Sunday, May 30, 2010

Clay-colored Sparrow

Early this morning I went over to Heritage park to do a little birding. I had rather low expectations as it seems that migration has been virtually over for the last week. This view seemed confirmed as I found no migrants for the first forty-five minutes I was birding. When I came to the intersection of the meadow and windbreak trails, however, I was in for a big surprise. I heard something buzzing in the field to the north. My first impression was that the bird was a Golden-winged Warbler as I had seen one nearby last year and the buzzing was generally repeated in groups of three or more. It didn't strike me as quite right, though, and it seemed to me that I had heard the song recently but I hadn't heard a Golden-winged Warbler since last spring. At last I was able to locate the bird singing in a small tree. When it flew down into another bush I was surprised to see that it looked like a sparrow. When I got my binoculars on the bird its unique face pattern made me quickly realize that I was looking at a Clay-colored Sparrow! While they can be found regularly in Macomb and Wayne counties, Clay-colored Sparrows are almost never found in Oakland County (ebird lists only five records and one of these is questionable). I quickly called Mike Mencotti and he was there in twenty minutes. The bird was still singing when he came and he was able to hear it but he only got a brief glimpse of it before it fell silent and disappeared. I was not able to get a picture of this one so here is a photo of a Clay-colored Sparrow that I took last week in Macomb county. This was certainly a bird I never expected to find at Heritage.

Monday, May 24, 2010


My Birdathon team (Leonard Weber, Stella Kosharian, Chris Goulart, and I) saw one hundred species for the Birdathon yesterday. We started at Metrobeach where we heard a calling Least Bittern but found none of the warblers we were counting on seeing there. We think that the lack of warblers may have been connected to the heavy fog which remained until after nine. We then headed to Wetzel State park which was much better. There were several Sedge Wrens ticking in the grass. One actually popped up out of the grass for a second and I was able to get a poor picture through the fog.
There was a pheasant calling as well as several Bobolinks and a Veery. In the fields south of the parking lot we heard and saw several Clay-colored Sparrows and Blue-winged Warblers. There was also a Black-billed Cuckoo calling in the distance. A male Orchard Oriole near the parking lot was nice to see as well.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Blue-winged Warbler

After a brief stop in Mount Clemens to see the nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons, we headed down to Pointe Mouillee SGA. On the road to the headquarters we were surprised to find an American Woodcock sitting in the middle of the road. When we got to the Sigler Rd. parking lot, we found out that the Cinnamon Teal (fifth State record) that had been seen earlier in the day had just disappeared, we were not able to refind it. We didn't really find anything exceptional at Pointe Mouillee but we did have quite a few late ducks. Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, and Canvasback were the biggest surprises in that department. Several Ruddy Turnstones, fifty or sixty Whimbrels, and several hundred Dunlin were the shorebird highlights.


There were Several Common Terns, as well as Forster's and Black Terns.

We also saw a whole bunch of Long-nosed Gars near the shore.
Back at the parking lot I saw a male Yellow-headed Blackbird fly over, which was cool. We left Pointe Mouillee with 91 species for the day. We then chased and found the Dickcissel that had been found a few days before in a farm field near Pointe Mouillee. We also added Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, and Purple martin to our list, bringing our total to 95 species.


We then went to Lake Erie Metropark where we found our only migrant warblers of the day, Magnolia Warbler and American Redstart. We also added Cedar Waxwing, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Eastern Phoebe to our list, bringing out total to 100. I saw another Orchard Oriole, this time a first spring male. There were lots of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers around as well.
After this, I wanted to go to Oakwoods Metropark to try for Henslow's Sparrow and then head to Crosswinds to hopefully hear an American Bittern and some rails but the other guys on my team were tired after the ten mile walk at Pointe Mouillee and decided to call it a day. Overall, it wasn't a bad day, especially considering that we were only able to find five species of warblers and three thrushes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Weekend Birding

I have been birding a lot this weekend and I have seen several good birds. On Thursday my lifer Black-billed Cuckoo popped out of a bush at Carpenter Lake allowing good views for about a minute. I have now seen both cuckoos there. On Friday I found my first Marsh Wren and Black-crowned Night-heron of the year at the American Center Marsh as well as a Lincoln's Sparrow. On Saturday I went to the bird count at Kensington. I birded with the Spring Hill picnic area group and we identified 75 species although I only had 72. We found some very unusual birds for the count, the best of which were a Henslow's Sparrow and two Bobolinks. We saw nineteen species of warblers with the highlights being Blue-winged, Northern Parula, Blackburnian, Blackpoll, and Canada warblers. Here is a picture I took of one of the Bobolinks.
Today I went to Woodland Hills and Heritage Park early this morning. Woodland Hills had a few warblers, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green and Blackpoll were the best. I also saw a Swainson's Thrush and there were lots of Wood Thrushes singing although I didn't see any. I was rather disappointed with the warbler variety at Heritage Park, I only saw five species. A Veery was a park first as was an Orange-crowned Warbler (year bird #200) singing in the thicket at the intersection of the Estate and River trails. This was completely unexpected as I had only found Orange-crowned Warblers in the fall before. After this I went home. When I came out of church a few hours later I saw I had a message from Mike Mencotti so I quickly called him back. He had found a Northern Mockingbird (Michigan is on the very edge of its normal range) near the sledding hill at Heritage Park, about the only place in the park I hadn't checked in the morning. Since my mom had the van I quickly jumped on my bike and raced off. When I got there about fifteen minutes later I quickly found the Mockingbird foraging in the grass near the parking lot. I was able to get a few pictures before it flew back into the bushes and started singing. It was interesting to note the similarities to the song of the Brown Thrasher which I had heard just the day before. The phrases were slightly more musical and all were repeated three times in a row as opposed to two for the thrasher. For the rest of the time I was there it alternated between singing and eating Sumac berries. It was a great state lifer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ohio Purple Gallinule

When a Purple Gallinule showed up at a park just east of Cleveland last week I was a bit disappointed. I was sure that it would have left by the time my family was planning on going to Magee Marsh the next week and I was sure that Mom would not want to drive to Ohio two weeks in a row. I began to get more and more excited, however, as the Gallinule showed no signs of leaving and was still there on Sunday, the day before we left. I was able to convince my Mom that the extra three hour drive to see the Gallinule was worth it and we left at six thirty the next morning. When we got there we were told that the Purple Gallinule had been seen that morning but it was in the east pond, which was the larger of the two ponds. As soon as I approached the pond I saw a man there taking pictures and after a few seconds I was able to see the Gallinule walking around on the lilly pads. While I was able to get some nice looks at the bird it was rather backlit and all of my pictures turned out terribly. After a while the Gallinule disappeared into some vegetation near the trail. I was almost ready to leave when all of a sudden, my younger brother said, "Look! The Gallinule is right by the trail!" I turned around and the Gallinule was just coming out of the tall grass at the edge of the trail. It ran into the middle of the trail before it flew into the smaller west pond. After this it came quite close and I was able to get some very good pictures. It was definitely worth the drive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Oakland County Birding

I have been birding a lot the last few days but haven't had time to post. Migration is in full swing now and several unusual birds showed up. On Friday Karl Overman found an Orchard Oriole at Heritage Park. As I did not have one on my Heritage park list I tried chasing it later in the afternoon but didn't see it. I did see a Wild Turkey though which was a first for Farmington Hills for me. Then on Saturday Mike Mencotti found a Prairie Warbler up at Pontiac Lake SRA. He called me at about 11:45 and I quickly wolfed down my lunch and drove off. I was there an hour later but of course the Prairie Warbler which had been singing almost constantly an hour before had disappeared. My luck started to change on Sunday when I found Black-throated Blue, Blue-winged and Hooded Warblers at Heritage Park. Yesterday I found my first Magnolia and Nashville Warblers of the year in my backyard as well as my first Chimney Swift. Today I found what is one of the rarest birds in Oakland County that I have found myself. I saw a Prothonotary Warbler at Robert Long Park. I was just heading back down the trail when I heard a warbler song that I did not recognize. At first I did not think that this was that big of a deal as I am still a bit rusty on my warbler calls but all of a sudden, a brilliant Prothonotary Warbler popped out of the bushes. This is definitely one of the coolest warblers I have seen but sadly my camera has been acting up lately and I was not able to get a good picture. Here is one of the pictures I took.
I also found a Snapping Turtle on one of the trails.
I have a lot more birding planned for the next few weeks so hopefully I will find many more cool migrants.