Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spring Arrivals at Lake St. Clair Metropark: Winter Wren, White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

[Lake St. Clair Metropark, MI. April 2014]

A Spring thaw at one of the premier birding spots in SE Michigan attracts some early migrants such as:
  • Brown Creeper
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Winter Wren
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Northern Flicker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Bonaparte's Gull
  • Pied-billed Grebe
Also seen were American Kestrel, Sandhill Crane, Song Sparrow, Herring Gull and Canvasback, and the season's first shorebird -- Killdeer. Virginia Rail was heard but water levels around the boardwalk in the marsh were too high to permit observation.

Brown Creeper

A frustrating species to photographically capture -- fidgety, well camouflaged and tiny,  the Brown Creeper is a year-round resident in Michigan. Its numbers are stable.


 Brown Thrasher

A secretive bird, this Brown Thrasher was seen digging up the leaf litter for food. Its bright yellow eyes and rich rusty upperparts make this mimid a very distinctive songbird. The Brown Thrasher is a near endemic -- with the 8% of the Brown Thrasher population found in Canada standing in between full endemic status. Numbers of this beautiful bird have declined 40% since the 60's.

Hermit Thrush

After the American Robin, our next arriving turdid is the Hermit Thrush. The smudgy breast spots and red tail on this thrush are useful field marks.

Winter Wren

In a tangled mess of sticks and rotten wood, a tiny wren with an upright tail cocked straight up hops among the thickets. The impossibly cute Winter Wren is a breeder in the Northern forests of Canada and winters across the Eastern US. Its cousins are the Pacific Wren of the Western US and the Eurasian Wren.

White-thorated Sparrow

An attractive, large sparrow, the White-throated Sparrow is found in Winter across much of the US but breeds in the high North; they are an abundant species with a population estimated at over 100 million.

Northern Flicker at nest

At this time of year, the flickers were extremely active and frequently found looking for ants and other insects on the ground. The woods were alive with their calls and rapid drumming.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Another specialized woodpecker, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, drills shallow holes to extract sap from trees. This individual is a male -- as evidenced by the red throat.

A quick walk to the splash area at the lake shore resulted in no notable shorebirds (except Killdeer) but hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls.


Bonaparte's Gull

A delicate gull with pink-red legs and a black hood, this is the only gull that nests in trees. Its numbers are increasing.

Pied-billed Grebe

Found across North and South America, Pied-billed Grebe is an abundant and widespread grebe. In breeding plumage, it develops a black throat and the bill becomes ringed in black.

Two other species were observed but only briefly:


An American Kestrel perched before a Red-winged Blackbird dive-bombed it away; and, ...


.. an overhead flypast of a bugling Sandhill Crane.


Other species included Song Sparrows which were very active and visible...


A couple of Herring Gull were also present by the shore; their size dwarfing the Bonaparte's Gulls.


A male canvasback -- a rare sight when seen out of the water.


Of course, it wouldn't be Spring without the American Robin -- now ubiquitous and found equally in the woods as well as suburbia. Black-capped Chickadees were common as well.


The lone shorebird was this handsome killdeer -- the only double banded plover in the US.



The Starling family has some spectacular species like the Bali Myna, the Superb Starling, Purple Starling; etc. And, although sturnus vulgaris is despised here as an over-abundant invasive exotic, in its breeding colors, it can, nevertheless, be quite stunning.


Misguided romantics were happily releasing European Starlings in America in the late 1800's while their compatriots were delighting in ensuring every last Passenger Pigeon was shot dead out of the sky. And of course, we know how this story ends: There are now perhaps 200 million European Starlings in the US and exactly zero passenger pigeons. A double whammy for our avian ecology as the Starlings continue to outcompete native species for food and nesting sites.

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