Saturday, November 28, 2009

2009-11-28 Belle Isle

This follows up on a recent note I sent to a Michigan birder's list this week. I had suggested today might be a good day to see some diving duck things (like mergansers) at Belle Isle.

In a way I hope no one went out today based on my posting because we saw very few mergansers. We saw the Hooded Mergansers (4) still in the smaller “Lagoon” at the west end– that’s about all.

But there was still a (smaller) Scaups’ raft on the northwest end (along the drive shortly after you enter the isle) – with a couple of Goldeneyes (new for us!) mixed in. Cool!

Also a couple hundred Canvasback ducks (also new for us – very pretty!) were in the Blue Heron Lagoon (park along the road between lighthouse and Nature Center) – but they were on the other side and far away. Binocs would have been fine for ID, but not great.

I just scanned a map I got from the Nature Center and posted it on PBase. By the way - the Nature Center security guard told us all restrooms are closed for the winter except the one at the Nature Center (helpful info when you drive quite a way!!!). (There are also a couple of “porta-pottys” at the nailed-shut restroom by the statue in the middle of the roundabout by the police station). Use the map in conjunction with Allen’s map in his “Guide”. Also read his “story” about Belle Isle birds – I found it very helpful!

Map is at my PBase site:

I will put some pics there later.

Today most of the birds were farther away than last time– a scope would have been helpful! I have a few possible scenarios: 1) many more people on a weekend, 2) bright sunlight – the food fish for divers were probably spookier and at greater depth (I think this is the answer), and 3) the Canvasbacks were tired of being shot at and found a “quiet corner” (we did not see them before). I do not know much about Mergansers, but they are “fancy” birds and I tend to believe fancy birds are spookier and just “do their own thing” differently.

We were there from 2:00 – 4:00 pm. It was a perfectly lovely day – in the afternoon it was 48 degrees with little wind! The weather almost invited the picnic we chose to forego.

I wish we lived closer! I suspect the observations change daily if not hourly! We drove the isle a second time before we left and the Scaups were gone – darn fickle flappy feathered friends indeed!

Species list:
A "raft" (maybe 3 dozen) of Scaups (I suspect mostly Lesser - I just have to get the raised forehead ID factor figured out...!)
Common Goldeneye (few - with Scaups)
Ring-billed Gulls (hundreds - I could not see any other gulls with them)
Canada Geese (many hundreds! - no "collared" geese)
Domestic Geese (the same white one and other one we saw earlier this week)
Starlings (two flocks)
Mallards - only a couple of dozen (too much competition for feeding?)
Pigeons (many, but not as many as I would expect during a feeding episode)
Mute Swans (10)
Hooded Merganser (one male, three female)
Bufflehead (one female only)
Coots ( uncommon - with Canvasbacks)
Canvasbacks (a couple of hundred in northeast end of Blue Heron Lagoon - wonderful!)

It was a weekend, so we were not too surprised about families feeding the birds. The geese and gulls were especially interested - gulls "win"! And, then the gulls always wanted to take the food away from whichever other gull got it! Lots of noise making - "it's mine"!

Anyway, it was a great day just to be “out”!!! I hope you enjoyed the day in late November Michigan as much as we did!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2009-11-24 A walk and a hawk, and a buck to boot!

Took a walk about noon around Streamwood Estates. Down by the river in the "Dark Forest" a Red-Tailed Hawk screeched above and landed on top of  tree across the river. I had a couple of quick shots before he flew away screeching. Cool!

Also a deer story...

2009-11-23 Belle Isle Scaups n Mergs n Buffles and an Orange-Necked Goose

23 Nov 2009 Belle Isle, 2:30 - 4:00 pm Overcast, about 50 degrees, mild winds

Placeholder - lots of pics to work on...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2009-11-15 Two "rambles" are much better than a non-existent Saturday paper

2009-11-14 Robert H Long Nature Park 2:30-3:30 pm.

Saturday's temperature was an amazing 68 degrees! Shirt-sleeve weather in mid-November Michigan! Winds calm.

Judy and I visited Robert Long Park on Saturday before attending a dinner for her paper doll club's anniversary on Saturday. (OK, go figure ... some people think bird watching is weird as well!) Let's see - if credibility can be gained by changing "bird watching" to "birding", what could we do for "paper doll collecting"? Suggestions?

Anyway, besides a beautiful November day to be outdoors (!), I picked up another new bird - a Green-winged Teal! It was a long way away (over on the freeway side of the large lake), but certainly recognizable by the vertical white bar. Cool! It was with two others - one certainly seems like a female of the same species, but the other had a white eye ring (like a wood duck) yet a long bill (like a GW Teal).

Green-winged Teal male:

And friend - a female Gadwall (thanks for identification Allen! Another new one for me!):

Besides these, RH Long was "alive" with birds.
A huge flock of Starlings moved back and forth in the treetops.
A huge flock of gulls (mostly Ring-Billed, with one Herring) hung out on the sandy beach - except when they were attacking the bread-throwers.
A couple of dozen Mallards were busy butt-upping and cruising - except when they were attacking the bread-throwers.
Similarly the abundant Canada Geese.
Mute Swans - 5
Chickadees (mostly heard)
Crow - 1
No waders were seen.
We saw three busy muskrats preparing for winter, six small turtles sunning, and one squirrel. A lovely red dragonfly landed on my leg - too close for my lens - and left before Judy could get a pic.
It was fun! Much more interesting than the last time we went there - a drab day - a couple of weeks ago. Maybe birds know when it is a weekend and bread-feeders might come? Maybe the warm weather?

Yes, I know about feeding bread to birds. We do not. It is a recent thing after learning that it is not really good for them. Yet, I am not sure I will ever tell someone not to do it. I fondly remember times as a very young child with my mother when we fed ducks at a lake near Chicago. Much later, I became a biologist. I just have to wonder if the early exposure to "life" had anything to do with it. I noticed there were at least half a dozen empty bread bags in the open trash can at the parking lot. I can only wonder about the kids who might have experienced something impressive!

Certainly it might make it much harder to become a duck hunter after such an exposure. For example, Judy and I were at Metro Beach recently and were going to try to get thru the Phragmites into the marsh area by the day-sail area. We soon learned that duck hunters were in the area. Yes, just like Allen mentioned in his Guide to Michigan birding localities, we might have seen a new duck for us become someone's dinner.
The one hunter we spoke with was obviously far more knowledgeble and more concerned with the conservation of the resource than the majority of the (voting) public. And he certainly knew his ducks better than I do at present. With the exception of "day-trippers", I have always found hunters (like most fishermen) to be very concerned with the health of wildlife populations. I know that overall hunters and fishermen are far more active and influencial (minimally through sheer numbers, but also through active environmentalism) and concerned with protecting our natural resources than most!
Personally I like duck on a menu. I would not want to eat a "lifer", but on a menu "duck" is quite tasty! It is just meat, not a pet! (Of course these are cultivated ducks...)

Oops, I ramble. Be not deterred - another more "birdy" ramble is coming up!

2009-11-13 Holland Ponds, Macomb Co, MI 2:00- 3:00 pm. Overcast.

It has been interesting on our last couple of visits to Holland Ponds to see the dramatic change of seasons! We sort of "adopted" Holland Ponds this year as a favorite place to visit after we watched the Great Blue Herons nest, mate, feed and send the kids off earlier this year. It is important to see a specific site go through an annual cycle to really appreciate it, and gain a bit of understanding! We return there often, listing all the birds and other "critters" we see. Recently it has been mostly "boring" and dreary on cool cloudy days!
Gone are most of the exciting things we witnessed this spring and summer. Gone are most of the birds we could count on seeing at specific localities within the park. Gone are the leaves - now we can see through the underbrush and trees. (Cool!!! Now we can see more birds - whoever is still there - and take better pics!)
It seems very barren - almost looks "bombed out" due to the abundance of barren and dead trees (Yes the same dead trees that are so attractive as food and nesting sites to the birds we want to see !!!).
Yet this day was another great day to be outdoors!
We saw the muskrat observed earlier this year working on his house.

We saw some good birds:
At Waterfowl Pond, we first heard and then saw a male Belted Kingfisher. He was kind enough to perch briefly for a distant pic. The Kingfisher is one of our favorite birds! We know his rattle! He is spooky, but shows himself fairly well even at a distance because he is larger than many birds. He fascinates us with his behavior! We have been so lucky this year to see him many times!

Belted Kingfisher at Holland Ponds:

There were lots of Mallards (most abundant bird) in several places - it is always fun to listen to them "quack" - it sounds like laughter! "Quaha, ha, ha!" We always laugh back at them and they usually respond.(Hey, if you thought paper dolls were funny, just imagine a couple of seniors laughing with ducks!)
Blue Jays
Downy Woodpecker.  Hey! I just have to include a great pic:

Downy Woodpecker in flight!

Mourning Dove (only one)
Red-tailed Hawk (flying - apparently feeding - dropped down over a hill and never arose in view)
Cardinal (only one)
No Canada Geese! (Interesting because they are so abundant in spring - nesting, fighting, making a tremendous racket!).
And a special treat! A Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler female:

And, hence the point of the next "ramble".
As you "locals" know, the Detroit Free Press does not deliver a Saturday paper - a void between the Thursday, Friday, and Sunday papers. (Disappointing- as is the new deal of not supplying a weekly TV guide with a regular paid subscription.)

Yet, Saturday was far enhanced without the mediocre newsprint. To accompany my morning coffee I picked up the book "Birds of Detroit" co-authored by Allen Chartier to see what he might show about the bird I was having trouble identifying - the Yellow-rumped Warbler. The illustration in Fisher and Chartier's book was "spot on"! It was a much better match for what I had photographed than the Nat. Geog., Audubon, or Peterson I use "downstairs". (I use Sibley "upstairs" to compare with my pics...yet Allen's illustration was still better!) The bird had a gray body with two white wingbars, a white throat, yellow armpits and a lightly streaked breast. Got it! A female YRW! Excellent illustration! In looking at my other pics later I did find the yellow rump to confirm.

Am I done? No. The point here is that after reading the YRW page, I just could not put the book down until I read it cover to cover - every page, every word! I was truly amazed! I think I had previously treated the book like the rest of my bird identification books - show me a picture - is this my bird? I finally took the time to really read it!
The "Birds of Detroit" is so much more! It is a "ramble" to which I can only aspire. It is not only reasonably  comprehensive (not all species are included) but it is also almost "poetic". (I am sure the full comprehensiveness was only due to lack of space). Poetic indeed! It is a "great read". By far it exceeds any newspaper! I never imagined I could actually read a "bird-per-page" book with the same attention as a novel!  What's the "story"? Every page told a story! Every page suggested more ahead!  It "made my day"! It tells a story about each bird. It shows when you might expect them in the Detroit area and where you might find them. It tells of their lives and loves. It suggests the best way to "talk to" them. It truly shows the knowledge and love for birds you would expect from Allen! And Allen and his co-author say it so well!!! (Yes, I attribute this all to Allen even though Chris Fisher is the lead author, yet knowing Allen,  I presume his influence and guidance were paramount!). It made my day!

So there! You just had a "double ramble" from Dr. Bob's recent week! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did in recalling and recounting my memories!

Comments appreciated here or at

Enjoy your outdoor experiences! Go "bird"!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

29 October 2009 - Robert Long and Kensington Metro Park

29 October 2009 - Robert Long and Kensington Metro Park

I learned this morning that I had not been selected for a job I thought was a perfect fit. Oh well... When life hands you bird seed, go feed some birds! There must be a reason for everything. I was pleased to discover that the answer would soon be in the palms of my hands once again!

Robert Long (12:00 - 1:00 pm):
Judy and I dropped by Robert Long Nature Park enroute to Kensington MP. It was cold, dreary and overcast. The heavy morning fog was still burning off. Not too interesting today.

Ring-billed gulls - a flock
Canada Geese
Killdeer (1)
Wood Ducks (2)
Mute Swans (5)
Great Egret (1)
Chickadee (H)
Downy Woodpecker

Kensington MP (1:30 - 4:30 pm):
This was our primary destination. Judy wanted to visit her "friends". The fog was still burning off. Overcast until about 4 pm when we were starting to leave. High 50's.

We had fun again hand-feeding the birds. Actually, we had the "big four" species that are likely to hand-feed here. The first encounter came as we walked back from the boardwalk over the lake. A female Downy Woodpecker landed on a branch near us. Almost immediately a male flew in to have a discussion with her. I figured that they might be "fighting over me" (yes, I know it is ego-centric) and reached in my pocket for some seeds. The male flew off, but the female immediately landed on my outstretched hand to feed. She spent a fairly long time there so Judy could get a few pics. Wow! I was impressed, and Judy was almost in tears! She caught the moment! What a gift!!!

On another trail, we were hand-feeding birds and taking pics. A couple respectfully paused (outdoors people are so cool!) and we waved them to come thru. The birds never lost interest. The woman said she had never seen or had done that, and was amazed that a Titmouse would come to a hand. OK. Here's a handful of seeds. "No, I couldn't". "Yes you can. We have lots of seeds". Out went her hand with seeds; up went this amazing smile as a Titmouse alighted! Another gift had been given to us by sharing!

Much later, after walking the trails, we found a bench where it was apparent that people had fed the birds before, and sat down. Immediately our feathered friends came to us. Another Downy fed from my hand - this hungry gal downed probably 12 seeds before flying off!

Yet, the most remarkable here was a White-breasted Nuthatch! A few times before we had seen them coming to branches near where we were hand-feeding chickadees and titmice, they appeared interested, but they would never come to our hands. They waited until we left, then would feed on the seeds the other birds had knocked out of our hands onto the ground. At the bench, the Nuthatch landed on the back of the bench. I slowly moved my hand closer and closer until my hand touched the bench directly under the Nuthatch, at which time he moved in for a seed. He never really alighted on my hand, but I am going to count this anyway! What a treat!

It set me to thinking about a new question. I know Nuthatches "walk upside down" on trees, and I think it must be because of that special back toe. It seems longer and with a sharper toenail than other birds. I think they are more comfortable picking seeds below them. I wondered if maybe a hand does not give the right "landing" for them. Then I started wondering if somehow the bird's "hind-toe" is analogous to the human thumb. (And so on ...). Questions - always questions! Another time ...

Anyway, enjoy the pics! We have been truly blessed! Walk (and move softly), and carry a bag of seeds (and maybe a big stick for Nuthatches to land on?). Extend your hands to others! They will come to you!

Species list:
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Bluebirds (many) - I was surprised, but the naturalist said many over-winter there
Mute Swans
Great Egret (1)
Red-Bellied Woodpecker (H)
Bluejay (H)
American Crow (H)
Cardinal (2)
Red-winged Blackbirds (several)
White-breasted Nuthatch (6)

October Catchup - Miscellaneous

Geez! It is hard keeping up a blog! I just tend to keep "doing" and not "posting".

This is for those October bird things I did not note separately. (to be added incrementally...)