Michigan- Parks

When not visiting family, Tomas and I spent our mornings at nearby local parks. His family lives in Grand Blanc, MI a suburb of Detroit, just south of Flint. There were lots of places to choose from. Michigan is flat and it reminded me a little of Florida, lots of lakes and thick woodsy forests making for challenging birding conditions. I did my best.

We pulled up to the entrance of Holly Recreation Area and I immediately hopped out of the minivan. There was a flurry of bird activity, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, a thrush calling later identified as Veery, and my lifer Eastern Towhee!

Looks just like spotted, minus the spots! Then I noticed a small warbler.

Oh shit! Chestnut-sided Warbler!

Two life-birds and we hadn’t even made it past the front gate. I would have been happy just hanging out there, but more cars pulled up and we eventually had to go in. Tomas went for a barefoot run on the trails, while I spent my time exploring the dense forest.

The birdsong sounded exotic and I was pulled in all directions. Where to begin? Eventually I focused on (less exotic) robins alarming in the distance that led me to a Barred Owl deep in the forest that flew before I could get pictures. Still a cool experience.

I followed more singing that finally led me to another life bird, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak!

That guy doesn’t know how happy I was to see him. It was incredible. There were lots of other birds, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, House Wren. And just before we left, I heard an intriguing song that I chased down to find yet another life-bird, an Indigo Bunting!

Hey-o. Birding was new again, mysteries galore and new treasures around every corner. And it wasn’t even a birding trip. We spent more time meeting friends and family, and dining on delicious arepas and Columbian spaghetti. Then Tomas and I made time to visit another park called Indian Springs Metro Park. We got a late start on this morning and it was blazing hot by the time we arrived.

I had a particular sparrow in mind at this location, a Henslow’s Sparrow. There had been one sighted the day prior. I read that they are “solitary and secretive” and prefer “damp grassy meadows with matted vegetation, weeds, and ground cover.” The park is huge and I didn’t know where to look. That plus a time crunch didn’t get me a Henslow’s Sparrow, but I did manage to find another fun sparrow that sounds like a bouncing ball.

A Field Sparrow! Nice consolation sparrow. I also saw Eastern Meadowlark, Tree Swallow, Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, a Green Heron in a tree, and many many Gray Catbirds, almost as frequent as robins.

It was late afternoon by then, but we decided to stop at Holly Recreation Area on the way back and I’m so glad we did.

I hiked the trail through the forest down to the lake and noticed a Bushtit-sized bird flitting in the bushes.

I saw a hint of yellow and couldn’t believe it, a female American Redstart! Another lifer. This one had a beakful of insects that it took to a nest hidden in the bushes closer to the lake. I could hear the babies begging.

It took a little while longer, but I eventually saw a male too.

Fanning his tail as they do to scare up insects.

They move so fast in the foilage it was hard to keep up. This was the last day I had to explore Michigan’s parks and I was making the most of it. Orioles, cardinals, redstarts, I was going to miss these birds. Luckily, there was one last surprise in store.

At some point I heard a warbler singing way up in the trees. Their songs sound so similar to me, especially when I’m hot, tired, or hungry and in a time crunch. But this time I stuck to it and it paid off big time.

A freaking Hooded Warbler!!! My mind was blown. I tried to keep up as it moved fast through the dim forest.

I couldn’t have asked for a better send-off.  Who knew Michigan was so thrilling?

Out of this world.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Birdathon 2016 – Put an Owl on It

For a second year I joined Portland Audubon’s Birdathon, touted as the “biggest baddest birdathon this side of the Mississippi.” And for a second year I was thrilled to be a part of the Put an Owl on It team.

Last year’s trip was one of the best birding days of my life – 5 owl species in one day!! This year’s agenda expanded to eastern Oregon for a two-day Blue Mountain adventure with the hopes of seeing Great Gray Owls.

Spoiler alert- we found them.

Great Gray Owl

I went into the trip with 299 life birds. How cool would it be to have the Great Gray as the 300th bird? That didn’t happen, but Bank Swallows are pretty cool too. Lucky #300!! Sadly, no pictures because the van flushed two nicely perched swallows on a fence as soon as we drove near. Van-birding can be quite a challenge.

While exploring country roads in Umatilla county, we also flushed lifer #301, this Chukar fleeing for its life.

Fastest mother Chuckar in the west

Fastest mother Chukar in the west

It’s all worth it though when you climb out out of the van and meet a pair of Great Horned Owls fledglings.

Great Horned Owl

Or a family of Barn Owls smooshed in a natural cliff wall cavity.

Barn Owl

And it’s especially worth it to see a Burrowing Owl perched atop sagebrush in the Oregon desert.

Burrowing Owl

It was incredibly hot that weekend, nearing (if not over) 100 degrees. Some birds like this Sage Thrasher panted to stay cool.

Sage Thrasher

Even Common Nighthawks panted.

Common Nighthawk

That is one hot bird. Seeing a Common Nighthawk perched on a fence has been on my birding bucket list since the moment I found out they do this. We found two. Success! And two vans with 19+ people managed not to flush them. It was that damn hot.

Common Nighthawk

Birder dreams do come true

Birder dreams do come true

It cooled down some once we gained elevation making our way into the pine forests of the Blue Mountains.

Cool birders

Cool birders

And here in this forest is where we met the family. Mom and her three owlets.

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl

Cutie Pie

Great Gray Owl

Fluffball

Great Gray Owl

Peekaboo

It was so special sharing forest space with these owls. They were incredibly chill. We sat down on the grass and pine needles under trees nearby, relaxed, chatted and ate snacks, while watching the fledglings stretch their wings and walk awkwardly along the branches.

Great Gray Owl

And if owl entertainment wasn’t enough, there were active nesting holes visible on site with Pygmy Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadee, Western Bluebird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker (another lifer!).

Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker

And songs of Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch, House Wren, Western Wood-Pewee (PEEEeeeeer), and a new flycatcher for me, Hammond’s Flycatcher (ChiBik).

As soon as the sun lowered, Great Gray fledgling activity picked up, the owlets begged noisily for food.

The skies darkened and mom obliged, swooping over the fields to hunt. We enjoyed watching the owl show until the sun disappeared and the bats came out.

Sunset

Before exiting the park, we piled out of the vans in the dark one last time to listen for other potential owl species. While waiting, we occupied time peering at Jupiter’s moons through the spotting scopes, and just before calling it a night, an adult Great Grey Owl flew over our heads towards an area of the forest with at least one owlet calling! There’s nothing like an unexpected owl surprise to liven things up. We rode the owl high all the way back to the hotel in La Grande.

From darkness to early morning light, a handful of birders opted for an early-morning Bobolink side trip.

Early birders

In a distant farm field we observed several pairs of Bobolinks chase each other up, over, and into the grasses while chattering their buzzy metalic song that sounds like a broken R2-D2. A bit far for decent photos, but here’s an identifiable pic of one on a fence post.

Bobolink

After, we reunited with the rest of the group and the sightings continued: Eastern Kingbirds, California Quail, Loggerhead Shrike, Black-billed Magpie, and Long-billed Curlew, to name a few.

At Catherine Creek State Park, we introduced ourselves to a generous couple camping with a hummingbird feeder at their site. Thanks to them, we got good looks at Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds.

Female black-chinned, she wagged her tail while feeding

Female black-chinned wagged her tail while feeding

This was only my second time seeing a Black-chinned Hummingbird (the first was just a week prior at Painted Hills), and it was my first encounter with Calliope Humminbgird. They’re so pretty and so tiny!

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

There was another new surprise in the brushy thickets at this park, a small thrush called a Veery. Too bad I didn’t get a visual on this shy cinnamon-colored thrush, but I heard its song and call and that was pretty satisfying. Some nineteenth-century observers described the Veery’s song as “an inexpressibly delicate metallic utterance…accompanied by a fine trill which renders it truly seductive.” Yep, I was totally seduced.

One of our last stops was at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area where we saw Gadwall, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, and yet another new species, a shorebird called Wilson’s Phalarope.

Wilson's Phalarope

At the marsh, there were also a pair of nesting Swainson’s Hawks, both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged blackbirds (chasing an American Bittern), Black-crowned Night Heron, Ring-necked Pheasant, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and Northern Harriers. To name a few.

On the way back to Portland, we pulled off the side of the highway to bird a pond next to some railroad tracks. We joked about the safety and legality of this birding spot.

Safe birding

Then we turned around to see a law enforcement vehicle stopped at the road with lights flashing. Busted birders.

Walk of shame

Walk of shame

Turns out the officer had just thoughtfully stopped traffic for us to cross the road without incident. Whew! It was totally worth almost getting arrested to catch a glimpse of American White Pelican, Black-necked Stilt (!), teals, and nesting American Avocets.

Black-necked Stilt

Nesting Avocet

It was all worth it. In two days, the team saw a total of 127 species, including 4 owl species (and I saw 10 new-to-me species), and we raised over $14,000. We saw 11 Great Horned Owls, 3 Barn Owls, 1 Burrowing Owl, and encountered 6 Great Grey Owls! I think that’s what they call “putting an owl on it.”

I had a blast reuniting with team members from last year and making new friends this time around. Thanks to the trip leaders Scott Carpenter, Rhett Wilkins, Joe Liebezeit, and Mary Coolidge, you all rock. And of course, many thanks to my donors for making my fundraising such a success. I raised over a thousand dollars contributing to Portland Audubon’s $170,000+ for conservation. Thanks to all involved helping such a great cause!

For the birds.

Tweets and Chirps,

Audrey