Monday, December 15, 2008

A Week End of Winter Birding

The Varied Thrush is still there. Somewhere. It has been seen many times during the week at a different bird feeder, but my 4+ visits were unsuccessful. I am not giving up, at least not yet.

Last Saturday was for me an opportunity to forget the Thrush, and to focus in expanding a little bit my County list. The Washtenaw Audubon Society was organizing the annual trip to Salem Landfill (only a few feet away from the edge of the county!). So a dozen birders went to this trip, with, maybe, the potential to relocate one of Franklin's gulls seen last month in the county. We could even dream about an Iceland or Glauceous Gull......

Birding on the frozen landfill

It turned out there was not too many gulls at the landfill, where few dozens Ring-billed and Herring Gulls were competing with hundreds of thousands of starlings. At the end, we located a lesser black back gull, which was a nice addition to my county list. Most surprisingly, we did not loose a single finger due to frostbite....

With plenty of time to spare, we choose to drive back through Superior township, where somebody located a very cooperative Merlin, as well as a rough-legged Hawk ( a new lifer for me!)

Merlin (Faucon Emerillon)

On the way back, I could not quite resist to the tempation to give another try to the Varied here I went, checking a couple of feeding station where the bird had been seen....nothing, as usual. Well, it has been a fun morning. Let's go home
As I was wasking toward my car, Will, the owner of the second feeding station (something like 15 birdfeeders!!!!) came with an annoncement . "Black Scoter at portage lake"!!!!!!!!.

So 2 hours later, Jacco, who never miss a good county bird (the man is getting closer to 240 county birds now), picked me up to get a view at the bird, on the other side of the county. Not surprisingly, we met there most of the county chasers. Talked with one of them, who said it was his first new county bird this year (he had a good laugh then I told him he did not do that great, since I added about 40 birds to my county list this year). Another funny thing is, I was the only one to have a birding book with me.........
I did not take my scope, but I sneaked a couple of pictures through different scopes that were installed there. Light was quite terrible, but I guess it is good enough to positively ID the bird.

Female Black Scoter (Macreuse noire, femelle)

It turned out the Black Scoter was only the second one in the whole Washtenaw County birding History!!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

primary grunt of the frustrated birder

There is a rather humorous guy in France (although not exactly the most elegant) who did a short monologue a few years ago. His point was, if a situation is very frustrating, then use the "primary grunt technique". In other word, yell, grunt, very loud, in a very basic way. If it does not help, well, at least, you will feel better about it.

As I checked Bruce's email list Monday morning, after an OK day of birding in gallup park sunday, here is the message that went on Bruce's email list (note the time)

"Date: Sun, Nov 23, 2008, 8:28 AM
Sunday morning, 9:00 AM A woman in Ann Arbor has just called into Washtenaw Audubon. She has seen a Varied Thrush in her yard yesterday and today. She's prepared to be descended upon.Laura Wooley1165 Wendy CourtAnn Arbor, Mi663-4383Wendy Court is near Mack School, north of Miller Ave.Sherri Smith"

Followed by :

Date: Sun, Nov 23, 2008, 5:57 PM
Nothing but negative results here. 1) The Varied Thrush was not seen after 10:45am today despite the efforts of numerous birders in the late morning and all afternoon. The homeowners welcome birders who would like to try again tomorrow.


A varied thrush? What is this little guy? Honestly, I don't even have a clue what a varied thrush looks like. Even worst, this address was about a mile were I was Sunday at the same time.

I talked yesterday with my cubicle neighbour (an author of the book "birding in wasthenaw county"), and looking for comfort, suggested that maybe, 10 or 15 years down the road, I would be able to find another Varied Thrush in washtenaw county. His answer was "not very likely, even in your entire lifetime"


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Trip Report 1/2, Grand Canyon June-July 2008

This is a report from a birding trip we did last summer at the north rim of the grand canyon and zion national park. This trip happened to be also our honeymoon!

  • Travel

We flew from Detroit to Las Vegas. This indeed was a very reasonably priced flight (in the $400'), even at the height of the summer season. In addition, the rental cars were dirt cheap ($20 a day, for an economical rental, but they did not seem to have ANY small car, so we got a free upgrade for a larger SUV)

The reason why we choose the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is that we were looking for a reasonably cool area (no way we were going to spend one week in a 110F temperature), beautiful landscape and nice birds to look for. At 8,000/10,000 feet alt, the north rim of the Grand Canyon was a logical choice. We indeed had a perfect weather, always nice, with temperatures in the 70'. The cool air also allowed us to see bird at any time of the day, unlike the Nevada Desert we crossed on the way (at noon and 110 degrees temperature, bird activity is close to zero)

Gas : we went at the grand canyon during the peak of gas price crisis. The only gas station inside the national park was so old that they could not charge more than 3.99$ a gallon. That was about 50 cents cheaper than anything we had seen on the way from Las Vegas. Obviously not a great advantage right now, though, as the gas price is now about half of that

On the way back, we had a few extra hours to waste, so we tried a beach on Lake Powell. Big mistake. The beach we choose (on the east side of the lake) was nice, but was missing a rather essential element : water. The lake Powell has lost so much water that some of the resorts have been closed. I guess this is the price to pay if you want to have green golf course and lawn in Las Vegas. The heat was so unbearable anyway that I don't think we could have stand on the beach for very long anyway

  • Resources

Although Arizona is clearly the mecca of birding in the US, I found out most of the material available on the internet is focused on the south east of the state. Nevertheless, these two links provided very useful information. Note that it is necessary to travel through Washington County, Utah between Las Vegas and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

  • Accommodation

Demotte Campground : a tip to my fellow birders : if you take your bride to a honeymoon trip, don't buy a tent for 2 bucks at the recycling center....

Accommodation is certainly a problem on the north Rim of the Grand Canyon. There is basically only one campground in the park, and it was impossible to book a spot, even for 2 months in advance. Another option was, of course, the fairly expensive lodges (about $200 a day). The easier solution we found was at the Demotte campground, just before the entrance of the park. For $15 a day (and, most important, no reservation, there is a first come, first serve policy), this campground offered basic confort (no shower, though, we found easier the best to take showers at the north rim campground, for a few quarters), plus a basic, but friendly restaurant next to the campground (they were renting some cabins too). If you are travelling on a budget, you can also camp anywhere in the national forest. Many area at the edge of the meadow were superb (and free!) potential camp sites, and fairly close from the road.

The campground was located in the middle of a large grassy meadow. Overall, I would highly recommend this campground. It is a beautiful, quiet and clean place, very relaxing. There were many forest roads to hike (or bird watch) on, and there were many birds we found around this campground we did not found in the park (Cassin's Finch, Evening grosbeak, Williamson Sapsucker). I was also told it is a great place to find a black backed Woodpecker, but we were unsuccessful in finding it.

  • Birding

We could not find a park ranger who was really a bird specialist. But there was a note book with pictures and comments at the visitor center where you could get some fairly valuable information.

Birding around the campground itself was great. Cassin's finches, Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeak were everywhere, but sadly, were best seen at the restaurant garbage dump. Violet-Green Swallows, Mountain and Western Bluebirds were very common on the meadow, and some Brewer's Blackbirds were nesting in a tree close from the restaurant. We also found a nice Williamson Sapsucker, a Painted Redstart, and many audubon's Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Not a new species? You have to be kidding me!) on a short hike around the campground. A Prairie Falcon was also seen on the road toward the camp. Raptors were rather scarce, and we could not find the Swainsson Hawk we were hoping for.

Birding in the park itself was also great, but unequal. We first tried the Ken Patrick Trail and only found a few new birds there (1 Plumbeous Vireo, many Blackthoated swift and 2 Townsend's Solitaire). This trail is particularly popular for mule riding.

Trying to get a California Condor while Relaxing...

  • On the second day, though, we tried the Widforss Trail (only a fraction of it, as the whole trail round trip is about 10 miles), and the birds were fantastic. This part of the park has burned a few years ago, and the diversity of trees and plants makes great habitat for different birds. Pygmy Nuthatch, Stellar's Jay, Western Tanager, Clark Nutcraker, Mountain Chickadee and Blackchinned sparrow were found. But the best birds were certainly a Female Dusky Grouse (also called Blue Grouse) on the side of the trail, as well as a California Condor who flew overhead (and yes, I did count it as a life bird, despite it's ABA non-countable status). I got a quick view of a woodpecker which might have been a black-backed (this trail is supposed to be the best in the park for this woodpecker), but I could not be sure. The views over the canyon were maybe the best we had in the park.

Widforss Trail

  • On the stargazing side, it should be noticed that the north rim of the Grand Canyon is probably the best place in the lower 48th. We were lucky enough to be there during a special event, and many stargazers were gracious enough to let us look through their scope. The sky was truly magnificent, and we had spectacular views of some planet (I could not believe the views of Saturn we got). Nevertheless, I tend to think that there is more charm and excitement to find and observe a bird than say, a double or even triple star (OK, I can see two yellow dots instead of one, so what?). Plus optics are less expensive!

Night Sky at the north rim lodge

  • Trip List

Dusky Grouse * Tétras sombre
Turkey Vulture Urubu à tête rouge
California Condor * Condor de Californie
Red-tailed Hawk Buse à queue rousse
Prairie Falcon Faucon des prairies
White-throated Swift * Martinet à gorge blanche
Williamson's Sapsucker
* Pic de Williamson
Northern Flicker Pic flamboyant
Western Kingbird * Tyran de l'Ouest
Gray Vireo Viréo gris
Plumbeous Vireo Viréo plombé
Steller's Jay * Geai de Steller
Clark's Nutcracker Cassenoix d'Amérique
Common Raven Grand Corbeau
Violet-green Swallow * Hirondelle à face blanche
Mountain Chickadee Mésange de Gambel
White-breasted Nuthatch Sittelle à poitrine blanche
Pygmy Nuthatch * Sittelle pygmée
Western Bluebird
* Merlebleu de l'Ouest
Townsend's Solitaire Solitaire de Townsend
Hermit Thrush Grive solitaire
American Robin Merle d'Amérique
Yellow Warbler Paruline jaune
Yellow-rumped Warbler Paruline à croupion jaune
Painted Redstart * Paruline à ailes blanches
Western Tanager Tangara à tête rouge
Black-chinned Sparrow * Bruant à menton noir
Dark-eyed Junco Junco ardoisé
Brewer's Blackbird * Quiscale de Brewer
Cassin's Finch
* Roselin de Cassin
Pine Siskin Tarin des pins
Evening Grosbeak Gros-bec errant

* life bird for me

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Breaking News : Birding Trip in Florida

As winter is making itself a home in Michigan, Diane and I decided to go for a short vacation for Christmast in Florida, in Fort Myers Beach! The Estero Laggon, where our hotel is, has the wonderfull quality to combine a world class beach with a world class birding spot.

In addition to the potential of many, many new birds (It seems that I will pass, at last, the 300 mark for north America during this trip, unless an improbable mixed flock of Harlequin ducks,multiple species of Eiders and Scooters, Crossbills, winter Gulls, Great Grey and boreal Owls shows up in Gallup Park in December), this location seems to have the highest concentration (according to the 2007 Chrismast Count) of what I think is by far the coolest bird in the US, if not in the world : the Burrowing Owl.

I can't wait!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Drama in the Arb (or how to miss the National Geographic Picture of the Year)

Is is snowing today, so I just realized that Mr Winter is now back in Michigan for 5 long months, or more. 5 months of cold, snow, with only waterfowls and finches to warm the heart of the courageous birder.

As the whole world was focusing last Tuesday on the presidential election, the state of Michigan generously gave me a holiday, so I could have all the time in the world to vote. Not being a US citizen and being denied the right to vote, unfortunatly, this was an excellent opportunity to :

  1. Fix a plugged sink at home
  2. Go birding for a while in the Arb

Wait a minute, something is not right......with the light being so bright and beautifull, and quickly reprioritized my "to do" list:
  1. Go birding for a while in the Arb
  2. Fix a plugged sing

Being efficient is all about prioritizing, I was told once...

Entering the Arb through the prairie, as usuall, I quickly met a group of friendly Dark Eye Juncos. Two of these Juncos were particuliarly obvious and fairly cooperative. Using my binoculars and my camera, as usually I started to digibin the one on the right. Let's call it Nestor.

Mmm not good. For some reason, the autofocus is actually focusing on the grasses behind. Plus its head is in the shade......So I turned my attention to the one one the left (let's call it Robert)

Ahhh not bad at all. I mean considering my primitiv way of taking pictures, that's about the best I can do. Suddenly, I feel, I see a shade on my back, on my shoulder. A fraction of second later, I see a Cooper's Hawk flying 2 feet over my head. Another fraction of second later, Nestor was gone, caught by the raptor. Wow.

Well obviously I just missed the National Geographic Picture of the year.

Other birds for the day were all usuall, but the light was making birding particularly enjoyable.

White Throated Sparrow


Edge of the prairie

White Throated Sparrow

Eastern Bluebird

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cackling at Cavanaugh Lake

As I was unseccesfully chasing a surf scooter that was reported on Cavanaugh Lake last Sunday, I came accross this groupe of geese. The smallest one is certainly a Cackling, but what's about the the intermediate ?

Monday, October 13, 2008

One more perfect day

Last week end was another 2 perfect days of fall. Bright sun, crispy temperature in the morning, beautiful foliage colors....I was basically as good as it can get in Michigan, and I know many people from europe who come (or wish to come) in the northern states of the USA, only to experience these wonderful indian summer days....

The beach

The beach (2)

Of course, the main problem is that these days are too few, and that it is certainly difficult to forget that winter is coming soon. Somehow, though, thinking about all the winter birds I have not seen for a while (would it not be cool to see some redpolls again?), and of all the other chances I will get to miss my nemesis bird (the rough legged hawk), this does not actually seems too bad. Winter also means being able to oversleep during the week end AND being able to be out birding at sunrise

But let's live in the present.....

The arb was full of birds both saturday and sunday. Sparrows (song, white-throated and white crowned) were numerous. A kernel of 24 turkey vultures (urubu a tete rouge) was seen soaring on the east side of the prairie. Ruby crown kinglets (and some golden crown too) were also present about everywhere in the arb.

Amoung the best sighting of these two outing were a late tennessee warbler, 2 coopers hawk, and a brown thrasher (good eye, Diane!), and a couple of yellow bellied sapsuckers. Also seen was a Rosebreasted Grosbeak.

Tennesse Warbler (paruline obscure), digibinned

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (pic macule), digibinned

White Throated Sparrow

Brown Thrasher (Moqueur Roux), digibinned

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Orienteering and Birding don't mix

Orienteering race last week end, at Peach Mountain. Orienteering is another of my hobbies. The goal is to find controls in a forest, helped only with a Map and a Compass. Despite my very modest skills and physical strength, I always try to be as good as possible during these races. I can even admit that I always secretly hope to beat a few of my fellow orienteers.

Last Sunday was at Peach Mountain, one of my favorite "map" for orienteering (although my results from last years were proven to be rather mediocre). Peach Mountain is a very cool place by itself. It is own by the university of Michigan, and is mostly used for astronomical research (there is several radiotelescopes). But Peach Mountain is also a very great place for birding, with a wide variety of habitats. Grassy openings, pine groves, sandy pits. I secretly hope that one day, I will find a crossbill somewhere in the pine groves

As I was leaving control 3 of this race, and I was rather satisfied of this first third of the race. I went almost straight from control to control, with basically no mistake. I was going toward control 4, rather slowly, but expecting great difficulties. A 1 km strech through the woods, with no trail whatsoever. Obviously a great segment to loose or win a lot of time. As I was jogging though the magnificent forest (almost at its fall prime!!!) I heard trouble ahead.

No, reader, this was not the owling of a migratring wolf, a hungry bear or even worst, a cranky skunk.

That was the distinctive call of a pileated woodpecker. Rats.

Now, let me tell you. The Pileated woodpecker is a VERY cool bird. It is the biggest woodpecker in the US (let's not start here to debate on the possible existence of the Ivory-billed woodpecker). Although not particularly rare in Michigan, it is almost non existent on the east side of Wasthenaw County, where I usually birdwatch. So hearing this great bird gave me some shiverings......

A few more steps toward the West direction....I can hear the bird going approximatly the same direction. But I can not see it. Unless I go a little bit south. Not a big difference for my race...all I have to do is to be very carefull and keep an eye on the shape of this spur other there..... So here I go, a bit south, then a little bit more south, then west, chasing both my control 4 and my woodpecker.......

The results of the race? Let's say the forest was magnificent and that I enjoyed every minute I spend there.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall is coming!!!!!!!!!!!

Diane and I just like to walk in the Arboretum, as many other people from Ann Arbor do....It offers many trails along the river, in the woods, along the prairie. Many Joggers and Runners take advantage of one of the steepest hill in the county to perform their weekly hill trainning. The dog owners walk their dogs, most of them responsively.

Last Saturday in the Arb was absolutly pleasant. The day was a perfect autumn day, blue sky, a bit cool in the morning. Despite the Michigan-Wisconsin game in the afternoon, promising a 100,000 visitors influx of in the city, walkers were sparse, and runners few.

The Beach - La Plage

Birdingwise, we had a great time. Blue Jays were flying around everywhere, a Carolina Wren (troglodyte de Caroline) hopped over a fallen tree, a red breasted nuthatch (Sitelle a poitrine rousse) (our first this fall) was feeding amoung the pine trees. A flock of mixed warbler (blackthroated green, chesnut sided and pine warblers, plus others I could not identify, high in the trees) (paruline a gorge noire, paruline a flanc marron, paruline des pins) put a show next to the peony garden. The first white crowned sparrow were seen along the prairie. Rubycrowned and Golden crowned Kinglet (Roitelet a Couronne Rubis, Roitelet a Couronne Doree) were also seen.

White Crowned Sparrow (Bruant a couronne blanche)

On the way back to our car on the edge of the prairie, we took an infrequently used trail, both to get a little exercise and to get a chance to see a Thrush or a Wren in the brushy slope. Annoyed, I discovered a Dog Owner......with a dog unleashed.

Now, there is nothing that infurriated me more that wandering dogs in the Arb. Not only they scare ground birds, squarrels and deers, and disturb habitat, but they have sometimes highly variable social behaviour. Friendly, TOO friendly, agressive (I was bitten once by a dog in a city park 2 years ago). This is why I always try to remind them (the owners) to keep their dog on leash. Rarely it works. Most of the time they disagree, more or less politely, with my recommendation. This time, though, the dog owner tried a different strategy.

Me : "M'am, I think you should keep your dog on leash"

No answer. Ok, that's a classic. She hopes I will just give up.

Me : (louder) "M'am, I think you should keep your dog on leash!"

Her : (in French, but with a strong American Accent) "Je ne parle pas Anglais" (I don't speak English)

Now, maybe some readers of this blog have not noticed yet, but I happened to be born and raised in Amiens, in the north of France.

Me : "Bien essaye, mais il se trouve que je suis Francais, et vous devez garder votre chien en laisse. Et votre accent est pourri, vous n'est pas Francaise" (good try, but I happened to be French, and you should keep your dog on leash. And your accents stinks, you are obvioulsy not French)

Stupor from the Dog Owner

Followed a rather animated conversation, in French of course. Of course it did not change the fact that she kept her dog unleashed, but I gave her a hard time, and that was my main goal. Maybe next time she will go somewhere else, or bring a leash with her.

Following this rather nice walk, we ended up at the Farmer's Market, buying some heirloom tomatoes. The farmers thought the first frost are coming in a week or two. l

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Birth of a Birder

Went birding last Saturday on Lake Erie MetroPark, hoping to improve my skills in Raptors Identification. Dropped Diane at a cat show in Allen Park (the location of the show reminded me an infamous Snowy Owl Adventure with Jochen), and went on the beach hoping to improve my skills in Hawk Identification, and specially for the Broadwinged Hawks. Reports from previous days were specially promising, with more than 30,000 Broadwings on Thursday alone.

Alas, the birding Gods (or, to be more specific, Aeolus, the God of the winds) were obviously upset, and declined to give me the number of raptor I statistically deserved on this day. A few dozen Sharp Shinned Hawks, a juvenile Bald Eagle, one Harrier and an Osprey were the only raptors seen between 11h00 and 1h00 this day. On the butterfly side, though, a few monarchs were observed crossing the water toward their sunny destination.

Walking on the boards to go back to my car, I enjoyed the sight of several yellow-rumped warbler (I tried to digibin a few of them), cedar waxwings, as well as a couple dozen pie billed grebe who were feeding close from shore. A group of 300+ double crested cormorants was seen at a distance.

First try at digibinning on a yellow rumped warbler

Premier Essai de digibinning sur une paruline a croupion jaune

A cedar waxwing, the rock star of american birds, is clearly not impressed by a little yellow on a rump

Un Jaseur d'Amerique (Diane et moi les appelons les rock star) n'est evidemment pas impressionne par un peu de couleur

I also tried digibinning on a flying Egret

J'ai ensuite essaye d'ameliorer ma technique sur une Grande Aigrette en vol...

Enjoying the beautiful day, I sit on a bench and reflected on the day when, two years ago and stuck in bed by a terrible back pain, I discovered the world of birding by reading "Kingbird Highway", by Kenn Kaufman. The next day (it took me just one night to finish the book), still dreaming about this transcontinental pursuit of birds (and probably something more than birds), I purchased a field guide, tried to look through my window with a 20$ pair of binocular (I guess I should have called it monocular, as one side was constantly fogged), and discovered a different world......3 pairs of binocular and 2 field books later, here I am, rich of new friends, new experiences, new knowledge, and a new obsession....

Back at home with Diane, we got a good surprise at our feeder. A female Rubythroated hummingbird was resting and pruning at our window. We enjoyed her for 30 mn.

Female Rubythoated Hummingbird, resting during migration

Colibri a gorge rubis, se reposant pendant sa migration