Tuesday, March 24, 2009

twitching in washtenaw county

I confess, I sinned.

And not only once


I am quite ashamed, I have to admit.

The first time happen last week. "Surf Scooter at textile road". How could I resist? Textile Road is basically in my back yard, barely 5 minutes with my car. Oh, and the Surf Scooter is the last Scooter missing on my list, after the very good Black Scooter of last December, and the not so uncommon White Winged Scooter I have seen during my initiatic birding year.
So here we went after dinner, and added a little tick on my life list (and county list). Sure enough, I would have feel better if I could have seen this bird at a cost of a one week trek though the Borneo forest (or, say, the Ann Arbor Arboretum, although I have a hard time to visualize such an extensive expedition in a park that is probably less than 10 acres), my body covered of mosquito (and why not, Tigers?) bites.
But this time, a little drive, and the bird was mine (north american # 315). Ridiculously easy. I felt quite ashamed.

Surf Scooter at Textile Road, digiscoped

My self esteem had barely recovered from the Surf Scooter episode that Greater White-fronted Geese were spotted on the other side of the county. Pretty nice bird for michigan, and obviously still missing on my life list (it was my north american bird # 316). So here I went last Sunday. Nice outing, all things considered, with some very nice waterfowl present in some of the ponds I scanned. Lesser Scaups, Ringed Neck Duck, Snow Geese, American Wigeon, Pintail (county bird!) and Common Loon were spotted during this afternoon, and a Northern Harrier and about 50 Sandhill Cranes was a rather nice add the the day list. But the highlight of the trip was obviously the 5 geese I was able to spot from the top of a hill (a quarter mile away).

Greater White-fronted Geese (Oie Rieuse), Canada Geese and Juvenile Trumpeter Swan, digiscoped at a distance

I needed time to recover from this week, I think. So I decided to bird in my backyard, and do a little bit more experiments with my digiscoping technique. A cardinal was there and did pose for me for quite a long time. That was nice and relaxing. Why am I bothering with all these fancy birds, while I could just enjoye some very cool and colorfull ones in my backyard?

No more twitching, I promise, I swear.

At least for a month.

Unless a very very cool bird shows up, of course. Say a red throated or even pacific loon.....I wonder how long the Ross Goose that has been seen in Kensington Park last week end is going to stay there....

Northern Cardinal, digiscoped

Monday, March 9, 2009

(South) Winds of Change

This is my 8th winter in Michigan, and I am still amazed by how fast the winter comes and goes in this region. Last Monday morning, 8 days ago, it took me about 5 minutes to de-ice the windshield of my trusty Ford Focus, at 5h40 in the morning. Temperature then was a rather chilly 2F (-16C).
But on Wednesday, something extraordinary happened. The wind turned to the South, ice on rivers and lakes started to melt, and new birds started to show up almost immediately. Red winged blackbirds started to invade south Michigan, along with Grackles. Hundreds of Canada Geese started to fly north, as well as other waterfowls. Temperatures reached the low 60F (15C).
Encouraged by the balmy weather, I decided to take a look at the Lake Erie Gun Club, just a few hundred yards north of the Michigan/Ohio border, on the lake Erie. But first I could not help but to stop at Belleville Lake for the 5 long tailed ducks that had been reported earlier. This duck, rather popular among the french scrabble and crosswords players (kakawi is a native american word meaning "see duck", and there is only one "K" in the french scrabble version, so you have to use a blank), is quite rare in Michigan, and it is always a joy to see them around here. On the lake, a few redheads and common mergansers, with 6 goldeneyes and the 5 long tailed ducks. The ducks came extremely close from where I was, and I enjoyed every second of it.

Goldeneye, digiscoped

Long Tailed Duck (harelde kakawi), digiscoped

Long Tailed Duck (harelde kakawi), digiscoped

Later, at the Lake Erie Gun Club (a quite remarkable conservation story, where hunters and conservationists collaborated to preserve a rather unique marsh), the 5 miles loop around the marsh provided a very pleasant birding experience. Hundreds of Grackles and RW blackbirds were present, as well as the first few song sparrows of the year. But the Highlights of the day were definitly a nice flock of Pintails (Canard Pilet), as well as Northen Shovelers. A few killdeers (First of Year) were there, already, and I spotted 4 bald eagles (3 Juveniles, 1 Adult).

Bald Eagle, digibinned

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another winter day in Gallup Park

It is March and the birding world of Michigan starts to warm up a little bit, unlike the weather. The first red-winged black birds have been reported in the county, and some exciting waterfowls (long tailed ducks), and gulls (Glaucous, Iceland, Lesser Black Backed) have been seen on the wrong side of the washtenaw/wayne county line. Pretty easy then , to allow ourselves to think about future relaxing birding trips in the Arb or Crane Creek, feeling the soft temperature of the spring sun gently warming up the Michigan lakes and forests, listening to the "sweet-sweet-give me more sweet" of a yellow warbler.

One should notice, by the way, how low my standards are after a long and cold Michigan winter. I are not daydreaming here about exotic, nemesis species, such as worm eating warblers, clay colored sparrows, or bachman warblers, no! Just a cute, common, yellow warbler (ok let's say a male), is all I can dream about right now.

But last Sunday, the warm days were looking as distant from Michigan as a growing economy. Temperature, again, fell in the single digits (in Farenheit, unfortunatly), despite the bright sun.

Ice skater in Gallup Park

Icicles around tree branches

Decided to make the most of the situation, I walked quickly along the bike path, scanning for waterfowls. Nothing much new there, except an American Coot (FOY), and a growing number of Hooded and Common Mergansers. 6 Goldeneyes were diving along the ice, and a dozen Buffleheads were also seen. Interesting was the fact that 2 males Goldeneyes were already fighting , despite having 4 females available. Maybe greediness is not only a human sin after all

I flushed a winter wren (FOY, First Of year!), and discovered 2 Trumpeter Swans. These swans were quite cooperative, and I was able to take pictures of them without using my digibinsing technique. Not too surprisingly these are much sharper than usual, and I am proud to relieve my regular readers (the three of them!) from their chronic headaches caused by the usual blurriness of my digibinsed pictures.

This gives me an excellent opportunity, using my old pictures from Lake Erie Metro Park, to study the differences between the Tundra and Trumpeter Swan. Being a beginner (my first birding outing was in January 2007 with my friend and birding mentor Jochen, in...Gallup Park), I struggled so far to make the distinction between the two species, so now it is about time to solve this problem for good. A picture being worth a thousand words (5 pictures = 5000 words?), I tried to match pictures of the two species in a somehow similar position. A reader looking for quality and accuracy should probably stop at this point, and look at the excellent description made by David Sibley.

  • From the front (look at the V shape border for the Trumpeter, U shape for the Tundra)

Trumpeter Swan (Cygne Trompette)

Tundra Swan (Cygne Siffleur)

Trumpeter Swan, detail

  • From the side : (look at the broadly connected eye of the trumpeter, versus the almost separated Tundra Swan eye)

Trumpeter Swan

Tundra Swan, detail

It should be noted that the yellow lores that are usually present (I've read 90% on other blogs) on most Tundra swans are not showing on my digiscoped pictures. This is likely due to the poor quality of my pictures, but I guess this is a hint that we should not take this feature for granted.

At last, I should end this post with the last swan present in michigan, usually fairly easy to identify to the attentive birder.... The Mute Swan (for the inattentive or distracted reader, look at the color of the bill...)

Mute Swan (cygne tubercule), present on Gallup Park last Sunday

Not too hard most of the time....but what's about this one?