Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Midland Barrow's Goldeneye

I slept in 'till noon today (don't judge me) and woke to an email about a Barrow's Goldeneye found by the Midland area Christmas Bird Count on Sanford Lake. With nothing better to do, I figured I would go scope it out. There was no information on where to look for the bird other than "on Sanford Lake" so I figured access was probably an issue. And it was...

So, I started at the south end of the lake at Sanford Lake Park. Access was easy, but there were only a few Goldeneye, and no Barrow's. I moved north along the west side of the lake and could see a huge smattering a mostly Common Mergansers with Goldeneye mixed in, but they were super far and they looked closer to the east side. I moved there and could find no accessible place to scope the flock.

I rang the doorbell of a sleeping homeowner and asked about access. She let me scope from her backyard, but I still couldn't see enough of the flock and they were still far. So I moved north and found another homeowner who had the flock close to his yard. He graciously let me scope from his backyard and was very curious about the bird. Long story short, I finally found the beast floating with a raft of Common Goldeneye. It was FAR but obviously a Barrow's Goldeneye, and obviously not a hybrid.

I managed a few poor photographs of the bird with my iPhone through my scope. Given the distance, I was surprised I got anything.

I can't suggest going to look for this bird as access is obviously an issue. I got very lucky that the homeowners were willing to let me scope from their yard and I got the feeling they weren't hip on the idea of having a lot of birders in their yard. If you do go, the flock was west of the "Meridian High School" seen on google maps.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Late December Cape May Warbler

You usually don't see many "good" feeder birds while living in the heart of overpopulated (in my opinion) Lansing, Michigan. However, my dad has been playing host to a confused and hearty Cape May Warbler since December 4th, 2012. Luckily for the warbler, the weather has been very mild... some might even say warm for this time of year.

The first big test for this warbler came last night/today as a few inches of blowing snow fell. And yet, the bird persists. These birds can be tough. A quick search of eBird shows a few historical November/December records among the Great Lakes region.

The Cape May Warbler enjoys feeding under the suet feeder on scraps dropped by the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, House Sparrows and Starlings. I helped it out today by breaking up a few extra pieces of suet and scattering them on the ground.

The latest Cape May I could find for Michigan was a record at a private feeder until December 20th. Does anyone know of any other late December or January records for Michigan? Ohio has a January record via eBird, but that is all I can find.

Hopefully it sticks until the new year. That sure would be a nice way to start!

Monday, December 17, 2012

P-Town, Poutien and Panzarotties

During the time period of December 3-10, I found myself racing toward the east coast with two good friends; Garrett MacDonald and Lucas Foerster. Our goal was simple, enjoy the crazy vagrants showing up and have fun birding. Both goals were realized in epic fashion.

I picked Garrett up from the Detroit airport at 3:30pm and we raced over to Lucas' house in London, ON, arriving just after dark. We quickly left his house and were racing east. First stop: Hyannis for the recently identified Little Egret. Driving through the night, we arrived at sunrise, even before the egrets. After a short wait, they arrived; two Great Egrets with a smaller one following. They landed quite close and allowed great study. And just like that, the first major target was acquired.

After enjoying the Egret, we back-tracked to Barnstable where a Northern Lapwing has been spending time in a corn stubble field. We spotted the bird from the car and had amazing scope views of this stunning shorebird. Quite possibly my favorite bird of the trip.

We ended our day at Duxbury Beach. Once we were walking toward the beach, we all saw 9 Cave Swallows heading south. I still haven't seen this bird in Michigan, and we were all shocked at our luck.

On the 5th, we chased a Barnacle Goose in the Bronx, NY. We didn't plan too well and hit some major traffic. We eventually did make it to the bird and had great looks at this smartly marked goose.

We didn't have much time to do any other birding, but we did try once again for the Black-headed Gull in Hyannis, which we missed again.

Tired of chasing birds, we spend the 6th in the Gloucester/Rockport area. We started at Andrew's Point where we saw Great Cormorants, Razorbills, Northern Gannets and Purple Sandpipers (our only PUSA of the trip!). We worked our way down the coast, checking some peninsulas and just doing some general birding, which felt good. We ended at Manomet Point where we had better looks at Razorbills and Great Cormorants and plenty of Bonaparte's Gulls, but not much else.

On the 7th we decided it would be best to do more seawatching. Dovekie was a major target and we had yet to see one. Provincetown (or P-town) was the obvious choice and we got there just before sunrise. After setting up, Lucas yelled out about some small alcids heading north. We all got on them and sure enough, Dovekie! Four of them! We had another 3-4 scattered throughout the morning. We also saw our first and only Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Murre and Pomarine Jaeger of the trip. In the afternoon, we stomped around the Fort Hill marsh for the second time. Still, we were unable to identify any ammodramus sparrows besides a couple Seaside Sparrows. The others just would not cooperate, but a few were clearly Nelson's or Saltmarsh. So, we went back to Hyannis to look for the Black-headed Gull that we kept missing. Finally, it showed well and we had fantastic looks at the bird with two Bonies.

After refueling our bodies with Subway, we again trounced through Fort Hill marsh, this time with a little more success. We flushed a Clapper Rail that was a lifer for Lucas. It had been a while since I had actually SEEN one of these rails. And in December, no less!

We also had better looks at Seaside Sparrow.

And, finally, we got great looks at a non-Seaside ammodramus that, after some debate, turned out to be a Nelson's Sparrow. We never would get a look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow.

We slept in on the morning of the 8th with intentions of having a relaxing morning and working our way up to Niagara Falls for some gulling on the 9th. But, as fate would have it, Mike Lester texted Garrett and I that a Pink-footed Goose had been re-found in New Jersey. This kick-started us into gear, and after driving for 5 1/2 hours, we made it to the pond and the sight of some dis-heartened birders. The goose wasn't here! We exchanged numbers and drove around every pond and corn field we could find, sorting through thousands of geese with no luck. With only an hour or two of light left we returned to the pond where thousands of geese were pouring in. Still, the birders on the scene told us the Pink-footed wasn't among them. Finally, after scanning the flock a few times, I found the bird! It was hiding quite well in the dense flock, but it was there. Everyone enjoyed prolonged scope views of this great bird from Greenland.

Now it was time to make the 8 hour trek to Niagara Falls. The drive would have seemed a lot longer, but coming off of a win, it wasn't too bad. The gull show on the morning of the 9th didn't disappoint either. In with the thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls we found one adult Little Gull. Below the falls we had great looks at multiples of Thayer's and Iceland Gulls. Above the falls, we found an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. We ended in Brantford hoping to get lucky with a Gray Partridge, but it wasn't to be had. They are nearly impossible, except in the winter when there is snow. I guess I'll have to head over once the snow comes, which could be a while.

To celebrate this successful week of birding, we stayed with Lucas in London and enjoyed some delicious Canadian food. We stuffed our faces with Poutien. When we got hungry again, we tried the Panzarotties which are similar to a calzone, but infinitely better.

On the 10th I dropped Garrett off at the Detroit airport and made it back to Lansing. I'm already looking forward to another birding adventure with these guys!