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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring Activity at LSCMP: Wood Duck, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Golden-crowned Kinglet and more

[Lake St. Clair Metropark, MI. April 2013.]

Lake St. Clair lies between Lake Erie and Lake Huron and attracts a wonderful assortment of migrants and Summer breeders. Species covered in this post include highlights of expected Spring species as well as some that were totally unexpected (eg., Yellow-headed Blackbird) :
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Wood Duck
  • Sora
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets
  • Dunlin
  • Bonaparte's Gull
Yellow-headed Blackbird is easily our most distinctive icterid; wintering exclusively in the the Southwest US and Central America, its breeding range stretches from the West to as far East as Wisconsin. It is also found in localized pockets in Northern Michigan; so seeing an individual here in Southeast Michigan was a real treat.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Their "song" is an untuneful croak; certainly incongruent with their dazzling looks. First described in the 1800's by Napolean's nephew, Charles Bonaparte, the Yellow-headed Blackbird is a promiscuous breeder with an increasing population trend and is classified as "Least Concern".

The Wood Duck is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful waterfowl species in the world and is extremely popular with birders (and, regrettably, hunters too). Unfortunately, despite a near-extinction experience in the early 1900's, their population rebound has been accompanied by increased hunting as well. Numbers of wood duck shot are second only to Mallards -- more than a million are "harvested" every year (that's a million too many). That compares to a total of 15.9 million waterfowl shot in total in the US. Here's the totals from the US Fish and Wildlife Service:

Perhaps, given that Wood Duck were almost shot to extinction a hundred years ago, this brush with annihilation has made this species extremely wary. Their conservation history can be found here and it would be interesting to imagine how our waterfowl populations would have fared without the interference from hunting, habitat destruction and "wildlife management". One estimate is that Fall flights of ducks in the US totaled 400 million birds when European colonists first arrived (see research) compared to about a 10th of that now.

Wood Duck, appropriately, are well adapted to the woods -- their clawed feet can grip branches to perch, they nest in tree cavities, and their preferred habitat is wooded swamps.

Its closest relative is the Mandarin Duck of Asia; and in both species, their newly hatched neducklings drop from their tree nest-cavity to the ground which can be as much as 300 feet.

Kinglets are tiny birds with a small colorful crest. There are 7 species worldwide of which 2 are found in the US. 

Golden-crowned kinglets (back view of the flared crest shown above) are seen earlier in migration than the Ruby-crowned. While superficially similar when their crests aren't flared, a closer look reveals the black crown, black eyeline, and overall whiter face of the golden-crowned when compared to the ruby-crowned. 

Golden-crowned Kinglet

The Ruby-crowned kinglet is just slightly larger than the golden-crowned and has a prominent but incomplete eye-ring; it is otherwise similar in its feeding and breeding habits.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Moving on to the woodpecker family -- Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were found on their favorite sap-filled trees. The trees were pock-marked with the notches made to extract sap. Only the male shows the red throat.

Brown Creepers, although using their stiff tails as a prop -- much like woodpeckers -- are not related to them; instead, their closest relative is the nuthatch.

This is a common bird with stable population trends but it is seldom observed due its cryptic plumage which makes it appear like "moving bark" on a tree.

Brown Creeper feeding.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

Other than Downy and Sapscuker, the other member of the woodpecker family seen were two yellow-shafted Northern Flickers. They were observed engaging in courtship behavior.

Facing each other and making rhythmic side-to-side movements while playing hide-and-seek -- their dancing is a sight to behold.

Northern Flickers

With regard to raptors, the juvenal red-tailed hawk that is often seen here was spotted again. Red-tailed hawk is our most common hawk.

The resident breeding pair of Great Horned Owls were seen roosting. They have raised 3 chicks this year.

Great Horned Owl is one of the most widespread owls -- found from the Arctic to Argentina, its population trend is stable.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows are named for the hooks on the leading edge of their wings.

Wintering in Central America, they breed over most of the US in summer.

In the reed beds where Virginia Rail had been observed earlier, a Sora was seen out feeding. This is a small crake that is known for its distinctive winnowing call.


Other observations included Pied-billed Grebe ...
... Canada Goose ...

.. Redhead (both male and female)...

.. Lesser Scaup...

Lesser Scaup
.. and, Bonaparte's Gull looking resplendent in breeding plumage.

Bonaparte's Gull

The arrival of Forster's Terns (above) is a sure sign that summer is nigh.

My first shorebird sightings at this venue (excepting, of course, Killdeer) was the Dunlin (above and below).

Finally, let's end with thrushes:

Hermit Thrushes  were abundant at LSCMP this time of year:

And, it wouldn't be Spring without our Spring Marker: the American Robin:

Location of Lake St. Clair Metropark: Map

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