Friday, June 17, 2016

USA....16th and 17th May...

Instead of pounding the dark cold forests, we headed for a proper wildlife refuge - Seney.

This park was a huge complex of pine forest and marsh with large open lakes. There were two drive around routes so birds can be viewed from the car of from various stops.

Above  - Seney Wildlife Refuge.
The most easily seen birds were the 34+ Trumpeter Swans scattered around the place.  It was while watching these birds we saw our first Common Loons ( Great Northern Divers to us) on breeeding territories. We also had a close flyby from a male Northern Harrier.

As with most wetland areas, there were a lot of birds and the list began to rise -

6+ Hooded Merganser, Least Flycatcher, 5+ Ring necked Duck, 10+ Caspian Tern, Shoveler, Chipping, Swamp and Song Sparrows in the rushes, Bald Eagle at the nest, many Red winged Blackbirds, 1 male Sora showing well right next to a Virginia Rail. 2 Pine Warblers were pished down to too close to focus distance, 8 Spotted Sandpipers, 2 Ospreys and a Yellow rumped Warbler.

Pine Warbler male.
Common Loon

Virginia Rail


Nice Beaver
 2 Beavers were seen very well swimming across open water. They surprised me by their very large size.

A nearby back road gave us an easy Black backed Woodpecker on a tip off.  This was a tick for the whole team so the more experience nearctic travellers were well pleased.

Male Black backed Woodpecker in favoured burnt pine habitat.

From here we had a drive back up to Whitefish Point, where a lone male Piping Plover was displaying and showing quite well albeit at a distance. Sparrows at the feeders had increased with 100+ White crowned, 3+ White throated, 2 Lincolns and 6+ Chipping. Lots of raptors were migrating over head in large 'kettles'. They were mainly Sharp shinned Hawks, Red tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles while lower down 100s of Blue Jays continued their journey.

2 Killdeers showed very well at the road end turning circle before we began the drive south to Grayling again.

On the 17th we had a day out to Tawas Point to look for migrants. This was a 2 hours drive from our digs at Grayling but well worth it. I think I enjoyed the 'spurn point feel' about it better than Magee.

Many passerines were moving through all in sparse low cover affording good views. The list goes like this -
2 male Orchard Oriole, 1 Chestnut sided Warbler, 3 Black and White Warbler, 6 Rose breasted Grosbeak, many White crowned Sparrows, 7 Baltimore Orioles, 7 Northern Parula, 4 Tenessee Warblers, 1 Palm Warbler, 9 Yellow Warbler, 3 male American Redstart, 1 Nashville Warbler, 1 male Mourning Warbler seen very briefly in the open close to before melting back into the thicket, 1 male Yellowthroat, 2 Orange crowned Warblers, several Yellow rumped Warblers, 2 Downy Woodpecker, 4 Least Flycatcher, a showy male Ruby throated Hummingbird, 1 Cliff Swallow, 2 Bank Swallow, 1 Northern Rough winged Swallow, many Barn and Tree Swallows and a few Purple Martins, 2 Red eyed Vireo, 1 Philadelphia Vireo, 1 Brown Thrasher 3 male Scarlet Tanagers, 4 Bonapartes Gull, 3 Goosanders, 1 Clay-colored Sparrow, 1 Brown headed Cowbird, 2 male Indigo Bunting, 2 Northern Flicker together on one branch, 1 Merlin hunting, 1 Belted Kingfisher

Tawas Point Feeding Station

Tawas Point Lighthouse

The home of migrants...

The lads looking unsuccessfully for the Mourning Warbler we saw only 15 minutes earlier...

Baltimore Oriole, what a stunning bird.

Immature male Orchard Oriole we also saw an adult male down the point.

A very common Grey Catbird, but this one sat just feet away right in the open.

The abundant White crowned Sparrow.
Turkey Vulture

Scarlet Tanager

Savannah Sparrow, one of my favourites.

Least Flycatcher, I think.

Philadelphia Vireo

Ruby throated Hummingbird. 
A short detour to another wetland called Tuttle Marsh resulted in me dipping golden winged warbler, but I did see Belted Kingfisher, Black Tern, Bald Eagle, male Blue winged Teal, Osprey on its nest, 2 male American Redstart and a Veery.

Just along the road we snatched a glimpse of a singing male Bobolink just before it flew off distantly.

It was now time to move south ourselves as our trip was coming to an end...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

USA - 14th and 15th May..

On leaving our hotel in Grayling, MI at 07.30 we had a bit of a shock as the temperature had gone down to 3 degrees and felt like March. This effect was even more exacerbated when almost our first bird of the day was a male Lapland Bunting that flushed from a rough ground area beside the main road.

While waiting for the chaps to gather, John and myself loitered around the hotel looking at the woods at the back. Here we heard an owl call quite loudly that, when Richard played the calls back to us, was certainly a Northern Saw-whet Owl. We tried to look for it, but with so much pine forest it was futile so we headed on to our journey into the Upper Peninsular of Michigan, locally know as the U.P ( Yew-pee).

UP wetlands...

Wide open space....

The lads have no idea that a bear is stalking them...

Now thats a lake. With Canada in the distance.

Beaver work...

Birding was quite good en-route with 2 American Bitterns flushed from a roadside ditch and flying next to the car for a short way, male and female Northern Harriers, Red breasted Merganser and Goosander ( Common Merganser here). A stop near a large wooded lake had 2 Ring necked Ducks, Northern Harrier and Belted Kingfisher while the woods were quiet with only Hermit Thrush ( the first of many) and Blue headed Vireo noted.

What really struck me was how big and empty the place is. Huge good wide roads straight as a die for miles with little traffic on them.

We had a stop at Taquemanon Falls River Mouth and happened upon a nice Northern Mockingbird here at the northern end of their range. Some maps show them as only going up as far as Ohio, but they seems to be expanding range. Also here Richard found a Vesper Sparrow that we all missed, Swamp Sparrow and a Beaver lodge.

Northern Mockingbird
We arrived at Whitefish Point at noon in a bitterly cold northerly wind but at least it was bright and sunny. Most birds were gathered at feeders behind the obs building - 30+ White crowned Sparrows, 1 Lincoln's Sparrow, 3+ White throated Sparrow, 1 Chipping Sparrow, 20+ Blue Jay, 4+ Raven over head, 1 Osprey over, 3 Sharp shinned Hawks in to the feeders, 4+ Black capped Chickadee and 1 Chipmunk.

Whitefish Point, Michigan

A very cold, Whitefish Point

Vast open spaces at Whitefish Point looking over to Canada.

And yes that is fresh water....
Black capped Chickadee


Killdeer, maybe the best bird photo I've ever taken....

We checked a few places around the Paradise / Newberry area but the wintry weather had us beat. Birds remained elusive..

Overnight was spent in Newberry. The temp dropped to -2 and when I got up there was a light grass frost. Later it was fine with odd snow flurries remaining cold.

First stop was an old airport called Raco Airfield. This was an excellent stop for birding until we came to leave and found we had been locked in! I removed a fence post, temporarily, allowing Richard to drive us out, then replaced it. No one was any the wiser.

The entrance to the airfield was quite good with several Vesper Sparrows and 2 Evening Grosbeaks around the gate.

Vesper Sparrow, a bit like an Ortolan Bunting from Europe.
Hermit Thrush, the commonest of the brown thrushes up here.
Further over we stopped the van and raked around a bit seeing - 3 Sharp tailed Grouse ( all flushed), 4+ Vesper Sparrows, a pair of Pine Warblers, 3 Brown Thrasher, 5+ Dark eyed Junco, 1 Savannah Sparrow, 1 Sandhill Crane over, 1 male American Kestrel, 1 Northern Flicker, 2 Upland Sandpipers on the edge of a runway and several Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Raco Airfield

After escaping our temporary confinement we stopped at Eckerman where we found the famous Bear Butt Bar was now closed. Luckily a house next door also had feeders including a huge dustbin winched up a flagpole to keep critters off. On this were 10+ Purple Finches, 6+ Evening Grosbeak, 10+ Blue Jay and a Northern Flicker.

Continuing on a theme, the rest of the day was spent driving remote roads and stopping occasionally to see what turned up. We did alright with some perseverance.
6+ Ruffed Grouse at various spots, 1 Red breasted Nuthatch, 1 Yellow bellied Sapsucker,  2 Pine Warbler, 1 Blue headed Vireo and a Palm Warbler were all seen. A small warbler flock held Cape May, Black throated Green and Yellow rumped but generally passerines were very hard to find.

In the McMillan Forest we came across a nice male Golden crowned Kinglet that gave some reasonable views.

We ended the day exhausted  and decided we needed to regroup and try something different tomorrow....

Houses in the forest.

Red breasted Nuthatch.

Swainson's Thrush

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drumming on a road sign. It was deafening.
A Blue headed Vireo, 'pished' in....
Click on this and you can see in there is a Ruffed Grouse....

Now thats a feeder!

Monday, June 13, 2016

USA ....13th May

Hello again, sorry about the delay, we've been away to Suffolk on holiday last week, but more of that to come, first though lets crack on with the American trip....

Yesterdays visit to Magee Marsh was our final look at the migration hotspot. Today we are taking in a new type of habitat ( and species) before heading north to follow the migrants up into Michigan.

We arrived at Oak Openings around 8am on a lovely cool, bright sunny morning. As with all sites here, the birding was quite easy, walking on road surfaces next to good bird spots...

Oak Openings Preserve
This area is a large prairie / mature woodland location and as a consequence it holds some birds that are difficult to find elsewhere. We soon found some targets - 6+ Lark Sparrows, 8+ Red headed Woodpecker inc one excavating a nest hole, 5+ Field Sparrows, 1 White breasted Nuthatch and 1 Grasshopper Sparrow were all new additions. Also we saw 3 Yellowthroats, and a large flock mobbing a red phase Screech Owl that tried to shake its attackers by swerving through the tree trunks in the bright sunshine. In pursuit were 3 Hairy Woodpeckers, 4+ Bluebirds, many Blue Jays and an American Crow. A Meadowlark was seen near the Grasshopper Sparrow too.

Tree Swallow

Fox Squirrel, much larger than Greys.

Red headed Woodpecker

White breasted Nuthatch
Time to get the pedal to the metal and we moved north. On route we took in a bizarre mini twitch for a summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper! Now we hadn't taken leave of our senses, Curlew Sandiper is an annual sighting back home, but if this site held the Curlew Sand, what else may be fact it was just a small flooded field but it held 60 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 Greater Yellowlegs, 1 Wilsons Snipe, 1 drab fs male Wilsons Phalarope, 2 Spotted Sandpipers, 1 Short billed Dowitcher, 2 Dunlin and 2 Kildeer. Apart from waders we had 2 Buff bellied Pipits, several Purple Martins, 1 Red tailed Hawk and 1 female Northern Harrier.

Angola / Raab Road - Scene of the Curlew Sandpiper...
Onwards and upwards, 200 miles later and we arrived at Hartwick Pines State Park, Grayling, Michigan.

What a change in habitats and even seasons. It was much colder here and the trees still didnt have a leaf on them. It reminded me of the differences between say Minsmere and Loch Garten.

Feeding Station at Harwick Pines State Park. Click on it and you can just see on the feeders stuck on the glass, 2 grosbeak species.

Hartwick Pines State Park
As we didnt get here til 6pm, the centre was closed, so we had a short stroll around. Behind the building was a large feeding station. It was fantastic and for me one of the trip highlights, it was just a shame it was a little bit too dark for the photos. On the feeders were 5+ Evening Grosbeaks, huge illuminous finches that dwarf our hawfinch, 10+ Rose breasted Grosbeak, 1 Pine Siskin ( cant tell if male or female, they all look like our female siskins) 1 Mourning Dove and 2 Red breasted Nuthatches tooted their distinctive toy trumpet call note, a bit like a zebra finch.



Evening and Rose breasted Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeak
Further into the woods were Scarlet Tanager, Bay breasted Warbler, Black throated Green warbler and 2 Chipping Sparrows. American Robins were everywhere. Near the track a pair of Yellow bellied Sapsuckers were nest building and a Brown Creeper crept around the car park.

A few mammals here - 1 huge Porcupine in a tree above our bus, good numbers of Chipmunks, American red Squirrel, Grey Squirrel and Fox Squirrel including some black ones.

A great day out....