Sunday, August 22, 2010

2010-08-20 Point Mouillee

2010-08-20 Point Mouillee, 10:00 am - 12:30 pm, 78 - 83 humid degrees, mostly sunny

This blog is basically completed (maybe I'll add a few more pics - or maybe not ...) on 2010-09-22 - finally! Done! I think I finally said most of what I want to say. Has it really been a month? Well, yeah ... so it takes me awhile .. we have been busy fall birding and just "doing". Hey, at least I am sharing my experiences! I think I do it for us at least as much as for sharing with y'all - probably more. I hope you like!

Today ( ... for continuity I speak like I am writing this on the day we went there, and to keep current what I previously blog-posted ...), Judy and I birded at Pt. Mouillee (Monroe County, Michigan). We wanted to see the exceptional birds reported on the Southeast Michigan birder's listserv (see below link to Bruce Bowman's site).

This place is challenging – especially in heat and humidity! No shade at all!

It was a hot day and we started late, but we got a few great pics! Some of the famous Michigan birders had been there this day and saw many more birds with their scopes (most of which would have been lifers for us), but we did just fine anyway!

I had the map I printed off from the Point Mouillee DNR site, and kind of figured out how far we could go on “empty tanks” (i.e., bladders) and fully charged (i.e., MacDonald’s breakfast). We parked at the Sigler Rd. lot and ventured forth. Fortunately we also carried lots of water. By the way, the lack of restrooms there soon becomes moot as dehydration sets in on a hot day! Don't "sweat it" (as in worry about it) - because you actually will (in the physical sense)!

We learned from experienced people we met along the way (a couple of trip leaders- Jim Fowler and Mike McCullough who were scouting the place for a trip the following day) that the places where people were seeing and reporting birds (the best spots were on "The Banana" and on the Vermet Unit) were about 3.5 miles away - one way – from the Sigler parking lot.  Right!

A returning birder confirmed this. “It is by the trees over there”!

We had planned to make it to the closest corner of the Vermet Unit from where we parked (it sounded from the listserv that Vermet was the place!), but enroute learned that we would have needed scopes even if we had been on the best side of Vermet. We had binocs and cams, but chose not to carry the heavy scope and tripod. We turned around after reaching the near edge of Vermet (our goal - about a mile and half one way). It was a great temptation to continue, but knowing that we were not even close, and remembering that we had to return from wherever we walked, we turned around. We followed our plan. We shot lots of pics enroute. We had a great day anyway and the memories I share here.!

We made it to Vermet Unit!
(I think the trees in the distance are the cottonwoods that have filled in Cell 1 of the Banana Unit.)

I had been reading about “cell 3” on the birder's listserv. I used the Michigan DNR map and assumed it was the the "3" of the Long Pond Unit – hey, that’s the only "3" thing on the DNR map! We met another birder with binocs, a scope and tripod – much lighter than ours we had left in the trunk – who basically was frustrated. He had made the same mistake and walked even farther and was returning, yet had not walked to the “promised land”. Actually as it turned out, we had our best shots in the DNR Zone 3 (Zone - not Cell!) of the Long Pond Unit - three species of shorebirds (including the "lifer" Willet)  and our best pics ever of Pied-billed Grebes, so the "3 thing" was not too far off! (I think if we had gone a week later, we might have seen the King Rail there!). It’s a muddy canal right next to the dike and birds were up close and personal and basically unafraid! It doesn't look like much, but it worked out fine!

Our Best Site - Canal at Long Pond Unit Zone 3

Killdeer and Pied-billed Grebe

I had not done all my homework by checking out Bruce Bowman's site (I always keep making the same mistakes! If I would just go to Bruce’s site first rather than searching on my own, I would be far better off!) Bruce’s site offers 4 maps. One is the DNR map I had - it is really directed towards hunters. The best map shows actual mileages between multiple intermediate spots on the dikes (a copy of this was given us on the dikes by one of the trip leaders – Mike - who was scouting the place with Allen C. and Tom  on bikes). It is really useful for judging distance and endurance – you have to remember you gotta come back as well!. And I note the real "Cell 3" (actually part of The Banana) is a damn site closer to a parking lot – the south one off Roberts Road – than where we entered from Sigler Rd. We started from Roberts Rd. on a subsequent wonderful trip the next time (blog in process...) and. yes, it is much more reasonable!

On the way, we met Allen Chartier and company returning on bikes from their birding expedition that day. Judy took a few pics as always with her shorter lens setting (Thank you, my wonderful companion!!!).

Now, this is the way to do Pte.Mouille!!!

Note the openness and lack of shade! Point Mouillee just goes on "forever"! You can see the cottonwoods of Cell 1 in the distance over Mike's shoulder. I really like this pic because it shows how experienced birders approach a place like Pte. Mouillee! Sure beats walking!!!

L to R: "Dr. Bob", Tom Schlack, Allen Chartier, Mike McCullough

(I just have to wonder about the black box Tom was carrying. Was this "The Briefcase" or "The Football"  we hear about in the news sometimes? It sure looks impressive to me!)

It turns out that Allen was responsible for the best map posted on Bruce's site, and has it in his book. Yes, I know - always read Allen's book first before going to a new place! I keep re-learning this lesson as well. Read Allen's book and check out Bruce's site! Nuff said!

If you combine Bruce's map 1 and map 2, you get what is in Allen's book.

In a separate communication, Allen mentioned to me that the former "Lead Unit" in his Guide (and mostly used by birders) has been renamed the Humphries Unit. I understand it has something to do about how you pronounce "Lead Unit". You could pronounce it "leed" -  as in the first unit  - for which it was named  - or you could prounounce it as "led"  - possibly mistaken for the old shot pellets birds sometimes ingest - not so PC now! (Thanks, Allen for explaining this to me! It makes sense.)

From my research, I know that in the past there were some car break-ins at the southern parking lot, but when we left at about 12:30 pm today, we were the only car at Sigler Rd. and when we drove to the southern lot closer to the action there were six cars there. We were told that it is being monitored more now.  Note: on subsequent visits, we did see the lot being checked several times each day! Good stuff!

It was a great day for us. We did not record lots of interesting lifers as anticipated, but we shot some great pics and got a great story to tell.

Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs (verified)

I have never seen them together before. Yes, one is greater than the other.  I shot both species together! Really cool!

Willet! - "Lifer" (verified)

It looks rather non-descript on the mud, but lacks the yellow legs (even I can figure that out!). Yet, it does not have the drab gray breast of the willets in some bird books.

I think it is interesting that I am calling this a "lifer". I saw tons of Willets (and Avocets and lots of other goodies very rare in Michigan - ah, those were the days!) on the mudflats around San Francisco in my "former life", but I was not a "birder" then. I had taken a course in vertebrate biology and was a "bird watcher" in the sense I always carried binocs and a copy of Peterson in my vehicle when I went fishing or collecting seaweeds. I did record observations in my field books, but I cannot find the silly books now. I think I gave them to one university or another when I donated my collections. So, unless I find my old field notes, I am just choosing to start again. Oh, the stories they (the books) would tell!

On the other hand, it's cool to start again - I'm back to my teens and early twenties! Ah youth! It is really about almost as exciting as I remember it - well, at least from the birding perspective. Actually, from the birding perspective, it is even better than what I remember. Bird watchers were a rather strange sort and not as macho as I chose to represent myself then. Now birding has "come out of the closet" and represents a huge economic and social force! It's "in" and contagious! Besides that , I think it is now a great "chick magnet" for guys! Anyone who is knowledgeable in any outdoor pursuit just naturally seems to have a magnetic attraction. Hey, if women loved a guy like me who was mostly dedicated to walking beaches looking for seaweeds (oh my gosh, seaweeds!!!), once the "stigma" was removed,  I can see that a birder would be even more interesting!  Especially here in the Midwest lacking the natural appeal of ocean walks! Whew! 
 (Oh - did I digress? It happens ...)

Back to the story ...



What a difference flying makes! I am thankful for a few lucky pics! I well remember waiting for them to fly so I could be sure of what I saw around SF. Yes, I even guess sometimes the impatience of  my youth encouraged flight with a tossed stone. I sure wish I had owned a digital camera with "free film" back then!

Yellowlegs and Willet !

It is sure much easier to tell the difference when flying! And, that one is sure not a killdeer, dear!

(I make this reference remembering that just last year I had a Killdeer flying over Holland Ponds, and saw the striped wing pattern and asked for input on my terribly out-of-focus pic! "Killdeer", a few replied! OK , I got it! Judy and I now well know the Killdeer sounds! They are common and unmistakeable! We are using more of our senses now! Thanks guys!)

Osprey! (verified)

We thought ospreys were only around nesting sites like at Kensington, but this sure looked like the bird book pics. He circled many times, always coming closer. We waited. What luck! Wow! Incredible! I have quite a few pics of this bird who circled a few times. Geez! If I can ever shoot anything in the skies other than Turkey Vultures and the occasional Red-tailed Hawk, I am really fortunate! How special!!! This encounter alone was worth the walk!


Here are a few pics of a Greater Yellowlegs at Zone 3 of the Long Pond Unit. I like a couple because they show "bird camo" on the mudflats. Gray things on stick legs that look like plant stalks. I suspect an aerial view  - as seen by a predator - would be very informative.

I like these because they show an Oedipal personality of the birds (not that they really cared about looking at themselves...). Judy always likes a bit of anthropomorphism in bird pics. I think she just likes kissing in general ...

And, I just plain like this long-strider!

The following is the Buckeye Butterfly. It came north from Ohio in a large quantity this year. Even UM fans love and seek photos of this one. :) 

I love this pic where the "eyes" on the lower wing are hidden. I think it is an "anime happy face"! It is sure hard to shoot with its wings spread just right!!! We tried for a long time! Lucky!!! "Here's looking at you (i.e., me), kid"! You just gotta smile back!

Happy Face Butterfly!

Another interesting thing along our walk was seeing a whole field of sunflowers. I guess we really did not notice them on the way out, but on the way back we noticed lots (really lots - dozens!) of Red-winged Blackbirds. Cool! Besides the pure natural beauty of the expanse, I think it is a great food source for the birds. I assume they were planted. Yes, maybe for a hunter audience, but certainly the majority of avian visitors will escape unharmed and better fed. Lovely!

After reaching the Vermet Unit and shooting pics of many American Coots, we headed back. As we were trudging along the Long Pond Unit (the long walk with little to see), we saw a vehicle approaching. Melted as we were by the heat, we stuck out our thumbs. It had been decades since I last hitched, but I am pleased to say it still works. I guess the border patrol agent could tell just by looking at us that we could really use a lift, so he invited us to ride in back. Another first - it was the first time (and hopefully the last) either of us had been in the cage in the back of an enforcement vehicle. Thank you so much for "capturing us"!!! I doubt our lives had been actually saved, but at that time it sure felt like it (gotta wonder), and it sure felt good to get back in the car and crank up the AC! Shortly thereafter, we were revived enough to discuss the memories of the day, and plan a better way to "do the Mou"!

We had learned many lessons about birding Pte. Mouillee. First, always "do your homework" (suggestions were provided above). Second, never set out mid-day on foot especially when the weather is so hot and muggy! And, third, if there are scheduled driving tours led by Audubon clubs (like there was the next day), jump on the possibility! Pte. Mouillee is a fantastic place, it is just huge in scale, and most of the good stuff now tends to be about a 5 mile round trip! If you do the whole round trip along the edges from Sigler and back along the roads, it's over 12 miles! (Now, there is a challenge for the really serious Hiking Michigan long hikers! I added this last note because I know Rob Golda usually links my blog on his HM site ...)

I hope you enjoyed this "ramble" and have a better idea of the challenge and joys of Pte. Mouillee!

"Dr. Bob"


You saw that occasionally I noted "verified" on some pics. I did this to let you know that a reputable person agreed with me.

I can't believe I am really talking like I know something about Pte. Mouille! But, actually after three visits, and after having finally done my homework, I really do! It is a national treasure here in Michigan!

You will now have to wait until sometime after hunting season to go out there.  (I am not sure when it reopens for birders or hikers.)  Be sure to do your homework first! It is a wonderful challenge and a great opportunity to see birds and environments you may not see elsewhere! I do not know about spring, but obviously it is a significant stop-over for migrating fall shorebirds! "What a trip"!!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Newbie on eBird - some thoughts

I am writing this blog to express my enthusiasm for eBird.

I am finally using a tool to record my bird data! I have a couple of years of checklists (i.e., 3x5 cards in the field) and notes in my journal, but I had nothing to pull them together. I started a spreadsheet with Michigan birds I downloaded from Bruce Bowman's excellent site, but it soon overwhelmed me. It had all the birds in Michigan in the spreadsheet! I thought about deleting the ones I might never see, but then thought I needed to be reminded of them as possible choices. With my life list approaching only 75 birds, you can see why it was a dilemma!!

eBird makes it easy! (like really easy!). You enter your collecting place and minimal trip data (like time and distance - or just location and sightings if you just observed in one place), and then it gives you a list of suspected birds there. eBird already has knowledge (built up by verified records) about the suspected birds in a county or a HotSpot!

It is so quick, you will want to enter your data the same day after you get home. If your memory is fairly decent, you will probably remember all the birds you just saw without even having the 3x5 cards. Entered! Done!

I hate typing! eBird makes it easy to record bird species by just "x-ing" a box or putting the number of birds seen. Then you can export your bird list into something else, or send the list to yourself in an e-mail to forward to your friends. Cool!

When you submit your data, you first enter the location. eBird provides a great mapping tool so you can exactly pinpoint your location on a satellite map. If you are not familiar with the web's wonderful satellite mapping capability, this is enough of a reason to check it out! The checklist eBird provides only contains the expected birds for that geographic area. That sure helped me out! It also allows you to add other birds, but for me it really helps to cut down of the number of species in (for example) the eastern bird books or a Michigan list.

For example, here is a pic of Holland Ponds:

Another unexpected advantage is that as I scroll through the list to check off my birds, I am learning about bird groups! Hey, the bird books now make more sense in their phylogenetic arrangement. Besides learning related groups, this will help me to better flip to a group in the books without going to the index. (Yes, eBird would also allow me to go directly to a species to enter my data, but that would spoil my new-found learning tool!)

I imported a list of birds from an Excel spreadsheet into this blog. I had first recorded them in eBird, then downloaded them into an Excel spreadsheet on my own computer. The download was quick (a click). The importing here was quick (select spreadsheet cells, copy - then paste here). The paste did insert a couple of carriage returns between the lines, but it was quite easy to delete them. The following is a Holland Ponds list I imported from eBird. (I blogged about that day in another post.) It does not include minks, butterflies, and the like, but it is a great start. In the future, I will add my birds into eBird, then import into Blogspot. No typing twice!!! And, I have now figured out how to comment in the Notes section to include the other great things we see on a trip.

Canada Goose
Great Blue Heron
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Eastern Kingbird
Tree Swallow
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Or you can ask eBird to just e-mail you the results of your reporting. That way you will have an individual record (but you really do not need one - eBird will keep it for you!). Anyway, you can copy/paste from the e-Mail and add it to a blog or whatever. Here is exactly what you get (a different example - again I had to take out  a few extraneous carriage returns). You can add number of birds, comments on individual species, and even a comment for the whole trip on eBird. You can see the results here. (I am getting better, so my recent lists actually have numbers of birds, and not just "X"s, but you can see that either way works! An "X" puts the bird into your life list and your state and county lists anyway.)

Location: Holland Ponds
Observation date: 4/22/10
Notes: Also little blue butterfly and medium white butterfly
Number of species: 12
Mallard 5
Great Blue Heron X
Downy Woodpecker X
Northern Flicker X
Tree Swallow X
Black-capped Chickadee X Some at the nest boxes
American Robin X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Brown-headed Cowbird X
American Goldfinch X

Pretty cool, huh?!

eBird is a powerful tool. People have been encouraging me to use it for some time, but I procrastinated until Ed Lewandowski "shared" a list with me from a day we birded together recently. "Sharing" is a powerful tool whereby a designated recorder on a group trip can record the species seen and "share" with everyone on the trip. After you accept the shared list, it adds the species for the day to your eBird lists. You have the option as an individual to subtract species you did not see (I do this a lot!) or add species you saw that the recorder did not (I can only dream!). You can also add your own comments about specific birds in your individual eBird space, as well as your personal trip notes. (This I can do...)

By using eBird, you are making your data available to Cornell University and the whole birding community. You can actually be making a difference to the scientific study of bird distributions. In the long run, this is really the most powerful contribution you can make! YOUR data will help everyone better understand distributions of our feathered friends!

Even more fun and personally useful is that eBird will keep your "life list". You can find out all of the birds you have seen in all of your trips. It also tells you specifically what birds you saw where and when.

You can "slice and dice" the data in a variety of ways. You can see what species have been recorded for a particular location, or region, or state. You can see who the main listing birders (no, not the birders who are tilting, the ones who put up lists on eBird) are in any area, and the number of species they have recorded for the area. This gives you some idea of your chances of how many birds you might see there (over time).

You can see the first and last reported dates for each species in the area. You can get to a map of the area for them.  You can see bar graph charts like in Allen Chartier's great Birder's Guide to Michigan book, but even for individual locations!

Since I started writing a draft of this note, I actually got Holland Ponds accepted as an eBird HotSpot in Macomb County. It is a well-deserved designation! Now anyone entering data for Holland Ponds can select the location from among the HotSpots. This allows data to be combined into a location list. Powerful! Imagine having data from all the birders who visit Holland Ponds at different times (and with very different levels of experience I might note) combined into a more complete avifauna! What a great thing for Shadbush Nature Center that administers Holland Ponds! (By the way, y'all, I encourage anyone with past Holland Ponds data to try to merge it into the newly designated HotSpot! Please! We love the place and want to see it protected!) Thank you to the Michigan HotSpot coordinator!!!

For "Birding Hotspots" you get a wealth of info. For example, I learned how to go to the birding hotspots already on eBird for Michigan. Robert H. Long Nature Park was one of our favorites last year - great place for Red-Headed Woodpeckers, local shorebirds at certain times, and just a great number of species on a regular day! The following URL will take you there. You will see all reported birds (first reports)  for 2010, you can get a great map - even a satellite pic of the area (hey, click around!). Ah, technology is wonderful! Try it by following this link: eBird RH Long

Hey! I am a newbie! I only list the birds in which I am confident of my observations (not too many, but growing). Imagine if all the experienced birders with years of experience took the time to report their observations! Wow! What a data base!

Imagine if all the "local birders" like me just reported the birds that hit their feeders (I record "my deck birds" daily and will start downloading my past lists soon onto eBird)!

One thing to think about when making your field notes is the county lines. For example, Kensington Metro Park and Stoney Creek Metro Park both straddle county lines. Part of the reporting power of eBird is that it can summarize by county - hence you need to know the correct county for your observations. Just check the map sometime, so you will remember the "imaginary" (What do birds care about county lines!) boundaries for your places next time.

Oh. Another really cool thing is that even after you submit your data, you can go back later and make changes. This takes some of the "fear" out of saying you saw something and later finding out you were wrong. For example, I often take photos and look at them much later. If I see that I made a mistaken ID in eBird, I can correct it. I can add the birds I did not know when I shot them. So - fear not!

I sense eBird is making me a better birder. Since they have a place for recording the sex and comments on individual species, I now look more closely. (No, you do not have to do this - it is an option if you want to record details or comments on birds...). Now - at least for my deck birds - I have to pull out the binocs to sex and age the birds when I can. I am forced deeper into the field guides! Was that a juvenile female Cardinal? I am forced to learn more! Instead of just "ticking off" a species, I am starting to "tick off" individuals within a species!

I also now try to count the birds I see. I always had my own scale - "one, a few, many, abundant, dominant". It turns out that this translates reasonably well for eBird. They want a number, but the number is as relative as my own scale. One bird means something - a sighting, a presence. Ten birds - I can count by twos to get this. Forty birds - maybe 35 to 45? A hundred birds is far different than 200 birds, and so on! I was always intimidated with counting birds. Damn things move before I could finish my count! (If I ever tried to count more than 10 birds at a time...). I am compulsive. I wanted precision. I would not "count" because of that! Forget that! Who cares if there were 176 birds or 212? It is the relative number that "counts"! 200 birds are far more than 10 or 100! I'll now "chunk off" maybe 20 birds and just move my binocs or eyes to use that "chunk" to count the birds! I have noticed on eBird that our best birders seem to do that! I often see counts of 100 or 200, but never 186 or 227! I now fear not - I am with the best "counters"!

Yes, I really enjoy eBird (as if you could not tell...).

I really want to express my appreciation to the Cornell University staff and volunteer network for making this great tool available and for being so quick in responses to the few questions I sent them!

eBird is "chinchy"! Try it! It really has made a big difference in how I "bird"!

- "Dr. Bob"

PS, I started this note back in June when I started using eBird. I am just now posting it. I am even more favorable about the site than I was then. I did want to write a longer story, but really, it speaks for itself, so just try it for yourself.