Seeking Solitude, Devil’s Lake

Locals by Goyo P
Locals, a photo by Goyo P on Flickr.

All the docks, boats, and personal watercraft have been tucked away for the winter. The crowds have left. Peace and quiet has returned to Devil’s Lake. And so have the birds. In the calm water along the Southwest shore I found over 700 Ring-billed Gulls, hundreds of Canada Geese, Coots, Bufflehead, Canvasback and a pair of Horned Grebes…..oh and this Kingfisher too.

Sapsuckers and Subtleties @ HLG

Forest Gump said….”Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get”.  Well, I used to think that about finding Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.  But for the past two weeks this Sapsucker has been hanging around in the Arboretum on the same trees.  I didn’t notice at the time but after checking my photos he has several feeding wells on this willow.  So much for finding Sapsuckers randomly.  This guy doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.  What I enjoyed about finding this bird is that he didn’t mind that I laid under the willow tree to wait for him to come out from behind the canopy.  I knew he was up there.  There were no other trees around.  If he did fly off I would have seen him.  While I laid in the grass he shouted a few “meeyahs”!  What a sweet sounding call!….sort of a cross between a catbird and a blue Jay.  I did manage to get a few shots of him up in the tree.  That was good enough for me.  It isn’t always about the photo.  It’s nice to get a good picture.  But the best part is all the stuff you notice while you wait and all the questions that run through your mind during that time.  What kind of tree is this?  Is it dying?  Is there a nest cavity around?  Is the female nearby?  All the stuff that occupies my mind while birding is the stuff that makes hours seem like minutes.  I think it’s important to pause every now and then….to just listen and look.  It served me well earlier in the day.  I had been hiking for about an hour when I paused for a second to notice some Bluebirds in the canopy.  All was quiet until I heard something in the distance.  A honk, several honks….but where was it coming from?  It was the sound of a flock….a very large flock….very far away.  I looked up at the partly cloudy sky.  It was getting louder….but still very far away.  Then I saw them…..above the clouds…..about as far as the eye can see…..birds!  LOTS of birds.  I raised my binoculars….SNOW GEESE!  Not ten, not twenty, not fifty, but hundreds!  I scrambled for my camera.  I knew they were too far away but I wanted to know how many there were?  I would count them at home from the picture.  (I later counted 288 Snow Geese.)  I took another look through my binoculars.  I was in the woods and lucky to be in a small clearing to see them.  I only had a minute or two before they flew out of sight…behind the clouds, behind the  trees.  I stood there in the middle of the woods and looked around. Did anybody else see that???  288 birds as high as a 747 flying south…barely visible, barely audible.  No fanfare.  No advertising.  No notice.  It was just nature doing amazing things, just like always.

Northern Shrike…at last

Julian by Goyo P
Julian, a photo by Goyo P on Flickr.

I went birding with my dad yesterday evening.  We both needed some fresh air.  His Uncle…my Great Uncle Julian passed away on Monday.  The funeral was yesterday.  After the funeral we hopped in the car and headed towards Morenci.  We stopped at the sewage ponds but there wasnt much there.  So we stopped at Schoonover but only found one swan.  I decided to make a quick pass through the Lake Hudson Recreation Area.  Not many people were there.  It was cold and windy.  A few people were camping, but that’s it.  I told my dad I had been searching for a Northern Shrike in Lenawee.  Many have been spotted in Jackson and Washtenaw Counties.  We knew to look for them at the tippy top of trees.  Well, as soon as we pulled into the beach area parking lot I spotted a bird in the distance at the tippy top of a small tree in the middle of an open scrub field.  We both pulled out our binoculars to see if it was indeed a Shrike and it was.  I inched a little closer and positioned my car to get a long distance picture through the window.  He moved around quite a bit from tree to tree.  Eventually he flew off  towards the North.  I told my dad we might get another chance to see him because he flew towards the road.  So we drove out of the parking area and sure enough there he was perched on an overhead power line over the road.  We watched him there for a few minutes.  I took bunch of pics before I realized I mistakenly set my exposure compensation for darker pics instead of lighter pics.  I needed to lighten him up since he was backlit by the sun, but ended up with 20 Shrike silhouettes.  Oh well….I got excited.  This is a new life bird for me.  I really don’t mind not getting a perfect photo.  I just needed a picture in case eBird.org needed proof.  I got my proof.  But most importantly I got to share this new bird with my dad.  I named this bird Julian.

Good Birding!
Gregg

Hidden Lake Gardens…A Swan Story

Many people visit Hidden Lake Gardens in Lenawee County.  There is so much to see and do there.  But the main attraction for many is the sight of Hidden Lake itself.  And, for years Trumpeter Swans have lived there.

Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) are native to our region.  They are mainly identified by their all black bill.  I love their beautiful trumpeting call.  The Trumpeter in this picture I assume is the female.  I’m making that guess because she was alone today during my visit.  I don’t know where the male was?  But I know he had a tumor.  Perhaps the tumor took the life of her companion?  I’m not sure.  I sat on the lawn and watched her for a few minutes.  I wondered what would become of her now.  Swans are thought to mate for life and they can live up to 24 years.  Sadly she has had two mates die (assuming the last one died of the tumor).  Her first mate was killed in the night.  So there she was, wandering around, by herself.  Life can be cruel.  Is there anything we can do?  Should we do anything?  What makes them so special compared to a Mute Swan…the non-native species?  For me the answer is easy.  Humans are responsible for their declining numbers.  We used to kill them for their feathers which made the best quill pens.  Luckily somebody realized these creatures are too beautiful to drive to extinction.  Norman Maclean once said of the art of fly fishing that it is an art that comes by grace, and grace does not come easy.  I believe Swans symbolize grace and remind us (those who have fallen from grace) that we should always achieve to be better.  We should strive to leave this world better than when we found it.  So, YES we should help this swan.  And for those who say we should let nature take its course I say this.  Survival of the fittest is surely the way of the world.  Humans are the fittest but not because of intellect.  We are the fittest because of our capacity for love and compassion.  When we fail to show compassion we fail to be the fittest, and we too shall perish.

The Wild Wild West (Hudson and Morenci, MI)

Before I begin it should be stated that birders should use caution when hiking through the woods during hunting season.

Today myself and Jkbird took to the woods of southwest Lenawee in blaze orange.  We used caution in areas where the locals were hunting…but mostly we avoided them altogether.  We experienced unseasonably warm weather but the wind was blustery to say the least.  We started the day at the Morenci Sewage Ponds which held large numbers of Canada Geese (approximately 700)  Within the geese we spotted Mallards, Ruddy Ducks and a few Bufflehead.  Along the shore there were Killdeer and a solitary Yellow/Greater Yellowlegs.  Then out of nowhere a flock of 12-15 beautiful white birds arrived….swiftly flying a few feet above the surface of the water.  We quickly found them in the scope and identified them as Sanderling.  After an hour of admiring their aerial displays we left for the middle pond where we found a solitary Bonaparte’s Gull.

We made a few stops along Bean Creek to listen for Brown Creepers, Nuthatches, Juncos and Chickadees.  The Schoonover Waterfowl Production Area was our next stop but all was quiet there.  Medina Park was closed for the season, so we decided to hike Ramsdell Park.  We had already logged 26 species before we hit Ramsdell.  My goal was to hopefully add a few sparrow species and possibly find the Pileated Woodpecker….one that I saw a few months back.  We hiked through the woods and all the way to the east end of the park only finding a few species.  BUT we heard the Pileated!  We sat and listened but the woods went quiet.  We waited a little longer.  We were losing our daylight and decided to head back.  When we stopped to admire some Burr Oaks a flock of Robins appeared, then a flock of Cedar Waxwings.  We walked a bit closer to get a better view.  Suddenly a few sparrows flew across the trail from the underbrush.  One appeared to be an American Tree Sparrow.  The Robins were still flying back and forth across the trail.  Some were scratching the ground for food.  More Sparrows arrived.  BUT these were different.  They were red!  They had the same characteristics as a Song Sparrow except for the color.  They kept to the underbrush mostly.  But some joined in the ground scratching with the Robins.  JK spotted one in a tree.  I aimed my camera and took three quick pictures before it darted away.  We followed them up the trail.  When we made it to the top of the hill I heard the Pileated in the distance.  I dropped the Fox hunt and headed off through the meadow to get a better view of the tree line in the distance.  I pointed my binoculars where I heard the call.  I saw nothing.  Was it too far away I wondered?  Then, there it was.  I had pointed my binoculars almost exactly where he was perched among the distant trees.  When he flew off I followed him.  He landed in a nearby tree.  His silhouette was unmistakable.  What a day! How awesome is that to end the day with a Pileated Woodpecker!  But it wasnt over yet.  JK spotted our only warbler of the day….a lone Yellow-rump flew right over us.  THAT was the end of our day in Southwest Lenawee.  36 Species were seen altogether.  A few were new life birds for me.

Kwakwath tri-fecta of my own

I could not let Gregg outdo me at Heritage park so I went again to Trestle park and saw my first Yellow-bellied sapsucker (juvenile) along with a Hairy woodpecker, and a Red-bellied woodpecker. I was hoping to find a Downy to make it a quad-fecta but ussually easy to find I saw none. I did run into a Carolina wren which is fairly unussual this far north. See photos.