alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Final Trip Blog

29 May 2017

Before heading into Canada, we spent about 1.5 hours in the morning birding Freezeout Lake Wetland Management Area again.  They have an auto tour route we did not take the day before.

A good morning.  We saw about 30 different species, and ‘top of the morning’ — two Short-eared Owls.  We later saw an additional two Short-eared Owls – flying low over the farm fields in search of breakfast.  These are my favorite North American Owl species.  So glad to see them doing well in northern Montana.

At the Wetland Management Area, we saw and heard a number of Marsh Wrens.  They were busy gathering nest material among the cattails.  Fun to listen to their chatter and see them with their tails raised.  The other two species we saw today, but didn’t see yesterday were the Common Tern and the Western Grebe.

We made it to the Canadian Border around 1:00 pm.  No hassles getting into Canada.  They asked how long we planned to spend in Canada and we said seven days.  I hope it is less.  No offense to Canada – it is a beautiful country, although we’ve only seen the western Provinces and Territories.  Someday we hope to get back east, especially Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  We like the wild areas and those areas with few people.  But we’ve been on the western Canada roads numerous times in the past 10 years and it’s a long slog home, once you make the decision to go home – sort of anti-climatic.

We stayed the night at Chain Lakes Provincial Park.  The cost of an electrical site was $30 Canadian.   Seemed expensive.  The bathrooms were vault toilets, and the water was centrally located, and no showers that we could find.

We experienced an exciting thunderstorm that passed through right after we finished eating.  Timed that right.  But the skies cleared and we had a peaceful (no thunder or rain) night.

White-crowned Sparrow …

… singing its heart out

30 May 2017

We decided to briefly visit Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.  There is a noticeable difference between the two parks.  Banff is much more developed.  They have fencing to keep the wildlife off the roads, and overpasses so the wildlidfe can get from one side to the other.  Not so in Jasper.  Jasper also has fewer pull-outs.  The park just seems more wild than Banff.   And not as many visitors, although there were still a lot of vehicles on the road.

We made a few stops within the parks, but since we had been here in 2014, we decided to just enjoy the scenic landscape beauty as we drove through.  We did spend the night at the Wapati campground just south of Jasper.  We got here early and just enjoyed the afternoon – warm temperatures and sunny skies.  Can’t beat that.

Wildlife Crossings – got to keep those animals off the road. Don’t want any wildlife suicides.  These are in Banff National Park.

However, in Jasper National Park (where there is much less traffic), animals roam freely on the roads, including these Rocky Mountain sheep.

This one eating something from a divet in the road

31 May 2017

Got up early and spent most of the day driving Highway 16 from Jasper towards the Cassier Highway.  We stopped about 22 miles short of the Cassier Highway, spending the night at Seeley Lake Provincial Park.  At 7:44 pm, we are the only campers in this 20 campsite park.  We are okay with that.  Beautiful area, with the lake outside our back door.  The only downside is that the campground is RIGHT off the highway.  You can hear all the traffic, and there are a lot of large semi-trucks traveling this highway.  The diesel pickup trucks don’t help either.  But the beauty does outweigh the traffic noise.

We got to the park right after it rained.  The birds came out in droves to finish feeding for the day.  The highlight of the 14 species we noted, was a pair of Western Tanagers.  I wasn’t sure we would get to see this species so was very happy we did.

Western Tanager

Seeley Lake

Seeley Lake

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Seeley Lake Provincial Park:

  • Western Tanager
  • Pine Siskin
  • American Robin
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Northern Flicker
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

Before reaching the park we did stop for an early dinner at Tandoori Bristo in Smithers.  The food was GREAT.  I would highly recommend this place to anyone traveling through Smithers who loves Indian cuisine.  Not to be missed.

1 June 2017

Left our campsite at 6:00 am and headed west to meet up with the Cassier Highway.  Our intent is to drive 433 miles of the 450-mile road.  There is a series of small lakes (Blue Lakes) that we love and they have a campsite at one of the lakes.  That is our goal for the day.

This drive is a favorite of ours.  Fewer cars than on the Alaska Highway and prettier scenery, at least I think so.  We had intermittent rain throughout the drive and stopped numerous times to stretch our and Doodlebug’s legs.  At one stop I heard a bird singing nearby.  I didn’t recognize the song, but I followed the sounds to the tree it was coming from.  There in the tree was a MacGuilvary’s Warbler.  This warbler looks very similar to the Mourning and Canada Warblers.  The difference?  This warbler has a broken eye ring or eye arcs as it says in my Sibley’s Guide (field guide book).  I haven’t seen this species in over ten years, so was happy to see the bird again.

We had planned to stop for lunch at the world famous Tatooga Restaurant, but when we got there no one was around.  Jack went to see if they were open and there was a sign on the door stating they were temporarily closed due to a work-related accident.  I hope whoever was injured was not injured badly.  They were planning to reopen at 12:30, but we decided not to wait a half hour and proceeded to Dease Lake and the Tin Rooster Deli for lunch — a ‘deli’ within a grocery store.  Lots of fried food if that is what you like.  I was hoping for a nice chicken breast sandwich, but I was out of luck.  Had chicken fried strips instead.  I wonder what we missed at the Tatooga Restaurant?

Well when we got to Blue Lakes we decided to continue onward because hordes of mosquitoes were angrily swarming around the car looking for blood, and we haven’t even gotten to Alaska yet.  Yesterday, Doodlebug was bitten numerous times on her belly, which is bare because she was shaved for her ultrasound about two weeks ago.  No belly hair to protect her.  Poor gal.  We didn’t want a repeat performance of that, nor did we want to provide blood for future generations of mosquitoes.  Instead we decided to spend the night at the Big Creek Campground in the Yukon Territory.  We’ve stayed here before and our favorite campsite was vacant.  Hooray!!!

Tomorrow we hope to make another 500 miles.  This is nothing compared to what some people travel in a day.  Someday we are going to vacation in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.  It’s on my bucket travel list.

Common Loon

One of the “Blue” Lakes

2 June 2017

Another early start, although this time we slept in an hour and didn’t leave until around 7:45 am.  We continued our journey along the Alaska Highway, stopping occasionally for birds (e.g., a Northern Hawk Owl – haven’t seen one of those in several years), vistas, food, restrooms, stretching.

We camped tonight at Lake Creek Campground, near the Canada/Alaska border.  I think on this drive on the Alaska Highway my favorite area is around Haines, Junction.  I just love the snow capped mountains.  So majestic.   I was surprised at how low Kluane Lake is this year; much lower than when we came through about a year ago.  Climate change?  I think so.  If this large lake (largest in the Yukon Territory) is shrinking, imaging what the many area wetlands are doing.  Many birds and other wildlife depend upon these water features.

Tomorrow we venture into our home state of Alaska.  We won’t make it home (Homer) tomorrow – it is a large state – but it will be nice to know we are almost there.  Besides, we have a number of errands to run in Anchorage before making the final 200+ miles back home.

Northern Hawk Owl

Kluane Lake – the lake is really drawn down

This mountain generally has sheep, which we did see

Kluane Lake

3 June 2017

Another long day of driving.  Today we went from Lake Creek Campground in the Yukon to Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site along the Glenn Highway, about 100 miles east of Anchorage.  And it was along a lot of rough road.  Good thing our shocks were in working order.  Lots of frost heaves have made for a roller coast ride.  No fast driving today.

What was really surprising on today’s drive was the number of small wetland ponds that were dry – no visible water and it is spring when you would expect more water from snow melt.  Last year at this same time these ponds had water in them.  Not much, but at least their was some water.  There are also a number of ponds where there is very little water.  These wetlands are so important for wildlife.  Birds need them for feeding, roosting, and raising their young.  And even though it was raining throughout the day, what rain they get isn’t enough to keep these ponds full.  They need snow melt.  The fire danger in the Yukon was rated ‘Very High’, and after we got to Tok it changed to ‘High’.  Still not good so early in the season – it isn’t even summer yet.  Despite the naysayers, our climate is changing and changing rapidly.

I did mention to Jack we are getting back just as the days are reaching their longest in terms of the amount of sunlight.  Shortly after June 21nd the days will start getting shorter again.  Doesn’t seem right.  Shouldn’t the longest day of the year be mid summer?  Oh well, I just hope we have a warm (70s), dry summer.  Just because it is nice in Homer, doesn’t mean it can rain elsewhere though – like eastern interior Alaska and the Yukon – where it is so dry.

Tomorrow we drive into Anchorage and will spend the night.  It will be good to be home, but I also will miss being out on the road bird watching, visiting new and old favorite refuges and friends, and seeing our great country.  Regardless of all the promises to “Make America Great Again”, I already think its pretty great.

4 June 2017

We arrived in Anchorage early, did some errands, visited with family, and just relaxed before heading home tomorrow.

5 June 2017

After a few more errands around Anchorage – can’t forget to stop at Costco to stock up for the summer, we drove five hours to reach home.  I was surprised at how much snow was still present in the mountains around Turnagain Pass.

It was good to be home, and having arrived early (around 4:00 pm), we were able to get most things put away before calling it a night.

All in all, we had a GREAT trip.   I will be making periodic posts throughout the summer on birds, activities around Homer, and other fun, interesting stuff.    But before I go, here are a few statistics about our trip:

TRIP STATISTICS

Miles Driven:  25,000 (estimated) – need to think about carbon offset

Number of Days:  253

Number of Bird Species Seen (9/26/2016 to 6/5/2017):  ~390

Number of Birds Species Seen (1/1/2017 to 6/5/17): 379

Number of Life Birds:  8

  • Philadelphia Vireo
  • Black-capped Gnatcatcher
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Connecticut Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • American Woodcock

Number of States (I) Visited:  23 (not counting Alaska)

Number of Canadian Provinces/Territories:  3

Number of Campgrounds:  91

Number of National Wildlife Refuges:  61 (at least one in each state visited except Kentucky)

Number of “New” National Wildlife Refuges visited: 27

Number of National Park/Recreation Areas/Nature Preserves Visited: 8

GET OUT AND ENJOY

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

And Bird On ….

 

Montana Big Sky Birding

25 May 2017

After leaving North Dakota we traveled over 200 miles to get to Lewiston, Montana for the evening.  This was essentially a travel day, although we did occasionally stop to check out birds along the way.

26 May 2017

Today is essentially our last chance to see a Grasshopper Sparrow as we move out of its range.

Sprague’s Pipit …

… these birds aren’t easy to find and to see.  We lucked out.  We actually saw about six different ones..

Vesper Sparrow

Savanah Sparrow

Long-billed Curlew – this one a male.  His bill isn’t as long as the female’s bill.

Western Meadowlark with lunch

Gadwall

McCown’s Longspur

Chestnut-collard Longspur

Horned Lark

Killdeer Chick – soooooooo cute

One of the parents

Red-tailed Hawk nest

Lark Bunting …

… these birds are continually chased off by Brown-headed Cowbirds.  Not good.

Bird Species Seen or Observed along Snow Mountain Road:

  • Lark Bunting
  • Horned Lark
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • McCown’s Longspur
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Common Raven
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Killdeer
  • Northern Harrier
  • Barn Swallow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Golden Eagle
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Gadwall
  • Mourning Dove

27 May 2017

Visited with family today in Helena.  Was nice to sit back, relax, and visit the local Farmer’s Market.  Tomorrow we plan to visit a national wildlife refuge and a favorite birding area called Freezeout Lake.  If this site hasn’t been designated an “Important Bird Area”, it should be so designated.

28 May 2017

Left Helena and made our way to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Great Falls, Montana.  This 12,459 acre refuge contains short-grass prairie habitat in addition to several shallow lakes.  We visited this refuge during our 2013-2014 trip and the lake levels were much lower than today, so we saw a greater abundance of American Avocets back then.   In addition to six different species of shorebirds seen today, we had 13 different species of waterfowl.  I think the only waterfowl species that breeds at the refuge that we didn’t see was the Green-winged Teal.  Haven’t seen that bird in the recent past.

The mosquitoes were out in full force today so it was difficult to have one’s window down even a little.  They smelled blood…   But it was great to see the shorebirds: Wilsons’ Phalarope, Willet, Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, American Avocet, and Black-necked Stilt.  And there was an abundance of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

As we were leaving the refuge I told Jack, “Well guess I won’t get a Grasshopper Sparrow this trip”.  Not ten seconds later I noticed a small bird on top of some vegetation.  I yelled “Stop” and checked out the bird.  Sure enough it was a Grasshopper Sparrow.  The bird was even singing so I knew for sure, even without seeing the bird in detail, that a Grasshopper Sparrow was present in the short-grass prairie.  I was a very happy birder.

This refuge is pretty flat – a few “gentle” rolling hills

A few areas with shrubs … otherwise all short prairie grass

The southern edge of the prairie pothole region

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel – cute little buggers

Female Yellow-headed Blackbird …

… with ruffled feathers

Wilson’s Phalarope – fun to watch them move in circles, stirring up their food for easy access

Eared Grebes in breeding plumage

Wilson’s Phalarope grooming itself

A very wet Willet – also grooming (preening) itself

Marbled Godwit – these birds breed on the refuge

Yellow-bellied Marmot enjoying the sunny (albeit, windy) day

Willet feeding along the lake shoreline

There was actually a Black-crowned Night Heron hiding in the vegetation on that island

Black-necked Stilt on a nest

Cinnamon Teal

Marbled Godwit

American Avocet

Northern Pintail pair

Swainson’s Hawk – this bird was near its nest

Western Meadowlark singing its heart out

Yes, finally my Grasshopper Sparrow …

… upclose

Upland Sandpiper – with ruffled feathers. Looks very plump …

… but not so much when feathers are back in place – we call it the fence post bird.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Western Meadowlark
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Common Grackle
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Horned Lark
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Swainson’s Hawk (nesting pair found)
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Mourning Dove
  • Tree Sparrow
  • American Robin
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Wigeon
  • Canada Goose
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • American Coot
  • Gadwall
  • Mallard
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Eared Grebe
  • Northern Pintail
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Willet
  • American Avocet
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Redhead
  • Bufflehead
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Canvasback
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Barn Swallow
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Black-billed Magpie

We actually had two places in mind to visit today: Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Freezeout Lake Wetland Management Area (WMA).  After visiting the refuge, we took some back road to get to the WMA.   Along the way we spotted two Short-eared Owls.   Woohoo!!!  This species of owl is my favorite.  I was elated to see not one, but two of them.  One was flying in search of its evening meal and the other was sitting on a fence post just off the road.  These owls are diurnal and hunt for the food in the early morning and later afternoon.  What great views of both birds.

Camping is one of the permitted activities at Freezeout Lake.  Yes!!!  We found the camping area and then took a drive around the WMA.  Once again we saw Short-eared Owls – three this time.  I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many Short-eared Owls in one day (five in all).  Haven’t even seen that many in any given year.  We felt very fortunate.  As Jack likes to say, “Timing is everything”.

I saw a small bird that looks like a sparrow, but I can’t identify it.  Doesn’t look like any sparrow in my bird book.  Maybe I should check out the sparrows found in the Eastern U.S.  Maybe this bird took a wrong turn somewhere.

Cottontail Rabbit

Vesper Sparrow – generally accommodating for photographers

Western Meadowlark

Short-eared Owl

This bird can really turn it’s head

Another Short-eared Owl we saw the next morning

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Freezeout Lake Wetland Management Area:

  • Yellow-headed Cowbird
  • Canada Goose
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Avocet
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Mallard
  • Willet
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Gadwall
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Tundra Swan
  • American White Pelican
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Common Grackle
  • Killdeer
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Tree Sparrow
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Tern sp (either Common or Forester’s)
  • Mystery Bird

We got through the wildlife drive when a strong storm came through – lightening, Thunder (not much), rain, and wind.   Would like to have another day to spend here (will have to come back), but we need to move on and head home.  We will leave the United States tomorrow and make our long way across Canada.  Most of our time there will be spent driving, so this will be my second to last blog for the trip.  The final blog will provide some statistics of what we saw, where we went, with some photos of our trip through Canada.  Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

 

North Dakota

22 May 2017

We left wet and cold Minnesota this morning and blew in with the ever-present North Dakota winds.  North Dakota has produced a number of birding trail maps/guides and we are using the Birding Drives Dakota Map.  This map has five different routes.  Today we drove most of the Jamestown to Arrowwood NWR route (green) and the Carrington to Arrowwood NWR route (red) – mostly where these two routes overlap.  Other than the wildlife refuge, much of the countryside is farmland.  However, as a result of previous glaciation of the state there are numerous (and I mean numerous) “prairie potholes” – small wetlands or waterbodies used by waterfowl, waterbirds, and songbirds (like the Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds).  Oh and we can’t forget shorebirds either (Spotted Sandpiper, American Avocet, Semi-palmated Sandpiper were spotted).  In the fields we found several Upland Sandpipers (one doesn’t expect a shorebird to be utilizing farm fields).   I guess their name is indicative of the type of habitat they prefer.

We did visit the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge.  This approximately 16,000-acre refuge, established in 1935, has a 5.5-mile auto tour route, which we took back in 2014 when we first visited this refuge.  However, by the time we got to the auto tour route today it was almost 5:00 pm, so we decided to get some dinner in the nearby community of Carrington, where we will be staying for the night.

In total we observed 50 different bird species today, including two trip birds (a.k.a., First of Year – FOY species):  Black Tern and Western Kingbird.  It was a good day to bird, despite the winds (15+ mph), overcast skies, and occasional rain.  I almost feel like we’ve had a dark cloud over our heads – literally – since we left Sedona in early April.   Crazy wet and windy weather along our entire route, with a few occasional nice days.

Western Meadowlark

Yellow-headed Blackbird

One of the many lakes in the prairie pothole area

Lots of farm land

Signs along the route to match the descriptions in the brochure

Barn Swallow

Tree Swallow – is it love or competition for a nest site. I hope they aren’t trying to nest in these pipes since pipes are a death trap for birds.

We love Yellow-headed Blackbirds

Brewer’s Blackbird

Bobolink

Upland Sandpiper

They would do this thing with their neck (pull them back) – not sure why

Wilson’s Phalarope

Savannah Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Semi-palmated Sandpiper

American Avocet – love the blue legs

Bird Species Seen or Heard today:

  • Common Grackle
  • Canada Goose
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Killdeer
  • House Sparrow
  • Western Kingbird
  • American Robin
  • American Crow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • American White Pelican
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • American Coot
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Mallard
  • Black Tern
  • Gadwall
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Tree Swallow
  • Redhead
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Song Sparrow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Northern Flicker
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Bobolink
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Sora
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Northern Pintail
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Horned Lark
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Northern Harrier
  • American Avocet
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper

23 May 2017

Cold and miserable this morning, but at least it wasn’t raining.  Temperature was 46 degrees F, but according to my weather app it was “46, but feels like 39” outside.  I believe it.

We decided to do the Carrington to Chase Lake Birding Trail today, with the hopes of spotting the big five: Sprague’s Pipit, Nelson’s Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur, LeConte’s Sparrow, and Grasshopper Sparrow.  Well one out of five isn’t bad.  We did see three very nice Chestnut-collared Longspurs displaying.  They rise up into the air – almost straight up, and then gracefully fall to the earth, almost like they have on a parachute.  I wasn’t sure what I was seeing when I first spotted the bird sitting on a twig.  It’s chest and belly were so black.  I didn’t see its chestnut collar, at first.   Beautiful bird.

We did skip a few of the stops along the way, and birded a small portion of the Medina-Chase Lake Birding Trail.  This is actually where we spotted the longspur, so I’m glad we made the detour.  We’ve birded the Medina-Chase Lake Birding Trail before (in 2014).  The previous time we had great showings of Grasshopper Sparrows.  This time nothing.  Granted we visited in late July/early August that year, but you would think the sparrows would be here by now — late May.  The Clay-colored, Song, and Savannah Sparrows are all present and occasionally singing.  Of course what do they have to sing about when it is cold, windy, and overcast outside. Right???  Maybe all the north winds and cold front have kept some species of sparrows from getting to their breeding grounds on schedule.

The Bird Checklist for the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which we did visit today, includes the arrival date of the birds.  I haven’t seen this on any other bird checklist (refuge or otherwise) and I wish they all had this information.  For the Grasshopper, Baird’s, LeConte’s, and Nelson’s Sparrow they list early May as the arrival dates.  So, are they late in arriving, or just not showing themselves and singing — because of the wind?  I hope it is the latter.

The Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Missouri Coteau.  What is the Missouri Coteau?  Good question.  The Missouri Coteau is a narrow glacial moraine extending from Northern Iowa to central Alberta.  Coteau is French for “little hill”.  The Missouri Coteau is dotted with thousands of prairie potholes – very important waterfowl habitat.

The 4,385-acre Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 and is home to one of the largest nesting colonies of American White Pelicans.  According the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, their population fluctuates between 4,000 and 35,000 (quite a spread) breeding birds.  Although the pelicans nest here, they must travel elsewhere for food as Chase Lake is highly alkaline and no freshwater fish or invertebrates live in the lake.   In 1975, a large portion of the refuge was designated as wilderness.

Old, deserted Homestead

Mourning Dove

They farm around the prairie potholes – good thing for waterfowl and other birds who depend on these wetlands

Blue-winged Teal –  we have seen so many we now say “there’s a blue boy”

Saw a few cows

Common Loon – rare for this area

Barn Swallow getting out of the wind

Snowy Egret

Male Northern Harrier in search of food

Horned Lark

Bobolink

American White Pelicans in flight

Ruddy Duck

New Bird Species Seen or Heard Today (North Dakota bird list):

  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • American Bittern
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Common Loon (rare to this area)
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Swainson’s Hawk
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur (First of Year)
  • European Starling
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Marbled Godwit (breed here)
  • Canvasback
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Western Grebe
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Snowy Egret
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (state park)
  • House Wren (state park)
  • Downy Woodpecker (state park)

More wind is in the forecast for the next several days.  We just can’t seem to escape it.  We are spending the night at Cross Ranch State Park, north of Bismark.   When we arrived at the campground the office had already closed.  We went to get a self-registration envelope but a House Wren has started setting up a nest in the fee box.

Tomorrow the plan is to visit a new National Wildlife Refuge -– the Lake ILo National Wildlife Refuge.  Then its on to Theodore Roosevelt National Park for the remainder of the day and overnight.

24 May 2017

We left the campground around 9:00 am and it took us over 45-minutes to go about 10 miles.  Lots of birds along the road to check out.  Luckily the roads were not heavily traveled while we birded.  The Nature Conservancy owns prairie habitat across from the park and some distance down the road.  The prairie reserve sports Bison, and we saw a few loafing.  In a nearby pond we spotted an American Wigeon.  We haven’t seen one of those in a long time.

House Wren using the self-registration fee box

‘fence post’ Wilson’s Snipe

Stretching or looking for food?

We then traveled to Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge.  This 4,034-acre refuge, established in 1939, is a new refuge for us.  The weather was sunny, mid 50s, but very windy.  Not all birds like the wind, and so they stay hunkered down in the grass,  hiding.  We did see a lot of Bobolinks however, which is good.  Another bird we haven’t seen lately is the Say’s Phoebe (a flycatcher), so it was nice to see this bird again too.

Yes, another Bobolink

Ilo Lake

Wasp hive/nest

We’re back!!!  Another visit to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Unit.  We will camp here tonight.  After finding a camping spot we drove the 14 mile auto tour route in search of beautiful vistas, birds, and bison.  We found all three.

The drive proved very fruitful.  We got to see not one, but five Sharp-tailed Grouse.  Woohoo!!!  I spotted a large bird along the road some distance away.  We stopped, struggled with the spotting scope in the wind, and got a decent glimpse of the bird.  Driving slowly towards the bird, we came up along side it and noticed there were four other birds.  They slowly began walking away from us.  Amazing to see so many of these birds at once.  And Bison were spotted also.  We even got to watch one wallow in a dirt hole and then charging a nearby bison.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was established in 1947 to honor President Roosevelt.  Roosevelt, as President, was instrumental in establishing the U.S. Forest Service, signed into law the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 national monuments, dozens of federal reserves, and 150 national forests.  Way to go Teddy!  He was responsible for protecting over 230 million acres of land for the use and enjoyment of man and wildlife.

Bison near the visitor center

This bison was right next to handicap ramp

Mountain Bluebird – female

Unique formation formed from grains of sand

Lark Sparrow

Lazuli Bunting

Male Mountain Bluebird

Sharp-tailed Grouse

This bison was using his wallow pit

This bison was sheeding

New Bird Species Seen or Heard Today (North Dakota bird list):

  • Brown Thrasher
  • Chimney Swift
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Wood Duck
  • American Wigeon
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Lazuli Bunting
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse

25 May 2017

Time to leave the park and head westward.  We spent about an hour slowly driving (and birding) the 5-miles park road from the campground to the park entrance.   In that short period of time we observed 27 different species – not too shabby.

Cedar Waxwing

Bison wallowing hole

Several Bison were near the visitor center again

Pronghorn

Still watchful as it took off

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Unit today:

  • Cedar Waxwing
  • American Kestrel
  • American Robin
  • Yellow Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • European Starling
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Northern Flicker
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • American Crow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Lazuli Bunting
  • American Goldfinch
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Northern Harrier
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Barn Swallow

Later as we were driving towards our next destination, Jack saw two small birds walk quickly across the road.  He thought they looked similar to quail in shape and size.  There are no quail in North Dakota.  So what could they be?  As we drove by where the birds had disappeared into the grass, they flushed.  Their coloring, especially the coloring of their tails, indicated Gray Partridge.  A life bird for Jack

In total I observed 88 species for my 2017 North Dakota bird list – total birds seen within the last four days.  But alas, no Grasshopper, LeConte’s, Baird’s, or Nelson’s Sparrows or Sprague’s Pipit.

Next Stop: Montana – Big Sky Country.  Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

Michigan-Wisconsin-Minnesota Birding

16 May 2017

This am, we needed to do a quick load of laundry so while that was happening I birded the Maumee Bay State Park boardwalk.  As I started out another birder came up behind me and told me the tree I was looking at has attracted a lot of warblers in the past several days.  I decided to bird the immediate area and I’m glad I did.  I got a very good look at a Canada Warbler.  No mistaking that eye ring or its so called black necklace.  I also got several Magnolia Warblers, American Redstarts (pair), Common Yellowthroat (pair), Yellow Warbler, Northern Parula, and a Chestnut-side Warbler.  Warbler heaven.

After about an hour of birding we were off to Michigan.  We had thought about stopping at Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, but didn’t know if we needed a health certificate for the dog (like we do going in to and out of Alaska).  When we go back in a couple of years to do The Biggest Week in American Birding again, then we will include a stop at Point Pelee National Park.

Our first stop in Michigan was at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge.  We have visited this refuge before and, at that time, took their auto drive.  Last time we were here was in late June.  We learned today, however, that the wildlife drive doesn’t open until June 1st, so we had to limit ourselves to walking a portion of the Ferguson Bayou Trail.  We spent about 2 hours walking the trail in search of birds.  We probably would have gone longer but it was hot outside (high 70s) and Doodlebug doesn’t do well in the heat (not that I blame her, I don’t either).

The 9,800+ acre Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1953, and contains marsh, botttomland hardwood forest, and grasslands.  In addition to the auto tour route, they have several trails.  Only after we left the refuge did we learn that dogs are prohibited.  Oops.

White-crowned Sparrow

Ferguson Bayou Trail

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge:

  • American Robin
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Great Egret
  • Tree Sparrow
  • Mallard
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Killdeer
  • American Goldfinch
  • Song Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Canada Goose
  • Common Grackle
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Gray Catbird
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Double-crested Cormorant

After leaving the refuge we drove to Tawas Point State Park for the night.  In Tawas City, which is right before the turn-off for the state park, there was a “Welcome Birders” sign on a lamp-post.  Hmmm.  Is there another bird festival occurring?  I got out my phone and googled Tawas Point bird festival and sure enough there is a bird festival starting this Thursday.  I feared the campground would be full, but luckily there were plenty of empty spots.  Once we set up camp, we walked a trail to Tawas Point.  At the park there were a lot of Baltimore Orioles (and one Orchard Oriole) – it seemed everyone camping at the park had orange slices hanging to attract the Orioles.  What was lacking, however, was a lot of warblers.  While we did have a few: Yellow, Palm, Yellow-rumped, and Nashville, there weren’t many of each species.  I hope the warblers arrive for the birders.

In the campground we had a black squirrel.  I can’t remember the last time we saw one of these guys.  I really like them.  One was trying to get food from a hanging suet feeder.  Not easy for the squirrel, but fun to watch.

Black Squirrel – a rare mutation of both the eastern gray and fox squirrel.

Scarlet Tanager in the tree near our camp site

Orchard Oriole

Chipmunk

The dog friendly beach – what little beach there was – along Lake Huron

Trail leading from campground to lighthouse – great birding along this path

Baltimore Oriole

Song Sparrow

Vacant Purple Martin condo

Savannah Sparrow

Tawas Point Lighthouse

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Tawas Point State Park:

  • Palm Warbler
  • Blue Jay
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Warbling Vireo
  • American Robin
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Common Grackle
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Tree Sparrow
  • Common Merganser
  • Song Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Nashville Warbler

Tomorrow we head to the UP – Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

17 May 2017

Slept in this morning – a rarity for me of late.  I notice when I got out of the van and was starting the Coleman stove that there were a fair number of cars headed towards the lighthouse.  I told Jack a rare bird must have been spotted.  Boy did I hit the nail on the head.  I asked a guy on the trail what bird was drawing attention.  He said the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  The northern extent of this bird’s range is Kansas and Missouri, so not expected to be seen in Michigan.  I went searching for the throng of people looking for the bird.  I found all the people and the bird.  However, what I found wasn’t a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, but a Fork-tailed Flycatcher.  This bird is even more rare in the U.S. (does not summer or winter here at all), than the Scissor-tailed.  This is not a life bird for me as I have seen one in Panama, but it is still a nice bird to see.  I wonder what caused the bird to get so far off course.  Generally, these birds don’t survive.

The warblers were starting to come in.  We had very good views (as the trees aren’t very tall here) of American Redstart, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Tennessee, Orange-crowned Warblers, and Northern Parula.  I heard someone mention seeing the Kentucky and Mourning Warblers (two birds I have not seen), but I wasn’t able to find them.  Some year…

Oh and last night I heard an Eastern Whip-poor-will.  Would love to have seen this bird.

Scarlet Tanager

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Blackburnian Warbler

Male American Redstart

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Tawas Point State Park:

  • American Robin
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Blue Jay
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Northern Flicker
  • Common Grackle
  • Baltimore Oriole (there were a lot of these birds)
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Mallard
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Gray Catbird
  • American Redstart
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Bay-breasted Warbler
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Fork-tailed Flycatcher
  • Canada Goose
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Tree Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

After birding for several hours (I later wished we had stayed here another night), we made our way up to the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, to the Brevoort Lake Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest.  As soon as we crossed the Mackinac Bridge, the vegetation changed.  I felt like we were in Alaska with Black Spruce bogs.

I birded the campground, just because — not sure what I would find.  I was pleasantly surprised by the number of different warblers here.  The prime warbler present was the American Redstart (male and female).  I also observed the Blackburnian, Blackpoll, Black-throated Green, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped Warbler, and the Northern Parula.  I also had a Blue-headed and a Red-eyed Vireo.  Both great birds.

This is a nice campground with 70 sites.  Since it is a federal campground we were able to stay here for $9.00 a night with the Golden Age Pass.  There is water and flush toilets available.  No electricity however.  But that is okay.  We didn’t need the heater or the fan.

McDonald parking lot Ring-billed Gull

Lake Huron along Highway 23

Brevoort Lake

Black-throated Green Warbler

Brevoort Lake

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Brevoort Lake Campground:

  • American Redstart
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • American Robin
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Common Tern
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Northern Flicker
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Copper’s Hawk
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Canada Goose

18 May 2017

After a wet night,  I birded the campground in the morning light, with thankfully no rain.  I could hear a lot of different birds, but spotting them was another story.

We spent a cold, windy, rainy afternoon at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  This 95,238-acre refuge was established in 1935.  The refuge includes the 25,150-acre Seney Wilderness Area, which contains the Strangmoor Bog National Natural Landmark.

We saw a fair number of nesting Trumpeter Swan pairs along the 7-mile wildlife drive and one very large group of unattached Swans.  In total, we had 23 different species, but not many of any one species with the exception of the Trumpeter Swans and Canada Geese.  We saw a Bufflehead (duck) pair, but the male’s markings were unusual. At first I didn’t know what bird I was looking at, but the female clinched it for me.  Wish it would have been closer for a photograph.  Whereas a Bufflehead male is mostly white with some black, this bird was mostly black with some white.

We did visit Seney NWR in 2014.  I should go back and see what birds we saw during our visit.  I know there were a lot more birds observed then than what we saw today.  Of course it was warmer and during the summer, with the breeding birds already at the refuge – not in transit.  And, part of the refuge road system today was closed for repairs.

Cold, dreary day

Trumpeter Swan – lots of swans nest on the refuge

Bufflehead pair – however, the male wasn’t his typical white with a little black. More like black with a little white.

Greater Sandhill Crane pair

Ring-necked Duck

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Seney National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Canada Goose
  • Tree Sparrow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Common Loon
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Common Grackle
  • Common Raven
  • Bald Eagle
  • Mallard
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Song Sparrow
  • Common Tern
  • Caspian Tern (oh, there were at least nine)
  • Killdeer
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Red-winged blackbird (surprisingly only 3)
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • American Coot
  • Bufflehead
  • Northern Flicker
  • American Crow
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Ring-necked Duck

19 May 2017

The previous morning, Doodlebug, the dog, was having a balance problem so we decided to take her to a vet in Manistique, Michigan.  The vet didn’t think there was anything wrong with her balance – just age related.  We’re not so sure.  It sure came on suddenly. She was fine the night before.   A blood panel indicated low red blood cell count, which could be caused by several things, including internal bleeding.  We chose to come back today to have an ultrasound performed to rule out the bleeding.  When we went back for the results – no bleeding.  And luckily her liver and kidneys are fine.  I am so thankful.  Maybe she is anemic.  I forgot to ask her about that.  We will feed her beef or liver to see if that seems to help her red blood cell count.  I sure hope so.  When we return to Homer we will do another blood sample.

After the vet, we traveled to Van Riper State Park for the night.  The forecast is for the temperature to drop to the low 30s tonight.  Brrrrrrrrrrrrr.  Glad we have our little portable heater.

No birding today, although there were a fair number of birds in the trees behind the motel we stayed at last night.  I did see a Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, and Black-throated Green Warbler.  Lots of other birds singing too.  I just don’t know which ones.  Need to learn the bird calls and songs.

20 May 2017

Today was a travel day.  We left the Van Riper State Park campground and headed west.  Our goal was to make it to a campground near Walker, Minnesota.  We will be visiting the Tamarack National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday.

Today we traveled in three states: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  Surprisingly we did stop off at a new (for me) national wildlife refuge: Whittlesey NWR in Wisconsin.  This 540-acre refuge was established in 1998 to restore coaster brook trout, a native trout that spawns in Whittlesey Creek and spends its adult life in Lake Superior.

When we got to the refuge we saw a number of people birding, despite the cold, blustery day (temperatures in the low 40s, winds 15+ mph), and later learned there was a birding and nature festival going on in the area.  I did see and hear a number of warbler species, so they are migrating through the area.  We spent about 30 minutes at the refuge – lots of ground to cover today (i.e., miles to drive).

Trail system

Bathroom at the education center at the refuge – note the sign on the door.

Sign says “no trespassing”. Really???  On a bathroom door???

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Whittlesey National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Yellow Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • American Robin
  • American Redstart
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Wilsons’ Warbler
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Gray Catbird
  • Red-winged Blackbird

When we arrived in Superior, Wisconsin, my phone dinged me a gale storm warning for Lake Superior, and you can guess where Superior, Wisconsin, is located.  Winds were quite fierce (25+ mph), and with temperatures in the low 40s — well it felt like Alaska.  I wonder if this is normal temperatures for the area this time of year.

In Minnesota, we were driving down Highway 200 when we passed something on the side of the road.  Jack thought it was a grouse displaying, while I thought it was a piece of metal.  So we turned around to check it out.  Jack was right.  We had a male Ruffed Grouse displaying.  I wonder where the female was hiding.

It’s a “Ruffed Grouse” song to “Brick House”

We also crossed over the Mississippi River.   This river’s origin is Lake Itasca, located just north of where we crossed the river.  This is the fourth time we’ve crossed the river in our journey.

We had planned to stop at a campground on Mabel Lake (U.S. Forest Service campground), only to find it closed.  Around this time, it started raining.  Forecast is for rain the next couple of days.  Since the campground was closed we proceeded to Stony Point campground (also a U.S. Forest Service campground) on Leech Lake (hmmm I wonder how it got its name – later I heard there are a lot of leeches in the lake).  The campground has 41 sites and all but one had been reserved.  Several of the reserved sites were vacant and we didn’t know if the people decided not to come (it is cold, wet, and windy out), or they haven’t gotten here yet.  I don’t think I’ve seen a single woman in the campground yet.  They were smart and stayed home.  Maybe there is some type of fishing tournament or something.  We saw a lot of trucks pulling boats leaving the area, and there are a lot of campers with boats.  I sure wouldn’t want to be on the white-capped lake today.  I long for sunshine.  I think fisherman are crazier than birders.  I don’t think any kind of weather stops them.  Well maybe its a toss-up who is crazier.

21 May 2017

I left a bowl out so I could determine how much it rained overnight – at least an inch.  Woke to misty, cold, damp, dreary weather with little or no wind.  I like that last part.  We birded the road out of the park as there was a cacophony of birds singing in the trees.  Music to my ears.

Veery

We drove to the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.  I had great intentions of getting their early, but the best laid plans ….  We arrived around 11:15 and left the refuge around 4:00 pm.  The refuge offers a 5-mile wildlife drive, which we took.  However, the refuge road leading to the wildlife drive was very birdy – at least we heard birds, although we didn’t see much (too much beautiful green foliage – think maple trees).  I think this part of the refuge had more birds than did our wildlife drive.  However, the drive was through gorgeous settings and we saw a few of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes along the way.  Oh and I got my Bald Eagle for Minnesota.  I need to go back and look but I think we’ve seen Bald Eagles in every state we’ve been to —  at least since we left Arizona in April.

The approximate 43,000 acre Tamarac NWR was established in 1938 by Congress (they were more forward thinking back then) to preserve the area for breeding and migratory birds.  In fact, a portion of the refuge is closed from March 1 – August 31 for that purpose.  We saw 37 difference bird species on the trip, but no mammals.  I was hoping for a maybe a moose or a wolf.  Yeah, fat chance.

Vesper Sparrow

Notice the cold weather clothing I’m wearing

Yes, it rained our whole time in Minnesota

Sign at start of auto tour route

Short trail to a wildlife observation platform overlooking one of the lakes on the wildlife drive

Don’t know the name of this plant.

Eastern Kingbird

Great Blue Heron

Getting ready to take off

Lift off

In flight

I liked the pattern of what remains of this dandelion

The Tamarack trees (background)

Hooded Merganser seen at a State Wildlife Area adjacent to the refuge

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Yellow Warbler
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Mallard
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Purple Finch
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Common Loon
  • Ovenbird (heard only)
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • American Redstart
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • American Robin
  • Song Sparrow
  • Wilson’s Snipe (heard the winnowing)
  • Osprey
  • Wood Duck
  • Golden-winged Warbler (heard only)
  • Canada Goose
  • Tree Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Bald Eagle
  • Gray Catbird
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • White-throated Sparrow (heard only)
  • Veery
  • Common Raven
  • American Crow
  • Thrush sp. (Swainson’s or Gray-cheeked – didn’t get good enough views)
  • Tern sp. (Common or Forster’s – too far away)

From the refuge we drove to Buffalo River State Park, MN for the night.  For $36.00 per night you don’t get much (cost includes the $5.00 entrance fee).  But this is the only campground nearby.  Once we get into North Dakota there will be even fewer camping opportunities.

There is good birding at the state park, however.  American Redstarts are everywhere – males and females so they most likely breed here.  There were also abundant at the refuge.  In addition to the Redstarts a flock of ten or more Clay-colored Sparrows were feeding in the trees and on the ground.  There were three different species of swallows.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Buffalo Spring State Park:

  • American Robin
  • American Redstart
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • American Goldfinch
  • Tree Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Hairy Woodpecker

Tomorrow we venture into North Dakota and begin our search for grassland birds.  Until then ….

 IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

 

 

 

THE BIGGEST WEEK IN AMERICAN BIRDING

Wow!!!

Where to begin.  We got to Maumee Bay State Park (near Toledo, Ohio) on Sunday afternoon – arriving to sunny skies.   After four days of rain it was a nice break.  We went to the Maumee Bay Lodge (at the state park) and picked up our registration packets for the Biggest Week in American Birding.  The event is actually a little longer than a week, starting May 5th and running through May 14th.  We have registered for events from May 8th to May 14th.

Day One

My first event was a Field Sketching course.  It was suggested we have watercolors, which I stopped and bought before arriving.  We didn’t get past basic sketching, let alone into painting what we drew.  However, I enjoyed the teacher and would love to take a class from her lasting longer than four hours.  Maybe I can suggest that such a class be offered in Homer at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival.

I also attended a workshop on warbler song identification.  The instructors have a new warbler app out, which includes a 3D look at the bird, and allows you to compare that bird with another warbler.  They will soon have an app out called Bird Genie that will show a photograph of a bird whose song you have recorded. So, if you are out in the field and you here a song you can record the song (in the app) and a photo of the bird will pop up.  I see pros and cons of such an app.  I’m thinking it will make us lazy birders.

In the class the instructors said that trying to learn bird songs by tape is okay if you have 400 years in which to learn the songs.  Not me.  They think trying to learn bird songs by tape is a waste of effort you are told the name of the bird and then you listen to the song.  Your brain isn’t wired to connect the two together.   I agree wholeheartedly.  It has never helped me.

Maumee Bay State Park Photos

Common Grackle – a nuisance bird, but colorful when the sun shines on its head

Canada Geese family in one of the many park ponds

Eastern Screech Owl  (red morph) – when I first saw the bird it was sticking out of the nest box. Someone said there were hatchlings in the nest box. Would loved to have seen those.  Baby owls are so cute.

View from the boardwalk

Not easy getting a decent photo of a warbler (at least not for me)- can you spot the Chestnut-sided Warbler in the photograph?

These birders were waiting for the reappearance of the Clay-colored Sparrow

Purple Martin Condo

This persistent Cliff Swallow nest is at the covered entryway to the Conference Center

Maybe now you can see the Chestnut-sided Warbler

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the Campground Office feeders

Wood Duck protecting its nest box

Great Egret off the boardwalk

Someone asked me about the green near their eyes and bill. This coloring is only present during nesting season.

Day Two

Bright and early (around 6:30 am), Jack and I arrived at Magee Marsh to check out the warblers.  Not much coming through yet.  We stopped off at Metzger Marsh and Pearson Metropark.  There were some warblers at both places, but no more than what was at Magee Marsh – just different birds.  The highlight for the day was seeing an American Woodcock.  This was our nemesis bird during our trip around the US in 2013-14.  There was a bird just off the boardwalk.  Lots of people around checking out the bird and trying to get decent photographs.  Not easy with all the tree limbs in the way.  We later went to a Woodcock Skydance presentation.  This started at dusk and we watched the Woodcock make their aerial accent up and then down – trying to impress a female.  Like the Wilson’s Snipe, their tail feathers actually make the sound you hear during the accent and decent.

We attended a keynote presentation on Pete Dunne’s new Raptor book.  He was unable to attend the festival so Kevin Karlson spoke on his behalf and showed some amazing raptor photographs taken by various raptor photographers.  Beautiful.  The book’s focus is not raptor identification, but raptor natural history.  The book is titled: Birds of Prey: Hawks, Eagles, Falcons, and Vultures of North America.

Pearson MetroPark Photos

Swainson’s Thrush

Blue Jay

American Robin Fledgling

Birders looking for the female Golden-winged Warbler. I did see the bird briefly.

Nashville Warbler

Great-crested Flycatcher

Red-bellied Woodpecker – you can actually see the red on this one’s belly (or breast)

Another Eastern Screech Owl – this one nesting or roosting in a tree cavity, rather than a nest box like the Maumee Bay State Park bird

Can you see the owl in the photograph?

Rose-breasted Grosbeak …

… what a beautiful bird

Not sure what this plant is but I was intrigued

Day Three

On Wednesday, Jack took a van tour to Oak Openings where he saw a Golden-winged Warbler.  I am so jealous.  This would be a life bird for me.  That’s one life bird he has that I don’t.  No events scheduled for me, so I went back to Magee Marsh.  There was a report of bird migration during the night indicating more warblers might be found at Magee.  I got there around 6:15 am, and already the people were arriving – unlike the day before.  By 8:30 am, the boardwalks were crowded.  When I finally left at around noon, the parking lot was full, and there were four rows of vehicles parked on the grassy area used for overflow parking during the festival.  I estimated there were at least 100 vehicles in the grassy area, which means there were probably 500+ vehicles in the main parking lot.  Yowza.  That is a lot of vehicles and a lot of people.  Not many of the vehicles had single occupants.

There were a lot more warblers present, both in numbers and different species.  I was hoping to get at least three new FOYs (First of Years), which I did, plus three more:  Black-throated Blue Warbler (my new favorite warbler), Blackburnian Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler,  Magnolia Warbler, Least Flycatcher, and Great-crested Flycatcher.  In all, I had 14 different warbler species today, and 18 overall for the festival so far.

I use my Canon SX60 HS Powershot camera.  This camera pales in comparison to the majority of cameras at the boardwalk.  I think the majority of the people here had cameras.  That in itself can make the boardwalk, when crowded, not a very fun place to be with big lenses and tripods being slung around.

I had one guy (I was going to call him a gentleman, but changed my mind) correct me on my identification of a bird.  I saw a Nashville Warbler (very distinguishable by its white eye ring, yellow body, and gray head).  No mistaking that bird.  I turned to him and told him what I saw, when he asked.  When we both looked up again, there was a Yellow Warbler working the trees in the same area.  The Nashville Warbler was no longer visible.  He turned to me and said “That is a Yellow Warbler.  A Nashville Warbler has a white eye ring and a gray head”.  Then he walked off.  He wasn’t very nice about it either.  But most people on the boardwalk were pleasant.  Maybe this festival has become too popular.

My final stop was the Maumee Bay Nature Center where there was a report of a Clay-colored Sparrow.  After several attempts to find the bird I finally saw it.  What a nice looking sparrow.  This species was a real attractant to festival birders.

Magee Marsh Boardwalk Photos

A portion of the parking lot on a busy day – which was most days during the festival and even afterwards

East Entrance to the Boardwalk

Just a few people looking for birds

Wow that is a big camera for a little guy

Portions of the boardwalk on some days were not so busy …

… it all depended on where particular birds were being seen. Here looking for the Eastern Whip-poor-will

Even the Amish and the Mennonites are birders.  Some days there were over 40 Amish and Mennonite birders on the boardwalk

 

Wait!!! No one on the boardwalk.

Day Four

Woke to overcast skies and the threat of rain.  It had rained about ¼ to ½ inch overnight.  I was hoping for blue skies for my photo class, but now I just hope it doesn’t rain.  It didn’t.  The class was very useful.  I hope I can take better photographs of birds.  I usually use the LCD monitor on my camera for photographing birds and whatever, and was told to always use the viewfinder.  I did so.  But I will have to get used to that -.  Difficult with my camera when there is low light – so dark, therefore hard to find the birds.

I saw two young boys – I guess their age around 11 or 12, and they were sporting camera equipment that must have put their parents back several thousand dollars.  The money in cameras alone on the Magee Marsh Boardwalk is staggering.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was well over several million dollars.  Then there are the Amish who merely had their binoculars.  Not a camera in sight.  Of course since they don’t like to be photographed, and so I’m sure they don’t own cameras.  Many of the men wore their dark clothing and wool hats.  They did know their birds however.  You would hear them talk in a mixture of English and Dutch/German.

Not as many people today on the boardwalk as yesterday.  Maybe the rain dampened everyone’s spirits?   Fun to see the birds though.  The American Woodcock was showing itself again.  Always a draw for birders – since the bird is secretive and generally difficult to see in the daylight.

Afterwards we went to a workshop on “So You Think You Know Warblers”.  I live on the west coast of the United States so we don’t get nearly as many warblers as they do on the east coast, and despite having only birded on the east coast once, I feel fairly confident in knowing my warblers – at least the males.  There are some beautiful east coast warblers, but I think my favorite are the Cerulean and the Black-throated Blue Warblers.

After the class, Jack and I  did the auto tour route at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.  We visited this refuge twice during our year long trip around the U.S. in 2013-2104, however, the auto tour route was not open to the public then.  They only allow cars on the refuge roads during limited times of the year.

We saw a mixture of songbirds, waterbirds, shorebirds, a duck or two, and lots of Trumpeter Swans, which breed at the refuge.  The only raptor was the Bald Eagle.  We haven’t seen too many raptors in Ohio.

I did join Twitter so I could get tweets about bird spotted at different locations during the festival.  This has proven to be quite useful.  After dinner I saw a tweet for warblers and thrushes seen at the Maumee Bay State Park boardwalk so Jack and I left the campground and meandered our way over to the boardwalk.  It was getting dark, but I still managed to see five different warbler species,  including a Common Yellowthroat singing its heart out (and me without my camera to capture the event).  Also along the boardwalk was a Veery (thrush) and a Great-crested Flycatcher hawking for its dinner.

Magee Marsh Birds and Habitat Photos

Black-throated Green Warbler preening

Northern Flicker (yellow shafted)

Downy Woodpecker …

… what? On the ground?

White-crowned Sparrow

Warbling Vireo

Yellow Warbler with nest material

Here the bird is on the nest – well hidden

Yellow Warbler nest

Woohoo!!! We finally got to see the American Woodcock – our nemesis bird. We got great looks most days we were at the boardwalk. A most cooperative bird.  Thank you very much.

This was another American Woodcock discovered along the boardwalk near the west entrance (the other was near the east entrance)

Eastern Whip-poor-Will – quite the attention getter

Blanding’s Turtle – note the yellow neck.  This is a rare turtle species.

Nashville Warbler

Black-crowned Night Heron

Green Heron

White-throated Sparrow

Male Yellow Warbler – there were lots of Yellow Warblers along the board walk. Their song is easy to remember – Sweet, Sweet, I’m so Sweet. Yes you are.

House Wren

This Yellow Warbler was about 6 feet above me.

Lots of Gray Catbirds too. I love these birds. So happy to see so many here.

A Prothonotary Warbler playing peek-a-boo

Prothonotary Warbler

Dead rabbit on the side of the road – food for the nearby nesting Bald Eagles (if the people ever leave the area so it can access the food)

American Redstart (Male)

This Red-winged Blackbird landed within 10 feet of me and buzzed by my head making  a very loud noise, causing me to jump. I wonder if it has a nest nearby. If so, it must be going crazy with all the people on the boardwalk.

The bird wasn’t afraid of people, that’s for sure

Day Five

Got up early and headed back over to Magee Marsh.  Again, not as many people today as on Day 3, but still a good showing of people.  Lots more birds out, and we got great views of Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Nashville Warbler (whose numbers are starting to equal Yellow Warblers – which were everywhere), Magnolia Warbler, Protonotary Warbler, and the American Woodcock.

Today’s workshop was on Sparrows.  The focus was on sparrows seen in the Eastern U.S. during migration, which I don’t have too many problems with identifying.  My confusion with sparrows pertains to those usually seen in the Southwestern U.S. in the winter months.  Guess I should take a sparrow class at a festival held in Arizona in the winter – like the Wings Over Willcox bird festival.

Afterwards my friend Lisa (who is down from Anchorage attending the festival) and I went in search of a Bobolink (no show) and a Sora (score).  These birds had been spotted at Pearson Metropark in Oregon, Ohio.  This little spot contains a remnant patch of the formerly vast, notorious Great Black Swamp.

High in the trees was a bird which we believe was a Philadelphia Vireo.  Hard to id a bird when you are looking 50 feet up into the air and the bird is in constant motion.  The trees at Magee Marsh aren’t as tall as those at Pearson Metropark.  I like the shorter trees – less likely to get Warbler Neck.

The Biggest Week in American Birding is put on by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.   I think in my recommendations I will suggest a masseuse to give neck massages to people at a tent outside the Magee Marsh boardwalk.  I know I would have paid to have someone massage my “warbler” neck for 15 minutes.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Photos

One of many goslings in a small pond near the Visitor Center parking lot – at least three families of Geese in the pond

This one eating vegetation – or trying to

This is a pollinator plaza

Up close view of construction materials

Another Purple Martin Condo

Boardwalk behind the Refuge’s Visitor Center

Road closed to nesting Bald Eagles

A road we were allowed to drive on within the refuge boundaries

Eastern Cottontail

Trumpeter Swan

Gray Catbird singing its song – the song is unusual and this bird copies the sounds of other species, stringing them together to make it’s own song. Then there is also the “mew” sound it makes.  No mistaking that call.

Muskrat

Lake Erie

Yikes, Poison Ivy

Day Six

Wow what a difference a day makes.  Most of the birds we saw yesterday have moved on.  Not much happening at Magee Marsh except a lot more people and people who aren’t necessarily serious birders (weekend birders).  Lots of families here for the day or the weekend.  Stood next to a father and his two children – both with serious cameras.  We were looking for a Brewster’s Warbler – hybrid between a Golden-winged Warbler and a Blue-winged Warbler.  The father asked the kids if they wanted to move on, but his son wanted to stay to get the warbler.  I think he was about 12 years old.  Great seeing all these young, serious birders.

The highlights for Magee Marsh were the Eastern Whip-poor-will and the American Woodcock.  Got good looks at both.  Jack, Lisa, and I had a raptor workshop at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge so we left around 11:00 am.  After the workshop we had lunch and then went back to Magee.  We had a few more warblers show up, but still not a whole lot.

On the tweets, everything today seemed to be showing up at Oaks Opening – another Metropark.  May go there Monday, or maybe Tuesday (if we decide to stay another day or two).

We scheduled a three hour (7:00-10:00 pm) van tour of the refuge hoping to see nighthawks, whip-poor-wills, and owls.  Our driver was not a birder and had notes on the whereabouts of an owl (general location), but by the time we got to that part of the refuge it was dark.  A disappointment to say the least.  This is not a tour to see birds, but a tour to see the refuge, which we had done earlier this week.  And I have to get up at 5:00 am to catch a van for my “Wilds of Erie County” guided tour.  Ugh!!!  What was I thinking when I signed up for the Ottawa NWR van tour?  Oh right, I wasn’t thinking.

Metzger Marsh Photos

American Bittern

Small woodlot near the outer dike – which can be very birdy

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Lake Erie

Palm Warbler on the rocks

We heard Least Bitterns in this part of the marsh, and they were seen here – just not by us. Dang.

Day Seven

I started the day with a van tour, which left the Maumee Bay Lodge at 6:00 am.  We drove to Pipe Creek Wildlife Area, about an hour away.  We birded the area for about 4 hours, seeing a some warblers, but not many and not in great numbers.  Meanwhile I kept getting these tweets about all these warblers at Magee Marsh, Maumee Bay Boardwalk, and Pearson Metropark.  Needless to say I was a little frustrated.  We stopped for a quick lunch, then drove to our next stop – Sheldon Wildlife Area.  When we got there we decided to head to Pearson Metropark instead.  I’m glad we did.

Although the trees at Pearson are taller than at Magee, we were able to see a variety of warbler species, including – for me – a view of a female Golden-winged Warbler.  This is a life bird for me.  I also saw two other life birds – a Connecticut Warbler and a Tennessee Warbler.  I’m so glad we decided to come here instead of staying at Sheldon.  In all, I got to see 17 different warbler species today.

Pipe Creek Wildlife Area

None of the birds were easy to photograph so instead I photographed these Northern Water Snakes (or at least that is what I was told they were).

Day Eight

Technically the Biggest Week in American Birding is over, but Jack and I wanted to spend an extra day in the area in search of birds, particularly warblers.  Today was warm, relatively calm, and sunny – that means the birds that were here yesterday essentially left for points north.  At least many of them.  I heard on the Magee Marsh Boardwalk today (Greg Miller of the Big Year fame), that the next wave to warblers and other migrating song birds is expected on Thursday night, making their appearance Friday morning.  We could stay if we wanted to, but its time to continue our journey now making our way back home.  Maybe some day we can spend a couple of weeks in the area.

The best spot for birds on the boardwalk this morning was the west entrance.  We got some beautiful views of Chestnut-sided Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and Blackburnian Warbler.  The Blackburnian Warbler – when viewed from below, looks as though its neck has caught on fire.  A beautiful, bright orange.  No mistaking that bird.

Near the east entrance to the boardwalk we found a crowd in awe of a Wilson’s Warbler.  We have these at home in the summer so not a big deal to us Alaskans.  After spending several days on the boardwalks you learn which trees the warblers like best.  There are about four different areas where the warblers seem to congregate.  While everyone was looking at, and photographing, the Wilson’s, I was lucky to spot a Canada Warbler in a different tree.  This was either a first year bird or a female.  In the same tree there was a flycatcher species, but darn if I know which one – the bird wasn’t singing.

While there was not as many people on the boardwalk, there were still more people than I expected.  These might be people like Jack and I who decided to spend one or more extra days checking out the warbler or simply people who wanted to avoid the large crowds.

After the birding at Magee Marsh, we headed to Pearson Metropark.  Here the birding, at least warbler wise, was almost non-existence.  We did see four different warbler species, but we only saw one of each bird:  Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped, and Nashville.

Tomorrow we head into Michigan.  We are taking the long route to Montana where we will visit family before heading into Canada.

So what all did we see in our eight days of birding:

Bird Species Seen or Heard During the Biggest Week in Birding

  • Canada Goose
  • Mute Swan
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Wood Duck
  • Mallard
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • American Bittern
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Green Heron
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Virginia Rail (heard)
  • Sora
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Coot
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Killdeer
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Stilt Sandpiper
  • Dunlin
  • Least Sandpiper
  • American Woodcock (Life Bird)
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Caspian Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Screech Owl
  • Eastern Whip-poor-will
  • Chimney Swift
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Least Flycatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Philadelphia Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Blue Jay
  • Purple Martin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • House Wren
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Veery
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Hermit’s Thrush
  • Wood Thrush (heard)
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Brown Thrasher
  • European Starling
  • American Pipit
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Ovenbird
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Golden-winged Warbler (Life Bird)
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler (Life Bird)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Connecticut Warbler (Life Bird)
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Redstart
  • Cape May Warbler (Life Bird)
  • Northern Parula
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Bay-breasted Warbler
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow

In all 129 different species, of which 27 were warblers.  I had a good time and would definitely recommend The Biggest Week in American Birding to anyone – but please don’t bring your mega camera lens.  There are so many people on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh and as far as I am concerned this is a bird watching event, not a bird photographing event.  Be considerate of all those around you.  These big lens and your desire to “photograph” the bird really detracts from the experience of those around you, is at times not good for the bird, and you miss out on so much if you don’t stop, look, and listen.

In addition to checking out the birds, I was also checking out the personalized license plates and stickers.  The only one I missed (license plate wise) getting a photo of was TUVU – the abbreviation for Turkey Vulture.

Yes enjoy life – go birding

We couldn’t decide if this means “Love to Bird” or “Live to Bird”. Jack would say it doesn’t matter as both are appropriate for me. I agree.

I especially like this one – saw it on a car with Pennsylvania license plates.

Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

 

Ohio Birding

This blog only covers a portion of our birding experiences in Ohio.  We attended the Biggest Week in American Birding, which occurs in Northwestern Ohio, but I will be posting that event separately.

3 May 2017

We crossed back over the Ohio River from Indiana and into Ohio.  We saw a sign for the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and turned into a Corp of Engineers campground and boat launching site – how else are you going to get to the NWR?  A stop to let Doodlebug out to stretch her legs was in store.  And so why not bird while we are there.  We got some great birds in a short period of time, including FINALLY a Gray Catbird.  We haven’t seen this species since we were in Arizona in January.  We usually see the bird in Missouri, but not this year.  We also heard a Northern Bobwhite – close by camouflaged  well in the vegetation.

We arrived at our campground – Burr Oak Cove – located in the Wayne National Forest.  This is a small campground with only 19 spaces.  Despite the few number of spaces, we are the only ones camping here – so far.

As soon as we got to the campground I had to check out the birds singing and found an Indigo Bunting and Yellow-breasted Chat.  I think I’ve seen more Chats in the past week than I’ve seen all my years birding.  Guess I’ve never been in the right part of the US. [I later heard Yellow-breasted Chats aren’t doing well in the east, but are doing well in the west.  Go figure.]

As I was cooking dinner I heard this bird with a nasally buzzing sound at the end of its call.  I finally located it high in a tree – a Blue-winged Warbler.  Woohoo – Trip Bird (FOY).  I tried to get Jack on the bird, but to no avail.  Sorry Jack.  That bird just kept hopping and flying around in the tree.  Lighting wasn’t good either.

After dinner I went walking up the road (through the campground) to see what birds I might find.  I heard a Wood Thrush so stopped to see if I could find it – no luck.  But while searching for the bird I heard this screeching sound in the brush just off the road.  I saw movement so decided to check out what was making that noise.  I saw two Blue-winged Warblers, a Yellow-throated Warbler, a Hooded Warbler, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and a Carolina Wren.  Still not sure what was making the screeching sound.  I couldn’t believe my fortune in seeing all these birds at practically eye level – in fact I had to look slightly down to see them.  Unfortunately, Jack wasn’t with me.  Tomorrow we will walk the road again in search of birds. I hope we are both fortunate to see more Warblers and the Wood Thrush.

Lakeview Trail

There were a lot of pretty flowers along the trail including this Fire Pink wildflower

This Carolina Wren was hiding in the bushes with its meal in its beak

Eastern Towhee

Trillium

Wild Blue Phlox

Looks like the tree was struck by lightning

A camera-shy Scarlet Tanager

Wild Geranium

May Apple flower

Wild Ginger

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Bur Oak Cover Campground:

  • Indigo Bunting
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Blue-winged Warbler (FOY)
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler (FOY)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Carolina Wren
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • American Crow
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male this time)
  • Wood Thrush (heard only)

4 May 2017

Around 3:30 am two Barred Owls started calling back and forth. I got out of the van with my flashlight checking the trees as these sounded like they were right above our heads.  No luck.  Darn.

During the morning we birded the campground and then took a hike on the Lakeview Trail, which begins in the campground.  We didn’t quite make it to the “lakeview” as it started to rain and we weren’t prepared for it having left our raingear back at the van.

At the walk-in campground sites we did finally see a Wood Thrush.  Always nice to see the birds we hear.  This one was high in a tree.  Didn’t expect to find it there.  I spotted a Hooded Warbler and was able to get Jack on the bird – but only briefly before it took off.  We spotted about 23 different species in the campground and along the trail this morning.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Bur Oak Cove Campground and Lakeview Trail:

  • Barred Owl (heard early in the morning)
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Canada Goose
  • American Crow
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Blue Jay
  • Wood Thrush
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Black and White Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Carolina Wren
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Blue-winged Warbler

After lunch we drove over to nearby Burr Oak State Park.  We wanted to check out the campground (ours is much nicer, I think).  Stopping in the campground we  heard a number of birds singing in the rain.  We spotted tons of Yellow-rumped Warblers (need to check each of them out to be sure they aren’t a different warbler species).  I saw an American Redstart and was able to get Jack on the bird.  I’ve seen this species twice before in the past week, but Jack was never able to get on the bird both times.  So two new warblers today for him was great.  We also saw both the Summer and Scarlet Tanager and the Baltimore Oriole.  Nice to see color and large birds.  Makes birding easier at times.

As we were driving on the road leading out of the park, I asked Jack to stop at a pull-out.  I heard birds singing so thought, “why not give it a try”.  Oh I am so thankful I did.  Finally, I spotted a Cerulean Warbler!  I’ve wanted to see this bird for years.  I think I might have seen it in Colombia when I was there in 2015, but I wasn’t a 100% positive.  Today the bird we saw was definitely the Cerulean Warbler – no mistake, a very good look.  So I danced a little jig and pumped my arms.  This is a life bird for me.  Woohoo!!!  Made my day.  No picture though.  If you want to see what all the fuss is about check out:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cerulean_Warbler/id

We stopped off at the day-use area to check out the birds there and found a Gray Catbird.  Nothing special about them color-wise – black, gray, and rust, but I so love these birds.  Also saw a Bald Eagle.  I think we’ve seen a Bald Eagle in almost every state we’ve been to this year.  Nice to see they’ve made such a great comeback in the lower 48.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Bur Oaks State Park:

  • Carolina Wren
  • Black and White Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Summer Tanager
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Chimney Swift
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • American Goldfinch
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Wood Thrush
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Gray Catbird
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Crow

5 May 2017

Cinco de Mayo.  Will have to eat Mexican food for lunch today  Yum!!!

We birded the campground for a couple of hours, finding an Ovenbird and another Cerulean Warbler – Woohoo!!!.  What a beautiful bird.  At first I thought it was a Blackpoll Warbler, but the song was all wrong.  When I played the song for the Cerulean Warbler – Bingo!!!  When I got a better look I could see the necklace for the Cerulean.  Ah, so nice to see the bird a second time.

We did stop for Mexican food, which was tasty and then continued on to Cleveland to visit with Jack’s sister and her husband.  We traveled and arrived with wet, windy skies.  The rain hung around for the next two days of our visit.  It wasn’t until we left on Sunday morning did the sun come out.  I will admit I am a sun worshiper so once the sun came out, I was a very happy camper.  Now on to the Biggest Week in American Birding.

Remember …

IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

Midwest Birding

In this blog post we will take you birding through eastern Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, although Kentucky is not considered the “midwest”.

24 April 2017

Said our farewells to Jack’s family in Jamesport and continued our travels east, stopping at the Clarence Cannon National Wildlife, located near Louisiana,  Missouri (near the Mississippi River).   This refuge looked small on the map, and in relationship to many refuges it is – at only 3,750 acres, of which over 2,000 is wetlands.  We got to the refuge around 12:30 and left 3.5 hours later after driving on most of the 5.5-mile auto tour route.  We did try to hike the nature trail, but it was closed due to nesting Bald Eagles.  Funny, but in Homer we have Bald Eagles that nest in people yards, and it doesn’t seem to bother them.  Guess it is what they are used to.

We observed a total of 39 different bird species.  We got to hear the American Bittern with its unusual call, see the Sora sulking in the reeds, and watch the American Coots as they scooted across the road in front of us.  We had a raccoon in the wetlands eating something and snarling at us at being interrupted.  They have good size canines.  Wouldn’t want to be around an angry raccoon.  They are cute, however.  We had a dead snake in the road but it did not look as though it had been killed by a vehicle, rather that something struck it near the head (that is where the blood was observed).  There were a lot of turtles that slithered into the water as we approached in our vehicle.

And we did see a lot of those 2,000 acres of wetlands.  The water seemed to be the right depth for shorebirds, although we did not see a lot – mostly yellowlegs, pectoral sandpipers, two Black-necked Stilts, and several Solitary Sandpipers – oh and one cannot forget the Killdeer.  I would definitely come back and visit this refuge.

Oh and this is a new wildlife refuge for us.  We are now up to 20 new refuges of the 47 visited on this trip.  Woohoo!!!

The calm before the ensuing storm – Severe Thunderstorms over the Central US

Lincoln Sparrow

Saw this dead snake on the road. Did not know it was dead at first because it had not been flattened by a vehicle.

Maybe a bird stabbed it with its beak???

Song Sparrow singing its heart out

Pectoral Sandpiper in search of food

Rocky Raccoon

Great Shorebird Habitat

Pied-billed Grebe

A sitting duck – someone lost their decoy

Lesser Yellowleg

Trail to a platform

Dead bull frog

European Tree Sparrow

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Canada Goose
  • House Sparrow
  • Bank Swallow (FOY)
  • Cliff Swallow
  • American Coot
  • Red-winged Blackbird (there were everywhere)
  • American Robin
  • Great Egret
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • American Crow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Bald Eagle
  • Common Grackle
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Killdeer
  • Blue Jay
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Orchard Oriole (FOY)
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Gadwall
  • Sora
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • European Starling
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mallard
  • American Bittern
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Barn Swallow
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow

25 April 2017

We birded the Cuiver River State Park campground before leaving finding lots of good birds, including a First of Year (FOY) – the Warbling Vireo.  Several of them flitting about in the trees, singing their hearts out.

This is a really nice park, with a nice campground.  I would definitely come back for a visit in the future.  Lots of hardwood forest for songbirds.  We had six White-throated Sparrows searching for food at our campsite.  And there were American Robins everywhere.  I think they are the “campground” bird almost everywhere.

American Robin in the nest – you can see the bird’s beak

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-throated Sparrow – they loved the dandelion seeds

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Cuiver River State Park:

  • Warbling Vireo (FOY)
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Robin
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Blue Jay
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Wild Turkey
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

From the campground we headed north to Louisiana (the town) and then across the Mississippi River into Illinois.  We took back roads to get to Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge does not offer an auto tour route, but they do have a number of trails/dikes you can walk, which we did.  One of the trails is located near the Visitor Center.  This trail actually produced at least half the birds for us, and it was less than a mile long.

The 9,225 acre Two River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1958 and consists primarily of riverine and floodplain habitat.  The refuge borders both the Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers.   The refuge is composed of several different “divisions”.  We visited both the Calhoun and Gilbert Lake Divisions.  To get from the Calhoun division to the Gilbert Lake division we took the Brussels Ferry across the Illinois River.

Some of the refuges have these time capsules. Would love to see what is inside, but I won’t be around in 2103 to find out.

Greater Yellowleg

Roads open to foot traffic

Muskrat den

Navigational buoy on the trail next to the Illinois River, which seemed high to us. Am sure it flooded shortly after we left.

Three-mile trail on the Gilbert Lake Tract

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Common Grackle
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Bald Eagle
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Mallard
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Robin
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Northern Parula
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Wood Duck
  • American Coot
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Canada Goose
  • Northern Flicker
  • Song Sparrow
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • American Goldfinch
  • Palm Warbler
  • Great Egret
  • Northern Waterthrush (FOY)
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • House Wren
  • Tree Sparrow

The night was spent at the Pere Marquette Illinois State Park, which borders the Gilbert Lake Division of the Two River NWR.  This is a good size park, and guess what – more American Robins.

26 April 2017

Woke around 4:00 am to the sound of rain hitting our tin tent, as I like to say, – the top of the van.  When the rain hits the roof it can be quite loud.

The rain quit before we had to break camp and head south to our next new refuge – Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.  This refuge is located about 150 miles south of Two Rivers NWR – in southern Illinois.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1947 and contains 43,890 acres.  Industrial activities occur on part of refuge  – primarily manufacturing and storage facilities.  Many buildings now housing industries were used in the manufacturing of explosives during World War II, and they are still used for military ordnance production today.

We got to the refuge around 1:00 pm and stopped off at the Visitor Center for the requisite brochure and bird checklist.  The refuge offers a wildlife tour route, which we drove a portion of, but before doing that we did a short hike to a fishing pond near the refuge.  This place was a bonanza – great birding.  The checklist has the Yellow-rumped Warbler as an “uncommon” species during the spring.  Well they were everywhere.  The majority of the birds we spotted along this hike were Yellow-rumped Warblers.  There were three surprise birds – a Protonotary Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, and an Indigo Bunting (male).  Of these the Protonotary Warbler was prize – and I almost got a photo of this beautiful bird.  Such bright yellow head and breast.  Beautiful!!!

As mentioned, we did drive a portion of the wildlife route, spotting a dozen or so Wild Turkeys.  Tis the season for mating.  The male turkeys were strutting and flashing their tails.  The females didn’t seem to care one iota.  As we were driving, the rains started and I mean RAIN.  We had received a warning of a Severe Thunderstorm alert.  Once it started raining we thought we should go to our campsite for the night.  The refuge has several campgrounds.  We are staying the night at the Crab Orchard Lake campground.  For $10 (a night) we can get a site with electricity and water because of the Golden Age Pass.

We got to the campground around 4:30 pm.  It had stopped raining and we decided to just get a basic site – no electricity.  This campground only offers four (4) such sites.  Once parked we set up camp when the skies opened up.  Talk about rain (and thunder and lighting,  oh my).  I think we had about a 0.5 inch of rain in less than 30 minutes.  The rain would come and go, which allowed the birds to come out again and again.  It’s kind of nice to just sit in the car and watch all the birds flying back and forth, landing on the ground feeding.  We had a Pileated Woodpecker land about 30 feet from the vehicle on a old stump.  A Baltimore Oriole was singing in the tree above the van.  A Wood Duck was in the cove swimming in the rain.  The Northern Cardinals were chasing each other.  And there must have been at least 20 Canada Geese – some with goslings already – feeding in the campground loop.  The parents extend their necks forward encouraging the youngsters to move along.  I think we saw more birds in the campground than all of the rest of the refuge.

With all the rain, the basic camping sites were filling up with water, so I suggested to Jack that we move to an electric site, since those sites are on gravel pads – not grass.  Two hours later and it is still raining (and not expected to stop until sometime tomorrow around 7:00 am).  It will be interesting to see how much water accumulates.

Tomorrow we plan to visit more of the refuge before heading northern to spend a few days with Jack’s son and his family.

Trail to the pond near the visitor center

Wild Turkey

Eastern Phoebe

Baltimore Oriole

Wood Duck in the rain

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Protonotary Warbler (FOY)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Bell’s Vireo (FOY)
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Northern Parula
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Wild Turkey
  • Canada Goose
  • Barn Swallow
  • European Starling
  • Common Grackle
  • Eastern Towhee
  • American Robin
  • Mallard
  • Wood Duck
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Tree Swallow
  • Northern Flicker
  • Baltimore Oriole (FOY)
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Mourning Dove

27 April 2017

Well at least it wasn’t raining when we woke up.  I was surprised how much of the fallen rain had already soaked into the ground.  Not as much standing water as I expected.  The plan was to pack up and go bird the refuge, but we decided to just bird the campground (which is technically in the refuge).  I’m sure glad we did.

In the campground we just sat in our vehicle to see what birds might fly in.  I noticed a bird on the ground and checked it out.  It was a juvenile Blue Grosbeak.  Jack was happy to see the bird because this is one bird on his list of “birds I want to see this trip”.  Of course he would rather see the male in all its blue, blazing glory.  But we still have that opportunity.

We walked to Loop B, which is closed for renovations.  This proved to be fruitful area to bird.  When we were in Missouri I told Jack if we wanted to see the Summer Tanager we would need to see it there as the further north we got, the less likely we would be to see the bird.  Well Crab Orchard NWR is in southern Illinois so we were still within its range and I spotted a male in the tree.  At first I saw a red bird and thought Northern Cardinal.  But something seemed off.  The color and shape were wrong.  So up go the binoculars and sure enough there was the Summer Tanager.  Woohoo!!!  A trip bird (aka First of Year – FOY).

Where the road empties into the campsite, the refuge staff has conducted some small prescribed burns.  In one location we spotted a Baltimore Oriole and an Orchard Oriole.  Two beautiful, colorful birds.  North America lacks the multitude of colorful birds found in other countries, but it does have a few like the Orioles, Tanagers, and Warblers.

In the campground alone we had 39 different species – and good ones at that (Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Brown Thrasher, Summer Tanager – just to name a few).  Of these, three were FOYs:  Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, and Yellow-throated Warbler.

From the campground we went back to the Wildlife Drive, stopping first at the Pigeon Creek Day Use Area.  Again, we parked and just sat in our car watching to see what birds would come into a recent burned area.  We had Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Blue Jays, Chipping Sparrows, and a Swainson’s Thrush (FOY).  The Yellow-rumped Warblers kept chasing off the Palm Warblers, but they weren’t too deterred.

At the day use area there is a 1.0 mile hike (Harmony Trail), which we took.  The trail led us through hardwood forests and to a bird blind overlooking a wetland area.  At the wetland there was a Belted Kingfisher that had just caught something and was proceeding to bash it against the wires it was on and then eating it.  Fun to watch nature.

Through this area we had Carolina Chickadees calling, the Tufted Titmouse with its loud “Peter, Peter, Peter” call, a Yellow-throated Vireo with a bug in its beak, and a singing Blue Grobeak.  The forest was alive with birds singing and calling out.  So beautiful to listen to.  I just wish I knew all the bird songs and calls.  One sounded like a hoarse Thank you.  Don’t have a clue as to what bird is singing that song.

After the hiked we continued along the Wildlife Drive finishing the drive at a meadow where we hear the distinctive call of the Dickcissel (another FOY) – dick cissel cissel.  The bird likes to sing from the barb wired fence.  I’m good with that.  Easy to find them.  We also heard several Northern Bobwhites close by, but well hidden in the foliage on the nearby forest edge.  They stick to the forest edges.  There were lots of Tree Swallows and several Eastern Kingbirds sharing the overhead wires.  When we turned around to go back the way we came, suddenly on the fence was another bird we hoped to see – the Bobolink.  What a treat!  This is a very distinctive bird.  These birds are rare for the refuge, so we felt very fortunate to see not one, but two on the barbed wire fence.  They stuck around long enough for several photographs, and then flew off to points north, most likely.

Forester’s Tern

This Ring-billed Gull had a hard time balancing on the buoy – fun to watch

Chipping Sparrow

Blue Grosbeak near our camp site

Several Canada Goose families in the campground

Cute little Goslings. Their wings are so small and undeveloped

Summer Tanager

Two Male Brown-headed Cowbirds. Cowbirds parasitize other nests. So some of us have come up with the song “Momma Don’t Let Your Baby Grow Up to be Cowbirds …”

Baltimore Oriole

In the tree searching for bugs

This Red-headed Woodpecker was all puffed up trying to keep warm

Blue Jay

Harmony Trail

Terrible lighting for photographing birds, and sometimes even seeing them. Here a Belted Kingfisher with food in its mouth.

Indigo Bunting