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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Black Terns at Pt. Pelee and Shorebirds at Hillman Marsh

Canada is South of the border from Detroit; and Pt. Pelee is at the southernmost point in Canada which is justifiably renown as a  premier birding hotspot. More famously known for warblers, it also offers marsh and wetland habitat; and nearby, Hillman Marsh attracts migrating shorebirds in the Spring [but not in the Fall when the fields are flooded].

Having had my full on warblers at Magee, this was a trip that focused on marsh specialties -- among them -- the Black Tern. Black Tern is a freshwater tern that is declining in numbers in the US. It requires floating biomass to nest and it is regular at Pt. Pelee.

Highlights of the visit, besides Black Tern, included Red-eyed Vireo, Cedar Waxwings, Barn Swallows and the ubiquitous Common Yellowthroat.

Nearby at Hillman Marsh, which features excellent shorebird habitat, Semi-palmated Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpiper were observed.

The highlight of course is the Black Tern, included here are some shots from prior visits:

Nesting Black Terns

Black Tern

Black Tern in flight

Watching the Black Terns engage in courtship, nesting, and feeding is an unparalleled experience.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Magee Marsh 2012: The Epitome of Spring Migration

Magee Marsh is the premier place for warblers and other migrants in Spring. It is the venue for the "Biggest Week in American Birding" and its location on the Southern shores of Lake Erie means that it serves as a convenient rest-stop for migrants before they continue their journey over the lake.

The photographs here are shown chronologically so viewers will get a sense of the timing of different species. Generally speaking, migration starts with creepers, kinglets, blackbirds, and then warblers and flycatchers. Thrushes and sparrows show throughout and the spectrum of warblers changes over time.

2012 was average or below average in terms of numbers (compared to 2011) but nonetheless afforded a good opportunity to get spectacular views of warblers.

April 14: My first excursion out to Magee was mid-April. Typical birds at this time were Brown Creeper [middle], White-throated sparrow [upper right], hermit thrush [lower left], brown thrasher [upper left] and a few early myrtle's warblers. Creepers are about the size of a house sparrow and their rapid movement up and down tree trunks makes photography difficult.

Hermit thrushes were especially abundant this time around [bottom left and right, below]. A lone ovenbird was spied foraging terrestrially. Ruby-crowned kinglet continued to be numerous [upper left] and Rusty Blackbird [middle] could be found near damp leaf litter. Rusty blackbirds are exclusively North American and their precipitous decline in numbers (over 90% since the 70's) means that they are now classified as "Vulnerable" (next stop: "Endangered").

Mid-April, in addition to rusty blackbirds [upper left], also served a wonderful surprise: a hooded warbler [middle]. I ran into fellow photographer Steve Hamilton (flickr link) and both he and I were led to the North parking lot by tips from fellow birders where this stunning male was found low in the brush. Myrtle's warblers continued to increase in number and for the incredibly patiently stubborn and the unbelievably lucky, a winter wren finally gave good views [lower left & right].

Residents included downy woodpecker [upper left], song sparrow [lower left]; but the migrant attraction on April the 16th was a Louisiana Waterthrush [left].

Early May (May 3rd to be precise) brought more variety: A cape may [middle and left] was seen from the Tower (if you've been to Magee, you know this is the canopy-level viewing platform) as was rose-breasted grossbeak [right] and a delightful summer tanager [left].

The handful of cape may warblers [left and lower right] were joined by Palm and Magnolia warblers [right and middle].

For me, May the 3rd was the best day at Magee. Variety was excellent with black-throated blue [lower right], black-throated green [upper right] and American redstart [lower left] joined by a small number of resplendant scarlet tanagers [middle and upper left].

Unlike 2011 when black-throated blues were seen well, 2012 was largely a miss for this attractive species. Prothonotary is a breeder at Magee and they dazzled the low hanging brush with their golden hues [middle and upper right]. Boldly marked magnolias [upper left and lower right] continued to gain in number and the first few black-and-white warblers appeared [lower left].

In addition to black-throated green [left], northern parula [upper right] also arrived and the elusive wood thrush that is usually well heard in summer but seldom seen, also showed briefly.

May 5th and the first few bay-breasted warblers caused a minor commotion on the sidewalk [upper left]. House wren, like the prothonotary, a breeder was also seen [upper right].

Bay-breasteds were very low in numbers compared to 2011. The vagaries of warbler numbers and specieal diversity is dependent on weather and wind flow. For whatever reason these factors joined forces to suppress numbers in 2012. Yellow warbler is common and hence oft overlooked; nonetheless, they are energetic songsters and highly photogenic [middle]. Baltimore orioles were now common [center right] and black-throated greens [lower right] continued to be commonly seen.

American woodcock are cryptic and stealthy birds and seeing one out in the open [left] was a treat. The 10th of May brought Wilson's [middle] and the first blackpolls [upper right] while warbling vireo [left center] were observed from the Tower.

The 10th of May also brought Swainson's Thrush [left] and while both Mourning and Canada were seen, only the Canada cooperated [middle] for a photograph. Blackpolls continued and black-billed cuckoos [lower right] shyly picked insects off leaves.

By May 12th, vireos were increasing in number and the philadelpha vireo [middle] caused some consternation among the neophytes with the Tennessee warbler [upper left]. Chestnut-sided [lower right] which were abundant in 2011 were sparse this year.

A birding sensation was the sighting of a Kirtland's Warbler [middle and upper right] by some Mennonite youth and this cased a minor stampede to the newly opened Estuary Trail. Also showing on the 12th of May were chestnut-sided and Tennessee warblers [left & lower right].

On the 13th of May, a Blackburnian warbler [below] showed extremely well; perhaps the only species that showed better this year than last. An Indigo Bunting [upper right] made a brief appearance in the canopy as well.

Swainson's thrush [upper right] was found singing and warbling vireo was common up in the canopy [middle]. Tanagers and prothonotaries continued to show and a least flycatcher [lower left] began the flycatcher wave (although, a shadow of what it was in 2011).

As mid-May approached, numbers tapered off but late warblers such as Wilson's continued to show well [lower left].

Also a late migrant, Grey-cheeked thrush [upper right] was seen on the 26th of May and Eastern Screech Owl [middle and lower left] could be spied by the careful observer.

Between early April and late May, Magee Marsh offers unparalleled opportunities for the wildlife observer. 2012 was largely a disappointing year and lacked the numbers and diversity of 2011 but still specialties such as Kirtland's and Hooded made up for this deficiency.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kirtlands Warbler @ Mio; Brown Thrasher @ Tawas

May -- and when the occasion for an Oakland Audubon Society field trip to Mio and Tawas arose, I jumped on it. The itinerary included the Mio Ranger District  (this is the place to see our rarest warbler -- the Kirtland's), the surrounding areas, and Tawas Point State Park.

If you've read the excellent Kirtland's Warbler book by William Rapai, you will be familiar with the remarkable comeback story of this signature warbler of Michigan.

[photo taken of a female in migration, Magee Marsh]

[singing male kirtland's at Mio]

Like Pandas, Kirtland's are fussy breeders -- they need young jack pine habitat -- and lots of it -- to breed. Clearing of woodland and prevention of naturally occurring forest fires were both detrimental to their breeding success and populations were near extinction at 500 birds in the mid 1900's.

There are some other specialty birds in the nearby area as well -- Upland Sandpiper and brewer blackbirds.

Brewer's males and females have different colored eyes with the male resemble a grackle. The Upland sandpiper was seen in the fields looking quite curlew-like.

Onward to Tawas Point -- a migrant trap that definitely deserves a visit in May. Getting a clear shot of a brown thrasher was definitely a highlight but there many warblers, vireos and tanagers as well.

Overall, a very productive field trip with the Kirtland's being the star.