Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Spontaneous UP Trip

After securing a seasonal, part-time job here in Lansing, MI starting next week, I figured now was as good of a time as any to jolt to the UP and clean up some missing year birds and enjoy some chilly November camping before that is no longer possible. I planned to stay two nights, figuring a few birds would give me difficulty, but instead everything was insanely cooperative... how often does that happen!?

I started the trip looking for Sharp-tailed Grouse on Hantz Road. They had been reported to eBird from there not too long ago, and I found one eating catkins from a tree along the road, just south of W 23 Mile Road.

I took my good luck north to Dafter Dump to look for Iceland and Thayer's Gulls. Iceland was easy, with two juvenile, one 2nd year and one adult present. I also saw an intermediate type bird I desperately wanted to call a Thayer's, but I just couldn't do it. The bird was just a little too light, with little secondary bar and no tail band to mention. I stopped by again today, hoping for a clear-cut Thayer's (are there such things?) to no avail. However, more Iceland Gulls were present, including 3-4 juveniles and the same 2nd year and adult birds. Also on these dump-runs were 2 Glaucous Gulls, a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull.

After the first dump-run, I cruised to the Pike Lake area via County Roads 500 and 414. The roads were recently graded and easily drive-able in my little Honda Civic. This made access to the burn easy, and finding a Black-backed Woodpecker was only a matter of time.

I then walked the Clark Lake trail near Tahquamenon, famous for the nearly-impossible-to-miss Spruce Grouse. Apparently my luck ran out as I did indeed miss them, but I picked up a Ruffed Grouse and White-winged Crossbill, also year birds, as a consolation prize.

I bolted to Whitefish Point where Pine Grosbeaks infested the feeders, #599 for the year.

I then camped along Vermillion Road, behind the concrete slab. In the morning, after pushing my alarm back an extra 45 minutes, the birds started calling. While trying to talk myself out of my warm sleeping bag and into the crisp UP air, I heard the unmistakable sound of grouse wings beat by my tent. The taunt, and knowing I probably JUST missed a Spruce Grouse got me out to start packing my tent. Half-way through, I looked up just in time to see a male Spruce Grouse flying right at me! He saw me, veered and flew back into the pines. It appeared he was going to land, and after searching for quite some time, I stumbled upon him staring me down from a Jack Pine. #600 came to me!

After I finished packing away my tent, I spent some time scoping gulls in the WPBO Harbor. I was surprised to find a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, but even more surprised by what happened next. I heard a very familiar call that immediately got me excited. A high-pitched "pit" or "fit" that sounded suspiciously, and exactly like what an Audubon's warbler sounds like. If you have the Sibley guide on your iPhone, it sounds like the song labeled "Audubon's chwit calls_UT", but I don't really hear "chwit", but I'm also pretty horrible at describing calls. Anyway, the bird flew to two pines near the edge of the water. The bird called a lot in the 10-15 seconds I was able to view it. I was able to see the yellow throat, and rump, although from a bit of a distance. I went to get my camera, and BAM, the bird disappeared. Due to the brevity of the sighting, no photos, and my limited view of the bird, I won't be writing this one up. If I was out west, I wouldn't have thought twice. I have extensive experience with Audubon's from my time working out west. If you are in the area, check it out. Here is a picture from Wyoming that matches fairly well with what I saw today

I spent some time at the feeders, photographing finches and waiting for a Bohemian Waxwing to drop in. The previously reported Hoary Redpoll was quite entertaining, allowing me to walk right up and photograph it. I also found another Hoary, although this one was not as obvious. Here is the obvious one.

I expected the Bohemian Waxwings to be flying over. I didn't have to wait long before I heard one, but this one was close! Turns out it was hungry and joined the Pine Grosbeaks below the feeders. No complaints here!

After a very successful whirlwind year-bird birding roundup, I'm back in Lansing. Now to track down a few birds around here. Shame I still haven't seen a Pheasant this year...