Monday, September 19, 2011

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!

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