Monday, September 19, 2011

2011-09-16 & 17 Ottawa NWR (Ohio)

2011-09-16/17 Friday & Saturday -  Ottawa NWR (Ohio)

[more later - placeholder ...]

We left the Michigan Hawkwatch on Friday to head off to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (northwest Ohio) to be able to drive the auto tour. Based on a blog posting by Kenn Kaufman, we knew that Ottawa NWR was probably going to open a special part of the drive in conjunction with the Midwest Birding Symposium. They did - and it was great! Many (most?) people had not read Kenn’s posting, or neglected to pick up the orange sheet at the beginning of the drive (!), and did not know they were allowed on the special part of the drive around pool MS5 that had been especially pumped to create shorebird habitat. Judy and I mostly felt we had it to ourselves. A ranger at Ottawa said it should be best tomorrow (Sunday) based on weather conditions, but we really enjoyed what we saw. Snowy Egret was up close and personal (great pics!); a Long-billed Dowitcher (LBDO) was probably the best shorebird for us, but many Yellowlegs and tons of Killdeer were reflected in the still water and made great pics! And, of course, Great Egrets were literally everywhere. Throw in a Bald Eagle and what a great weekend! (Pics later…) Thanks SO MUCH Ottawa NWR for opening this special place to us!!! It was a life time memory, yet we will do it again! And thanks Kenn for inspiration!

Kenn’s post:

2011-09-16 Pte. Mouillee Hawk Watch

2011-09-16 Pte. Mouillee Hawk Watch

[ work in progress - more pics later]

Judy and I had a great couple of days last week starting with actually seeing our first kettles of migrating hawks at Pte. Mouillee. We had gone to Hawk Fest at Lake Erie Metro Park (LEMP) the last two years and never saw anything like this!

Now I am talking hawk watching, not the LEMP festival. Hawk Watch vs. Hawk Festival. The LEMP Hawk Festival is always fantastic!

Hawkfest (a weekend thing) was in conjunction with the Detroit River Hawk Watch program (an on-going survey):

Judy and I love the annual Hawkfest! Even if the weather does not allow good migration viewing, we get to see wonderful birds up close and personal. This year, on Saturday, Joe Rogers presented (always an incredible show and showman); on Sunday, the Howell Nature Center showed off birds; and on both days, the Michigan Hawking Club (Falconry) showed their birds. Fun! We went a day early and missed it.

This year, we really wanted to go to nw Ohio to drive onto the Ottawa NWR for a special auto tour. We did - another blog topic, so passed on the LEMP festivities.

This blog is about hawk watching. A Michigan birder, Jeff Schultz, had been making predictions that Friday would be a good day to see the migration. His enthusiasm drove us there!

Friday, we started at Sigler Rd. – no one and no birds (that we could see …). We went to Pte. Mouillee HQ where we met a group of maybe 20 birders – serious birders with scopes set up and all. Boring … nothing we could see (but others could see them going somewhere – how do they do that???). There seemed to be a “ringleader” - who we learned to be the same Jeff Schultz whose message inspired me to try it on Friday - who shortly suggested the birds were moving south and led a move to the Roberts Rd. parking lot at Pte. Mouillee.

We went there. Soon birders were reporting kettles of birds. Where? There! Where? Etc … I could not see anything!

Fortunately a Facebook Canon SX30 friend of mine (Curt Powell) recognized me and took me under his wing. Like the other experienced birders there, he could see kettles where Judy and I only saw sky. After directions like: “over the dead trees, in the white clouds”, I could finally see “dots” in the sky with my binoculars! With his help, and looking at the scope directions of other birders, I finally was able to get glasses on a lifer bird (actually hundreds!) of a Broad-winged Hawk.

Curt was accompanied by his daughter. That really impressed me! For a high school kid to go birding with her Dad ("Boring!" I can just hear it ...) means a great bond! That's how you get kids into birding! Here's a wonderful Judy pic at the (really boring - like I said) previous Pte. Mouillee HQ site. I love it!

Biker Andy and Curt and daughter

I rarely could see the birds without binocs – but how do these guys know where to look with binocs??? Younger eyes and experience - I guess.

A few times the kettle came close enough that I could see the “dots” with the naked eye. I am not sure Judy ever could see dots more than once.

Fortunately, I had just received my replacement camera from Canon (now a T2i) and IT could also see dots once I got it on the right area after finding the birds with binocs. Unlike the SX30 (actually a great camera despite my whining), the T2i has the continuous shooting and faster focus I prefer (trust to luck!) so I was able to post a few pics on my PBase site. PBase pics of “hawk dots”:  (Do “next” to see total of 4 pics).

The message here is that you really have to be with someone who knows hawk watching! (“Don’t try this alone!”) Fortunately Curt and the others could see imaginary dots in the sky that really were hawks! Another message is that I have always doubted anyone really seeing (for example) 4000 hawks or more in a day. Like – “oh, come on …”! But really it is true!!! In the brief time (about an hour) we were with Jeff’s gang at Roberts Rd., even I (!) saw at least three kettles of about 400 hawks! Ten kettles are not so far to figure – I could even imagine a hundred kettles. Incredible!!! OK. I am a believer!

Another wonderful thing was meeting some birders I knew only by reputation or personal communication. I admit, I was a bit intimidated because I am a relatively "unknown" birder and really have nothing to offer but enthusiasm, but I did introduce myself to a couple of birders I knew from their postings. Of most interest to Judy was Andrew Dettling. I overheard at Mouillee HQ that he had already ridden his bike 90 miles. At first Judy did not understand. I told her about a BGBY (Big Green Bird Year). All bird recording must be without using any fossil fuels, and it must start at home! Andy has almost 250 BGBY species so far this year! Now, that got Judy's interest! She watched for him to arrive at Roberts Rd. on his bike, then turned around and he was already there! Fast! How did he do it? (actually his fast bike... and we were busy meeting people.) Here's a Judy pic. It was nice to meet someone "of legend"!

Andy Dettling at Pte Mouillee Roberts Rd. on BGBY

Interestingly, the official LEMP counts were FAR lower that day. Even a few miles make a huge difference! Jeff had it right on in his prediction! Thank you SO much “Ring-leader Jeff”!!! I have not been on many official field trips, but certainly this unofficial one was simple incredible! And, thanks so much Curt for personally guiding me!

[Note: the following day (Saturday) set the all-time record for birds observed! 190,000 (Yes, a hundred and ninety thousand!). It's all in how the birds' need to migrate stacks up against the weather! I have learned SO much!]

YES! I am a believer.

2011-09-12 A wedding, Sandhills, TVs and Shiawassee NWR

2011-09-12 A wedding, Sandhills, TVs and Shiawassee NWR

[Note: I originally started to write a short note to the SEMich birder's list about our new-found place for "easy birding", and got carried away. I should have done it as a blog, and merely made reference to it on the birder's list. Oh well ... the creative spirit is hard to stop when it takes command. Anyway, I repost it here, and will add photos after I catch up on a few more trips.]

[Note 2: Since then, Steve Kahl just posted a note to the birders that Shiawassee will be open longer in October this year. I repost his complete note. It includes references.

"Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge has postponed the closure date of the Wildlife Drive from October 5 to October 28. This extension will expand wildlife observation opportunities along our auto tour route much further into fall migration. Please note that the gates currently are open from 7AM to 7PM. However, from October 8 to October 28 the gates will not open until 1PM.

Please see the Recent Bird Sightings Google Gadget on the refuge's home page to see what has been observed at the refuge over the last 30 days. The address is
Another good way to monitor refuge sightings is to check the Saginaw County Departures in eBird. Most lists submitted in Saginaw County are from the refuge. The address is: ]

[Note 3: It is truly great that Steve and others are using eBird to report sightings. Not just the "fancy stuff", but also the "regulars". By following the above link, you really get an idea of what is there!]
Begin "ramble" (by that I mean my story...):

Judy and I headed to Alma, Michigan over the weekend for a family wedding.

On the way up I-75 on Saturday, we saw a flyover of six Sandhill Cranes (Judy’s favorite bird) near Grange Hall Rd. (exit 101) heading northeast. WOW!!! This was the first time we saw several Sandhill Cranes flying together!!! Truly impressive! (So where were they going …?)

On Sunday -heading back- we were going to Shiawassee NWR along M-46 and saw a nice kettle of 20 Turkey Vultures near where M-46 crosses the Tittabawassee River. Another first while driving, and only the second time we saw a TV kettle!

Hey! Birds are in the air – doing something! Now I just have to figure out what it is …

We spent about 2 ½ hours mid-day at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday. It is really a great place for us – it is like a Pte. Mouillee where you can drive the dikes! (Thanks so much to Diane Constable, Jane, and David for quickly responding to my info request to the list the night before!!!)
The auto tour can be weather dependent – there are a few low spots where flooding happens, but it was fine now. If nothing else, it is a place to enjoy “listening to nothing but nature” and just enjoy ambience. We met a senior (more senior than us) couple on the dikes. They were arguing whether the many white birds (maybe 4 dozen) were egrets (he said they were only in Florida). I was pleased I could actually tell someone what they were seeing. She “won”, and both were happy. I also mentioned the Great Blue Herons – yes they saw those also.

Prior to going out on the auto tour, we stopped by the visitor center and really enjoyed the tips provided by the on-duty ranger Kile Kucher. It turns out that one weekend each year (Refuge Open House Weekend) they allow full access (“walk anywhere”) access to the entire refuge. (No, we only did the auto tour on our first visit – but it is really something to consider next year ... there are tons of areas to explore!) It’s really so hunters can scout areas for deer hunting, but many hikers/bikers use the time to explore new areas. We grabbed Kile’s time between two hunters, and were exceptionally pleased he could “talk birds” as well as showing his expertise in hunting. He is a great naturalist and fantastic with the public! His specialty is invasive plants. He has the credentials for proper application of herbicides (think Phragmites control) and the practical experience of hand-pulling garlic mustard (the only effective remedy). Really, it was impressive to talk with a young man with so much knowledge! Many of our southeast Michigan parks could really use this insight!

Anyway, Kile suggested the best places to view shorebirds along the drive. He was right on!

For people who know the area, there were at least five species of shorebirds feeding with a lone egret in the pond behind the observation deck at the northeast corner of the drive. A scope would work well there – or binocs for someone more experienced than me. In Pond-1A (north-east corner of the drive), there were dozens of Great Egrets – quite reminiscent of Lautenshager Unit at Pte. Mouillee during the OAS trip there in August – but the distance was very far. A scope is essential! This is the area where Lyle Hamilton reported on the se-mich list (mid-August) an Ibis. Kile told us it was only there a few days.

Kile told us of the current flooding of two units on the west side of the drive. Right now one is a plowed field (cottonwood control – get control while possible!) that should be great for shorebirds as water rises. Maybe we will call ahead and check it out near month-end. Kile figures two weeks. It is really close to the tour road!

I echo Lyle Hamilton’s posting on the se-mich birder’s list: “Special thanks to Steve Kahl and his team at Shiawassee NWR for making this area accessible by auto“!

YES! This is truly an exceptional opportunity for those of us where a very long hike is unreasonable. (Pte. Mouillee - take note!) Imagine being able to drive Pte. Mouillee! Yes! - All that is needed at Pte. Mouillee are a few turnouts (and make it a one-way tour) and words on maps (like: “stay in your car except at turnouts – the car is a “blind” and will not spook the birds”, etc. - similar to those at Shiawassee to make it work!

I also want to pass to Steve (Refuge Manager) our accolades for the wonderful help and courtesy shown by Kile! Gold star! Thanks so much! We will definitely return!

I note the auto tour is only open until October 5 this year. Hey – it’s not that far! I think it is the second exit north after Birch Run off I-75.


OK, … so I “ramble” … It was a great weekend! Oh – just to make it even better, Kile gave us a poster of Sandhill Cranes he had on the desk at the office. He noted he had one hanging in his own house – as will we!
Wedding bliss, reception with family, Sandhill Cranes, a kettle of vultures, and serenity – what more can one ask?

Go bird!

Been busy!

I just totally admire bloggers who can "do it", then "write it" in a reasonable time frame!

Judy and I have been quite busy in August and September. Mostly it was family stuff - college reunions, family reunions, weddings, etc. with several birding trips thrown in. And of course we took lots of photos. From a birding blog view, this really has slowed any progress at all. Geez! Family want to see their pics too! So I have been posting family pics on Facebook, making prints and so on. Now I have tons of "unspoken" bird pics!

I am going to drop a few "placeholders" on the blog tonight to fill in later.