Sunday, November 27, 2005

Birding with Tom Prestby - 11/24/05

I spent my first day of Thanksgiving break on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan in search of rarities. We started out the day at the South Metro Pier where a Cave Swallow had been present earlier in the week. I had my doubts the bird would still be present, but I figured it was worth a try. We whiffed on Cave Swallow in the swirling snow but did see a 1st winter Franklin's Gull among about 40 Bonaparte's Gulls. Three Killdeer, a Long-tailed Duck, and a Song Sparrow. We missed the Mew Gull but we decided to check out North Point and see if we couldd get the red phalarope and then come back and check for the mew gull again.

A quick stop at North Point revealed my second ever Red Phalarope on the algae and beach. I watched it as it flew out into the water and swam around about 15 feet offshore. Also present were several Black and Surf Scoters. A male Ring-necked Duck was diving among the Scaup - a first for me on Lake Michigan...

South Shore Yacht Club held an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull on the rocks and not too much else.

Another stop at South Metro Pier came up with the Franklin's Gull again as well as an adult Mew Gull in with a small flock of Ring-billeds present. It is amazing how well that species blends in (esp with its head tucked!). I can see how a lot of these birds are probably passed over in even a fairly good scan of a large gull flock.

We continued down the coast to Wind Point and Shoop Park in Racine Cty. We spent a while here and came up with very little - 7 very distant Surf Scoters and a late juvenile Black-bellied Plover. North Beach held some gulls but nothing of note. Carre-Hogle Park had two Tundra Swans out on the sandbar. As we were scanning I watched an adult Great Black-backed Gull fly in and land near the swans. An adult Thayer's Gull also flew in and landed on the water nearby. As we were about to leave I checked the coots one more timme and was amazed to see a male Wood Duck fighting the waves and dabbling in the algae with the coots! Two ducks I'd never thought I'd seen on Lake Michigan I'd seen on the lake in one day!

I posted some of Caleb Putnam's shots of the three Little Gulls present two weeks ago at Holand State Park below along with some of my highlight shots of Wednesday - 11/24/05.

Adult Little Gull - with Bonies at Holland SP - 11/24/05 Posted by Picasa

Caleb Putnam's shot of second 2nd winter Little Gull at Holland SP - MI Posted by Picasa

Caleb Putnam's shot of 2nd winter Little Gull at Holland SP MI Posted by Picasa

Wood Duck on Lake Michigan... 11/24/05 - Carre-Hogle Park - Racine Cty - WI Posted by Picasa

Red Phalarope - 11/24/05 - North Point - Milwaukee Cty - WI Posted by Picasa

Mew Gull - 11/24/05 - South Metro Pier - Milwaukee Cty - WI Posted by Picasa

Mew Gull - 11/24/05 - South Metro Pier - Milwaukee Cty - WI Posted by Picasa

Franklin's Gull in flight with Bonaparte's Posted by Picasa

Franklin's Gull with Bonaparte's Gulls - 11/24/05 - South Metro Pier - Milwaukee Cty - WI Posted by Picasa

1st winter Franklin's Gull - 11/24/05 - South Metro Pier - Milwaukee Cty - WI Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Muskegon Wastewater - a unique experience

In order of appearence:
Green-winged Teal - 5
American Black Duck - 232
American Coot - 12
Mallard - 725
Northern Shoveler - 470
Canada Goose - 420
Ruddy Duck - 90
Common Goldeneye - 6
Bufflehead - 20
Gadwall - 107
Tundra Swan - 325
Snow Goose - 9
Lesser Scaup - 12
Redhead - 7

I also had a late Ruby-crowned Kinglet on campus before Caleb picked me up...

Muskegon Wastewater - a unique experience

Yesterday afternoon (11/19/05), Caleb picked me up and we headed over to the Muskegon Wastewater Facility - a place I'd heard a lot about - but had never been to. On the way over we stopped at the Coopersville Sewage Treatment area. A very large flock of gulls were present, but they were all facing us so it was very hard for us to determine mantle shade or see the primaries on them. As far as we could tell there weren't any unusual gulls present, but we could have easily missed some. Several Mute Swans were present and a Brown Creeper flew over us as we scoped the ponds. Maybe a 1/2 mile down the road we stopped to check more gulls that were roosting in a farm field in between foraging at the adjacent dump. Again, no unusual gulls were noted, but three Lapland Longspurs flew over us.
The roads on the way to Muskegon Wastewater yielded a couple of American Kestrels. These fields along this road are apparently a prime area for snowy owls during the winter, but we didn't note any that day.
Upon entering Muskegon Wastewaters road/dike system - I was amazed by how large an area the water covered. We immedietaly began tallying the waterfowl that was flushing from the rocks along the shore. As we proceeded we saw a very large flock of white long-necked waterfowl on the far side of the pond. As we neared them we realized they were Tundra Swans! I counted 325 Tundra Swans (31 of which were juveniles) as well as 9 white Snow Geese (7 juveniles) that were associating with the larger white swans. A flock of Snow Buntings flushed from the dike and we tallied about 30 of them as they moved down the dike. Black Ducks were noticibly present - many in very large flock of straight black ducks or with some Gadwall mixed in. I'd never seen as many black ducks as I did there. A Peregrine Falcon buzzed down the dike and was the likely explanation for the dead Green-winged Teal I'd seen farther down the dike. A quick scan of the aerators revealed nothing but melting ice and frozen mud, but as we drove along the edge several American Pipits flushed and by the end of the day we'd noted 8 American Pipits there (a fairly large number considering thee lateness of the date). The drive down the opposite side of the very large pond netted us 5 Rough-legged Hawks (2 dark, 3 light) including a bird that was holding a stationary position in the wind so well that, from a distance, we thought the bird might be perched on a wire! We pulled up right next to it (<50 feet from the bird) and watched it for a minute and I told Caleb that a bird that cooperative could be digiscoped. So he got out of the car, got his scopee set up and just as he was putting his camera up to the scope, the bird moved off and down the road... Isn't that how it always goes! We continued on by checking some mixed woodlots and open fields. In these areas we found a late Turkey Vulture, another dark Rough-legged Hawk, and a young Sharp-shinned Hawk harassing robins and starlings. A Golden-crowned Kinglet was also present with a flock of Chickadees.
Here are the waterfowl numbers from Muskegon:

Thursday, November 17, 2005

New birds on campus

This afternoon I walked around the pond and was pleased to see a lone male Bufflehead on the far side of the pond. A female Northern Shoveler was also dabbling among the weeds with the local Mallards. We have about 3-4 inches of snow here now and the pond is very shallow so I'm not sure how long it will stay and draw waterfowl. Every night a substanial number fo waterfowl come into the pond to roost for the night but most arrive after dark... So it has been very hard for me to check this flock for other waterfowl this fall. The birds are typically gone by daylight too. The only non-typical waterbirds I've recorded in the pond up to this point are: Double-crested Cormorant (1), Pied-billed Grebe (4), Blue-winged Teal (1), American Black Duck (5), and the Bufflehead and Shoveler.
Still waiting for a campus American Tree Sparrow...
Oh - last week netted a single Bonaparte's Gull over the pond with a large flock of Ring-billed Gulls. I've recorded 92 species on campus since early August.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Introduction and Little Gulls

I'm a 19 year old student at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, MI. I'm currently pursuing a BS degree in Environmental Biology and hope to go on to get a job in wildlife managment or a related field. Basically I want to make a difference for wildlife and birds...

I grew up in southeastern Wisconsin (Burlington, Walworth County) and birded the southern Wisconsin Lake Michigan shoreline extensively from Kenosha up to Doctor's Park in Ozaukee Cty. I would occasioanlly make it up to Manitowoc/Two Rivers and Sheboygan, but not as regularily. I love birding the lakefront in almost any season and prefer a lakewatch to any other type of birding.

I've been here in Grand Rapids carless since early August. I've only been able to go birding off-campus once - Caleb Putnam picked me up on November 10th and we did a lakewatch at both Grand Haven and Holland State Park. We had strong winds out of the west at about 20-25 mph and we were hoping for some rare small gulls like kittiwake, little, or sabine's...

We spent a couple hours at Grand Haven and had some decent numbers of waterfowl:
Tundra Swan - 19, White-winged Scoter - 9, Black Scoter - 1, Dark-winged Scoter - 11, Long-tailed Duck - 1, Red-throated Loon - 1, 4 Common Loons, and 4 unIDed Loons.
We also observed numerous flocks of about 20-30 Bonaparte's Gulls flying south way out over the lake (total of about 140). The only migrant passerines we saw there were 10 Snow Buntings that flew in off the lake.

We continued on to Holland State Park and right away we saw about 15 Bonaparte's Gulls on the water and flying all around the jetty in very close to shore. We started scanning and after about 30 minutes Caleb and I spotted a smaller gull smong a flock of about 30 Bonies that were flying way out over the lake. Eventually the birds flew in and we positivevly IDed the smaller bird as a second winter Little Gull! Neither of us had ever seen this particular plumage of this species before so it was an interesting study of its fieldmarks. The Little Gull landed on the beach about a 1/2 mile down from the pier we were standing on. We worked our way slowly down the beach so we could get some pictures of the bird. It was at this point that some idiot trying to take random pictures of the lake walked out in front of us and scared up the flock of gulls. The Little Gull was now bobbing up and down in 4 foot waves offshore among quite a few Bonies. These obviously aren't ideal digiscoping conditions so Caleb and I were trying our best to get some okay photos of the bird when Caleb saw an adult Little Gull fly through his viewfinder of the second winter Little Gull! We both switched off the second winter Little Gull at this point and watched as the adult Little Gull flew up and down the jetty we had been standing on initially! We both ran back to the jetty to try to get some good shots of the adult Little Gull in flight. By the time we were back on the jetty the Little Gull had moved offshore a little more with a few Bonies. It quickly returned and flew in between the lighthouse at the end of the pier and us. The bird then joined the second winter Little Gull on the water quite a ways from the jetty. We were about to wrap it up and head back when Caleb realized that there were two second winter Little Gulls present! We stayed long enough to get good looks at all three birds as they associated with each other noticebely and noted the differences in the two second winter birds (the second bird had much more extensive black on the underwing than the first bird and was easier to pick out of the bonies from a distance).

We both left amazed at the sight of three Little Gulls among a flock of only about 75 Bonaparte's Gulls. Caleb mentioned that in Michigan the ratio is supposedly about 1 Little Gull in 500 Bonies - and that's if you are lucky. I'd seen two birds at Manitowoc, WI a few summers ago (a first summer bird and an adult) and they were with probably 500+ Bonaparte's Gulls.

Second winter Little Gull on water with adult Bonaparte's Gull in the background - off Holland State Park - Ottawa County - 11/10/05 Posted by Picasa

First individual second winter Little Gull at Holland State park - Ottawa County - 11/10/05 Posted by Picasa

Adult winter Little Gull off Holland State Park - Ottawa County - 11/10/05 Posted by Picasa