Saturday, June 26, 2010

Colorado Trip (Days 1 and 2)

I arrived at the Denver Airport at about ten a.m. and after meeting with my uncle we were looking for Burrowing Owls in about an hour on the west edge of the airport. As we were driving along the road we came across two kettles of Swainson's Hawks, I estimated about fifty. Here are a few shots.
After shooting some pictures we continued on to the spot where the Burrowing Owls were supposed to be. After a little bit of searching we spotted one when it briefly flew and landed on a Prairie Dog mound.
There were many Prairie Dogs and I managed some good shots of them thanks to the 400mm lens from my uncle.
As we were heading back to the car I spotted another Burrowing Owl sitting on the fence. It flew down after a minute to join two other burrowing owls sitting on a Prairie Dog mound! I think that this must have been a family of Burrowing Owls, this was a great lifer to start my trip. At the hotel in the evening I found several young rabbits and was able to get some good pictures of them.
Today I met Kathy Dunning, a local birder, at five-thirty this morning at Deer Creek Canyon, a park in the foothills west of Denver. I saw four lifers; Virginia's Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Lesser Goldfinch, and Lazuli Bunting. Spotted Towhees were everywhere and Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Western Scrub-Jay, and Black-headed Grosbeak were birds I saw that I don't see in the east. Here is a picture of the area.
Tomorrow I am heading for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and then for Mesa Verde, I will update my blog as often as possible.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Birding the Thumb

Karl Overman and I birded the Thumb yesterday and we saw quite a few good breeding birds. We started off with stopping by the lakeside cemetery in Port Huron where a pair of Merlins has nested. We saw and heard the male Merlin before we went on. I think this might be the first time Merlins have nested in the southeastern Lower Peninsula. After a quick stop for Pine Warblers in Southern Sanilac County we continued to Minden SGA in northern Sanilac County. On the way we made several stops to check the fields. Bobolink numbers were quite good, I think there were almost as many Bobolinks as Eastern Meadowlarks. Five Brown Thrashers (one group of three and two other single birds) seemed a bit on the high side as well. Minden SGA was quite interesting, I had never seen anything like it before. Almost the whole area is part of a bog (see above picture). Because of this species that are typically found further north can be found here. Brewers Blackbirds were plentiful and I managed a few poor shots of them.
There were also several Lincoln's Sparrows.
For both of the above birds while they are quite common in and around Minden SGA, they are completely absent as breeders from the rest of the SELP. We also found a few other birds that are tough to find breeding in southeast Michigan such as Clay-colored Sparrow and Alder Flycatcher. We also found a Pink-edged Sulphur in the bog, it was a lifer for both of us. To see Karl's pictures of it click here. At the woods at the edge of the bog we heard a singing Mourning Warbler and I was finally able to see it after walking through a bunch of raspberries and getting all scratched up. Our next stop was in Huron county at Wagner County Park. We heard several more Mourning Warblers and there were lots of Northern Waterthrushes.
We were also able to find a singing Black-and-white Warbler and a singing Winter Wren south of the trail. It was upsetting to see all of the cut down trees in the park. It literally looked like they decided the forest was too thick and went through cutting every other tree down. Apparently they did this to the whole park, even when we drove a back road at the edge of the park we found trees that had been cut down. It appears that this has driven the breeding Canada Warblers out of the park. There were a few times when we thought we might hear one in the distance but we weren't sure, at any rate, the Canada warbler population has been greatly reduced. After this we headed for the town of Bad Axe and the airport there to look for Upland Sandpipers. As we were scanning the mowed grass along the runways in the hope that an Upland Sandpiper would come out of the tall grass, Karl thought he heard one on the other side of the road. We looked across the road and there, on top of a telephone poll at the edge of a cornfield, was an Upland Sandpiper (lifer #315)!
I had heard they perched on fence posts but never expected to see one thirty feet in the air on a telephone poll. After wandering around on back roads for a while, we headed down to Port Huron SGA in St. Clair County. Since it was the middle of the afternoon it was pretty quiet but we did find an Acadian Flycatcher. I was able to get a nice photo of a Viceroy there.
We ended the day with 88 species, ten species of warblers and all 8 breeding flycatchers. It was one of the best days I have had in Michigan in June and definitely the highest species total I have had in June in southeastern Michigan.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Oak Openings Metropark & More

Yesterday Karl Overman, Cathy Carroll, my dad, and I went down to Oak Openings Metropark west of Toledo. As we pulled up at about seven along Sager Rd. we quickly heard and then saw a Grasshopper Sparrow singing at the top of a small bush. Almost immediately after this we heard two Yellow-breasted Chats singing in the bushes. Surprisingly, one of them was actually singing about three fourths of the way up a taller tree and we were able to get some very good views of it. The chats were lifers for me (#311) so I was happy I got good looks at one. After this we headed down Girdham Road. Almost as soon as we got out of the car I heard a Prairie Warbler buzzing in the dunes just south of the Wabash-Cannonball trail. After quite a bit of searching we were finally able to see it. It was beautifully lit and allowed a fairly close approach, this was lifer #312 for me. Karl Overman was happy to see them here as well, he said he hadn't seen a Prairie Warbler at Oak Openings in about twenty years. We then hiked down the Wabash-Cannonball trail for a little ways where we saw our only Red-headed Woodpecker of the day and thought we heard a Summer Tanager. When we returned to the road we found a large Box Turtle right by the side of the road I was able to get several good pictures of this turtle which is never seen near where I live.
A bit further down the road we heard a Yellow-throated Vireo and Black billed Cuckoo and were able to see a male Summer Tanager. There were several Lark Sparrows in the field as well. Surprisingly, we also heard another Prairie Warbler. We then headed down on Jeffers Rd. toward the horse staging area. While we were still driving we heard Hooded Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher singing in the woods. As soon as we got out of the car we heard a Blue Grosbeak singing in a large Oak in the middle of the field. It took us almost fifteen minutes to actually see it, however, and when I finally spotted it it flew across the road into another tree. I was finally able to get some good looks at the bird and see its chestnut wing bars and black 'mask'. This was lifer #313 for me. After this we stopped briefly at the visitor center and the lodge but we did not find much at either spot. We then stopped at the eastern entrance to the Wabash-Cannonball trail. We added Wood Thrush to our list here and we also saw a Hackberry Butterfly. The butterfly ended up landing on Karl and I was able to get some good pictures of it.
We were done birding at Oak Openings and now Karl Overman directed us to the county in the northwest corner in Ohio. After an unsuccessful detour to try for shorebirds in some flooded fields (we did see a Brown Thrasher right next to the road, though), we finally ended up on county road S just a few miles south of the Michigan border. By now it was threatening to rain and we heard thunder in the distance but we were still able to find several Henslow's Sparrows and Bobolinks in the first field we stopped at. After stopping at another field and finding some more Henslow's we continued down county rd. S. We had just found several American Redstarts when Karl heard a Yellow-throated Warbler in the distance. I really wanted to see this one since it would be a lifer (#314) for me so I stood there in the rain, hoping that it would finally come closer to the road. After apparently moving farther away, the Yellow-throated Warbler began to move closer and at last Karl spotted it in a Sycamore a little ways up the stream. I was only able to get a few unsatisfactory glimpses of it until it flew into a large Sycamore right nest to the road. Now I was finally able to get some good looks at its yellow throat and the black 'triangle' on its face and the black streaking on its flanks. At our next stop we heard a Carolina Wren singing but it seemed that some of the birds had quieted down as the rain got harder. We waited for the rain to subside before we hiked out along Lake La Su An to look for Prothonotary warblers. We did not see any of these but we did find a male Summer Tanager and I was able to get a picture of a Red-spotted Purple.
By now the rain had stopped and we decided to check some of the places we had visited while it was raining again. At the bridge we heard a Black-throated Green and two Cerulean Warblers which we had not found the first time. A little farther along county road S Karl called a quick stop at a place we had not checked earlier, he said Prothonotary Warbler might be possible there. Sure enough, a brilliant male Prothonotary Warbler was singing in one of the dead snags by the pond. At the field off of County Rd. 8 we found a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Sedge Wren along with the Henslow's Sparrows. After we checked a sewage lagoon we headed toward the Michigan border. Before we had arrived in Michigan, I spotted a family of Sandhill Cranes at the edge of a field. After we had entered Michigan in Hillsdale County we stopped at another river crossing along Territorial Rd. There we found a Cerulean Warbler and heard a song that was probably a Kentucky Warbler. Suddenly we hear a loud chip note and saw a brown bird fly across the road. We were able to relocate it on the other side where we identified it as a Louisiana Waterthrush. After this we headed north towards a spot where a Kentucky Warbler had been seen. On the way we made a few stops and added Vesper Sparrow, Least Flycatcher, and Osprey to our list. The Ospreys were quite a surprise, we found them nesting on a platform in the middle of a farm field, almost a mile from the nearest lake. When we finally reached Milnes Rd. in northern Hillsdale we soon heard the Kentucky Warbler singing, seeing it was another matter, however. I was able to get a decent look at it after about ten minutes but it took Karl Overman and Cathy Carroll a while longer before it finally came out on a leafless branch and we were all able to see it well. We decided to call it a day after this and headed home. We added a few more species on the way back such as Wild Turkey, Ring-billed Gull, and Great Egret which brought our total for the day to 98 species in 12 hours. We saw fourteen species of warblers (all breeders) which included basically all of the possible southern warblers. It was definitely one of the best days for birding I have had.