Eldon had recently found more shorebirds. I was able to pull away with Semi-palmated Plover (see Dad’s photo below, what a beauty!) and Spotted Sandpiper before jumping on the bikes and finishing the journey home.
About 4 miles from home I closed today’s list out with Great Egrets in a pond off Hickory Rd. What a great finish to a long 59 miles on the road.
As always, a huge thank you to Danny for joining me on the ride. I was also treated with seeing Jack and Eldon today. These guys are making my BIGBY a success and I can’t thank them enough. Rounding out the thank yous, another big shout out goes to my Dad who also showed up in the field. He had cold water and snacks which was just what we needed for the return journey. Stay tuned as the week looks good for great weather which means more rides going after missing birds.
I had some time to ride today so decided to meet up with my good friend Jack in search of a Louisiana Waterthrush. I snagged a Yellow Warbler on the ride up and found Jack shortly after that. He led me to his spot and we began listening and looking. Unfortunately we missed on the bird today but as he pointed out, it was quite warm and late in the day. I will be back soon early in the morning and will likely score this bird.
In the meantime, I rode over to the low area at Pierce Cedar Creek where he had been hearing Wilson’s Snipe calling. I quickly heard the distant call but it was so soft, Jack wasn’t picking them up. He suggested heading down the trail to get out of the wind. As we walked, it was surprisingly dead with very little activity. We went down a small path leading to the water’s edge which proved to be a worthwhile trip as we quickly found a Solitary Sandpiper. Woohoo for any shorebird in Barry County! While scanning, the Wilson’s Snipe called again and this time both of us were treated with the song. On our walk back, my first of spring Common Yellowthroat sang and I was soon back on the bike heading home.
Along Cedar Creek Rd., I scored a Green Heron before returning home. All in all, not a bad 20 miles on the bike with 5 new species seen/heard. Stay tuned as May will surely bring some great numbers.
Ahhhh, spring hawkwatch. The only thing better is fall hawkwatch on Lake Erie! The bridge is a welcome sight for our family. It means we’re headed to the UP which is always a good thing. The third weekend in April marks our annual trip to Whitefish Pt. for birding and relaxing on Lake Superior.
While the day began cold and windy, the skies were clear and the winds were out of the Southeast. We’ll take it! I knew we’d have a decent day on the hawk deck with those conditions, as long as the temperatures warmed up a bit. I began the day on the deck just past 8am but the activity didn’t start for at least a couple hours. After the first couple Red-tailed Hawks took flight, it seemed like the rest of the Buteos followed.
There were points when several small groups were up and streaming by. What a day for Rough-legged Hawks; light and dark morphs, females and males, but oddly enough almost all of them were adult birds.
The winds also helped bring the birds close to the deck at times. This was the best photographic day on the hawk deck I’ve had in years; simply enjoyable. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I did enough shooting to fill a couple cards; and most of our readers know how choosy I am before hitting the shutter!!!
This short trip ends mid-day tomorrow when we’ll begin the journey home. Stay tuned, Dad and I will be heading to Magee Marsh to begin scouting for our Glances At Nature birding trip that begins Friday. More posts to come! Hopefully I can squeeze in a BIGBY ride Wednesday too! =)
Many of our readers should’ve noticed the recent onslaught of posts regarding my 2013 BIGBY project. If you haven’t seen these posts or want to read more about this venture, click HERE to start. For those that may be wondering about our photography, it’s still on! I thought I’d share a recent image of mine from this weekend. The Blue-winged Teal pictured above was hiding in some reeds and happened to pop into view shortly after I entered the lake with my super low setup. This allows me to be extremely low to the water which is how I achieved the overall look of this image.
With waterfowl, getting low is the most important first step. In our region, the good waterfowl are only around in spring and fall. If you’re actually getting in the water it can be quite uncomfortable. Even in neoprene waders, the water will soon chill your feet to the point where you can’t stand it anymore. Lucky for me, this bird popped out shortly after getting in which was a lucky break. Step 2 was being prepared with a close exposure before even entering the water. Being in the ball park can help guarantee more keeper shots!
I still have room for my next trip, ‘Sleeping Bear Dunes in Fall‘ where the focus is on landscape and macro images. Join me to learn the tricks of the trade as well as take home some killer images.
So it didn’t look THAT bad out this morning. That’s what I get for thinking…
The ride began in sleet but it quickly diminished which allowed me to press on with hopes of Swallows on Fine Lake followed by a nice walk with Kara and Lillian at Pierce Cedar Creek. All began well as I nabbed two Northern Rough-winged Swallows amongst 40+ Tree Swallows and a half dozen Barn Swallows. Riding on, I made my way towards Pierce and heard a Chipping Sparrow singing off Banfield Rd. As I made the turn on Cloverdale Rd., I stopped at a pond with some dabblers hoping for a late Pintail. No luck but I’m glad I stopped as I heard the loud crowing of a Ring-necked Pheasant in the grass field beyond the pond. Niiiiiiiice!!!
Arriving at Pierce, I was greeted by Kara and Lillian who joined me for a walk out through the prairie where we heard an Eastern Towhee singing as well as Field Sparrows. We ended up in some Beech Maple forest so we tuned our ears hoping for a Barred Owl. No luck until we were well back into the prairie when I thought I heard a faint call in the distance. The many dogs barking may have fooled me but we stopped and listened when BOOM, a distant Barred called out. What a nice memory of a time when my two favorite ladies joined me on one of my BIGBY adventures.
We all were warming up in the Interpretive Center when Kara noticed some precipitation starting. Greeeeeaaaaat. After the list I’d tallied today, there was no way I was going home in the car so I got underway. It’s hard for me to go slow but the driving sleet was painful enough on the exposed skin I just had to slow down to lessen the edge. I made my way down Cedar Creek Rd. and my body was warmed to the tune of a Brown Creeper singing! I was even able to stop and find the bird on a massive Oak just off the side of the road. I jumped back on the bike and continued on. Turning right on Pifer Rd., I stopped to scan the many Geese in the field hoping for a Cackler. No dice but as I got back up to speed, I flushed a beautiful sparrow with white outer tail feathers. VESPER!
When arriving in Hickory Corners, any sane person would’ve turned left on Hickory Rd. to finish out the 2.75 miles back to my house. I was wet and cold but decided to turn right and head towards Gull Lake. Surely there’d be something crazy there in this weather! Nothing super crazy but I was hoping for at least a Bonaparte’s Gull and there were 15. There were also 12 Common Loons as well as 2 Forster’s Terns hunting. That’s two more for the BIGBY list. Now it’s time to head home. As calm as it had been so far, the winds decided to creep up and I would have to head home right into ‘em. Below shows what I see when riding in weather like this. Still could make out that Vesper though. =)
Wouldn’t you know it, one mile from home the clouds began to lift and the sun came out. HA!!! Well, had it been sunny I may have missed some birds and the story would’ve been bland. All in all a great day of birding and a cold/wet day on the bike. Just as I thought my list was complete, I passed by a large pond on Hickory Rd. and a Double-crested Cormorant was sitting high-necked in the middle of the pond. That bird makes 99 total BIGBY birds (11 new BIGBY species and 32 miles for the day). I wonder what will be 100??? Any guesses?
So this is what I received at 12:19pm today…
My original plan was to ride Northeast this afternoon going for Dabblers I’m missing. Needless to say, the alert for a Northern Mockingbird on Gun Lake changed my plans. I called the person who posted the bird for more information but with no answer, I decided to head out. Within a mile of leaving, I had my first of spring Eastern Phoebe singing his little heart out. Half way through the journey, I also snagged a Golden-crowned Kinglet off of Marsh Rd. just south of Gun Lake. Upon arriving to the spot, I found Jack had already arrived. My Dad, Eldon and a friend of his arrived soon after and we all began to look and listen. While waiting for any sign of the Mockingbird, we also started panning the big lake for water birds.
I quickly added Ruddy Duck, Herring Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Horned Grebe and Pied-billed Grebe. A nice little list but we still hadn’t seen or heard anything of a Mockingbird. Then came the call. Apparently, there was an error with eBird. The bird reported was actually more than 55 miles away in Decatur, MI. WHAT!!!
After disappointment, I was sure I had all the birds I could see on Gun Lake so I began the journey home. It wasn’t all for not. I ended up with a nice list for the day which still made all the miles worthwhile. When returning to Hickory Rd., I decided to continue riding past home to hit a couple ponds I’ve been visiting the past few weeks hoping for some of the Dabblers I’m missing. I’ve been seeing them by car on the way to and from work but never when I arrive by bike. Today, my luck changed. I was able to add both Green-winged Teal and Blue-winged Teal. The extra mileage was worth it! All in all, I rode 55.5 miles and added 10 new birds to the BIGBY list. Not too shabby… See my full route below. Yowzer!!!
With the day off today Lillian and I enjoyed a ride together on the Kalamazoo Valley Trail from Comstock to the end of Markin Glen and back. The weather was beautiful, the birds were singing and Lillian was happy as can be with her favorite stuffed animal Owl in tow. After returning home, I decided to finish out the day with another short ride in Barry County hoping for a new bird or two. As you can see above, the warm up in weather meant for less layers and a faster ride. I targeted a large open pond across from the field where I found the Snow Goose and the Greater White-fronted Goose.
I was able to score Ring-necked Duck right off the bat and while scanning the pond I soon heard the crazy song of a Rusty Blackbird. I turned and saw a beautiful female through my bins. This is a bird I have been looking for. In fact, I’ve had a couple big groups of Blackbirds where I am pretty sure I had the species before but I never could get definitive views to call it a BIGBY bird without a doubt. After a clear look at this bird, I adjusted my viewing to a different angle and then had good views of a large grass field along with the pond. This proved to be lucky as I soon had a gorgeous adult male Northern Harrier in view skimming over the grass field.
It was sure an enjoyable 8 miles that yielded a surprising 3 new species. I’m still missing key species like Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler as well as both Teal species. Here’s to finding some open water this weekend with a couple of these species. The warm up will surely bring a long ride for me. Now to decide the direction of my travel…
After last week’s “day of all days” BIGBY birding, I couldn’t imagine I’d have another great ride so soon. And so another day begins.
Yesterday I received a message from super star birder Jack Wykoff that a Greater White-fronted Goose had shown up at Irving Pond, just south of Middleville. The sun was out, it was in the 30s and the winds were high but unfortunately, it was way too late in the day to get over 50 miles in before dark. It would have to wait until today, Monday. As many of our local readers awoke this morning, it wasn’t looking good for a long ride today. Rain, snow, and ice were in the outlook. As stubborn as I am, I didn’t care. I arranged to leave work early and head up. Almost as if an omen convinced me to stop, on my way home I noticed a field of Canada Geese just across the Barry County line. As I stopped and began panning through the field, I found my omen. An adult white Snow Goose. NICE!! Now the decision had to be made, do I head north through cold winds and rain for a long arduous jorney or do I stay close to home, still get a good species and go for the Greater White-fronted Goose another time. After thinking about my omen, I decided to stay close to home which in the end, proved to be a VERY good decision.
I packed up a heavy backpack with my full scope rig and began my short four mile journey. Shortly after leaving home, I added a Common Grackle to the BIGBY list. Certainly not a hard bird but I’ll take it. As I arrived at the farm field, I quickly noticed my Snow Goose was still there. Number two for the day. Now it was down to the business of scanning the field with the scope for possible Cackling Geese or perhaps a Greater White-fronted Goose. While setting up my scope, I began hearing Canada Geese call when all of a sudden, a higher pitched goose call rang out. Number three was in the bag for the day as I quickly got my binocs on five Greater White-fronted Geese coming in to land. What a day!!! At that moment standing in the frigid 30 degre, windy day my body warmed knowing I just got more than I’d ever hoped in less than eight miles.
I quickly called Jack and Eldon as I knew both of these super stars needed Snow Goose in Barry County for 2013. Both gentlemen, including my Dad who also arrived, added Snow Goose to their lists. My Dad even had the excitement of adding this bird as a lifer. Yeah baby!
Having my scope and tripod with me, I was able to take some digiscoped photos with the iPhone of both species (see above). What a great short ride. Brrrr; boy am I glad I didn’t tackle the 52 mile journey like I’d planned. Come to find out, the Goose up at Irving had left for the day and who knows if it will even be back. Thanks to the birding gods for allowing me to find that Snow Goose. It was the one deciding factor and boy did it pay off.