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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Spring at Lake St. Clair Metropark: Warblers and Flycatchers featuring Common Yellowthroat, Tennessee Warbler, Wilson's Warbler and Eastern Wood Pewee

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

The South shore of Lake Erie may be the best known migration hotspot but it isn't the only one in the Great Lakes region. A much smaller lake (in comparison to Lake Erie but still huge in absolute terms), Lake St. Clair can also be productive in migration.

A May walk through woodland and shrub habitat at Lake St. Clair Metropark yielded a fine assortment of species:
  1. Tennessee Warbler
  2. Common Yellowthroat
  3. Yellow Warbler
  4. American Redstart
  5. Wilson's Warbler
  6. Northern Waterthrush
  7. Northern Parula
  8. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  9. Canada Warbler
  10. Magnolia Warbler
  11. Eastern Wood Pewee
  12. Eastern Kingbird
First, Tennessee Warbler:


A drab looking warbler, the Tennessee is sometimes confused with the Red-eyed Vireo; however, closer inspection draws out a couple of key differences: the obvious first is the red-eye; next, the bill of the vireo is longer and the cap and eye-stripe are darker. Finally, the vireo has a much more prominent (thicker and longer) white supercilium.

Common Yellowthroat, unless singing on territory, is a skulking and seldom seen warbler:

Seen near the "Owl Habitat" trail (where nesting Great Horned Owls are observed every year), this individual stayed hidden in tangles displaying a stubborn reluctance in giving unobstructed views. However, when it finally did, the black mask, yellow breast, grey headband and pink legs all prove to make this an unforgettably brilliant warbler:

Unlike the Common Yellowthroat, one warbler that is never shy nor hidden is the ubiquitous Yellow Warbler:

Yellow Warbler is a breeder here; unlike the American Redstart which is in passage and quite conspicuous:

Much more difficult to see, on the other hand, was this Northern Waterthrush:

Wilson's Warbler was a nice find:

While Wilson's showed well, also observed, though distantly, were Chestnut-sided, Canada, Magnolia and Northern Parula as seen in the following composite:

Chestnut-sided, Canada, Northern Parula and Magnolia seen at Lake St. Clair

A testament to the birding productivity at this venue, a total of ten warbler species were thus observed in a morning's walk

On the flycatcher front,  Eastern Wood Pewee was a nice find:

A common bird of Eastern forests, the Eastern Wood-Pewee has an impressive population of 5.5 million although the population trend is negative.

Finally, also seen was a pair of Eastern Kingbirds with their massive bills, imposing size and contrasting color scheme.

As these photos attest, Lake St. Clair Metropark always has something to offer, and never more so when species diversity is at its peak -- in migration.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Virginia Rail, Spotted Sandpiper, American Pipit and Lincoln's Sparrow

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

Lake St. Clair Metropark offers a variety of habitats: the lakeshore, marshy areas, woodlands, and, of course, the lake itself. All of these support an interesting mix of shorebirds, rails and herons, warblers, flycatchers and waterfowl.

In this post we will explore some marshland species such as Virginia Rail and Marsh Wren as well as Sparrows and a couple of shorebirds:
  1. Virginia Rail
  2. Marsh Wren
  3. Savannah Sparrow
  4. Lincoln's Sparrow
  5. Song Sparrow
  6. White-crowned Sparrow
  7. American Pipit
  8. Spotted Sandpiper
  9. Dunlin
We start with the rail:

Virginia Rail seen at Lake St. Clair

At this time of year, the Virginia Rail can be quite vocal -- betraying its presence through its distinctive calls ("kiddick" and grunting). However, sighting this bird in the reed bed is a different matter,  even though this rail is commonly found from coast-to-coast across North America, it is highly secretive and rarely seen. This is an attractive rail -- showing shades of ochre, grey and brown.

Another bird that's completely at home among the cattails is the Marsh Wren:

 Marsh Wren seen at Lake St. Clair

These incessantly noisy, tiny wrens are found across the country. However, the Western race (seen in California here) is paler; but, more significantly, vocalizes differently -- hence, it is within the realm of possibility that the Western race will be split off into its own species.

Savannah Sparrow is found in grasslands and other suitable habitat; at this venue, however, two migrating individuals were seen by the lakeshore:

Savannah Sparrow seen at Lake St. Clair

Identification of the Savannah Sparrow is made easier by its field marks including a pinkish bill and legs and a yellow eyebrow.  Compared to the crisp white look of the Savannah, Lincoln's Sparrow is largely grey with a thin eyestripe:

Lincoln's Sparrow

Song Sparrows are most numerous at Lake St. Clair:

Concluding with the Sparrows, a White Crowned was sighted briefly and at a distance:

Sparrow-like but belonging to the Motacillidae family is the American Pipit:

American Pipit seen at Lake St. Clair

The pipits were seen by the Lakeshore; their loopy flights (resembling a sine wave) and their loud "peep" calls giving them away.

Shorebirds have been poorly observed this Spring at Lake St. Clair -- part of the problem being the cleanup efforts (optimized by Park Staff for humans not shorebirds) that have disturbed suitable habitat. However, one shorebird prefers marshy areas where it breeds: the Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper seen at the lakeshore lunging at an insect (topmost) and perched on a fallen tree

When it comes to naming birds, it may be universally agreed that no single convention works best -- and, since many species are seasonally dimorphic, even descriptive names are valid only some of the time.

Hence many a birding neophyte in Winter is left puzzled wondering why Black-bellied Plovers or Spotted Sandpipers lack black bellies and spots (eg., see the Fall version of the Spotted Sandpiper in SW FL Last Fall). Unsurprisingly, the Black-bellied Plover is also known as "Grey Plover" outside of the US. Either name is apt 50% of the time!

However, in Spring, Spotted Sandpiper looks just like the name says. Moreover, the (presumed) male, will perch on higher ground (seen on a sign post and a fallen tree) and will whistle loudly.

The Dunlin seemingly presents no such quandry:

Dunlin seen at Lake St. Clair

It is, however, a little known fact that Dunlin comes from dunn (Anglo-Saxon for "brown").

From rails to sparrows and sandpipers, Lake St. Clair offers a unique assortment of species that will delight the birder.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Delightful Dozen including Blackburnian, Tennessee, Wilson's, Cape May, and Golden-winged Warblers

[Magee Marsh, OH. May 17th, 2014]

While the Biggest Week in American Birding is over, the birding isn't. Migration will continue through the end of May and a quick half-day trip to this famed venue yielded a dozen warbler species (photographed; with 3 more sighted).

Temperatures were low, in the mid 40's but warmed up to the mid 50's under overcast conditions with the occasional drizzle. The plus side of this was that the birds kept low (looked cold and rotund) and lighting was pleasantly diffused (thereby avoiding the yellow-cast resulting from sunlight filtering through the green leaves).

Species observed:
  1. Blackburnian
  2. Blackpoll
  3. Black-throated Blue
  4. Black-and-white
  5. Cape May
  6. Chestnut-sided
  7. Canada Warbler
  8. Golden-winged
  9. Magnolia
  10. Prothonotary
  11. Tennessee
  12. Wilson's
Of this list, the Prothonotary is a breeder at Magee and hence is to be expected until their migration back South in the Fall; however, given that this is mid-May, there was a nice mix of early warblers (Black-and-white, Blackbrunian, Tennessee), mid-migration warblers (Black-throated Blue, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May) and late warblers (Canada, Wilson's, Blackpoll) as well.


A favorite among birders and non-birders alike, the distinct facial markings and the sunset glow of the face and throat make the Blackburnian an unforgettable species.


With a black cap and "whiskers", white cheeks and streaked flanks, the Blackpoll is unmistakeable with its orange legs.

Black-throated Blue:

With so few warblers hued in blue, the Black-throated Blue offers respite from a garish proliferation of yellows and greens.


A nice find, this female Black-and-white was the only one observed on this day.

Cape May:




With the prior observation of the female Golden-winged resulted in pitiful photographs, I was hoping for a "redo" and this time it didn't disappoint.




Usually seen much higher up in the canopy, this Tennessee was foraging just a couple of feet off the ground. While a fairly drab warbler, it is still distinctive in its green and grey hues.


A scruffy looking male gave excellent views close to the boardwalk.