Sunday, February 10, 2013

Just for the "L" of it - Lapland Longspurs at Dutton

The title refers to how lovely wife Judy remembers the name of the birds I saw today. She has accompanied me to Dutton and Lapeer Roads ("Dutton Fields" - albeit only along the acess road) on numerous occasions in the winter to try to see and photograph what I call a Winter Trifecta: Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and possible a Lapland Longspur. These are northern birds of the fields that drop down in winter, and probably will never be seen at our feeders. Jan Olesen (formerly Macomb Audubon - now warm in Florida) first posted a note to birders about Horned Larks there. Subsequently, our good birding friend Ed Lewandowski started seeding the vacant area around Dutton Fields a few years ago and turned us onto possibilities. I think it was two/three years ago we experienced an amazing sight as dozens of Snow Buntings (with the always present Horned Larks) worked over his seeds. Wow! (I did blog about it, so check out my older winter blogs ...)

Yet there were very few Lapland Longspurs ever with them - I seem to remember two at most ... Lifers! Yes, these birds tend to be recorded together, but Longspurs are the rarity. I showed Judy the bird guide pics and told her to watch for them. I well remember Judy trying to learn her birds with mnemonics. Snow Buntings and Horned Larks were no challenge because they sound like "regular speak". But to a non-birder, the term Lapland Longspur sounds much more like "gobble-de-gook" "birder speak" She got it with the "Ls": Lap Land Long ... and, after that much,  it just triggered the Spur part.

I showed Judy my pics when I came home tonight (she had just walked the trails around here and, wanting to rest, did not accompany me), and she immediately came up with the right name for my birds today! Cool!

Remembering our excitement at seeing the birds a few winters ago, I thought this year I would continue Ed's seeding of this vacant area just to see if it might happen again. I am overjoyed that many of my birding friends got their chance to see not only the Horned Larks, but also Snow Buntings. I know for sure that at least one friend - Janet Hug - was able to share them with some others who had not visited before and got her county record of Snow Buntings!

To date this year, I never saw any Lapland Longspurs there. Today was different!

Lapland Longspur at Dutton

Initially I saw perhaps 30 Horned Larks. I think perhaps a dozen near the "driveway" where I had previously seeded, and many more on the  block wall across the street, and even more further up the hill at a different seeded area. I was content. This was far more than usual! I always count on a half-dozen, but this was great! And, after waiting in my "car blind" - the thing with heat that - once parked - does not seem to bother the birds - for about a half hour, I saw Snow Buntings fly over (well, maybe they DO mind car blinds sometimes...), and then I noticed different birds easily within photo range of my "blind": Lapland Longspurs!

While watching the activity, I figured out the birds at the distant "new site" were a mix of Larks and Longspurs. Just about that time, another car slowly passed me and parked  - as I had - going the wrong way along the shoulder before me. I thought a birder, and noticed after he parked, a large white object emerged from the driver's window. On further examination with binocs, I determined there was a beanbag upon which now rested a huge white Canon lens (500 mm or better). He was going to shoot birds at the "new site".

As I left the site for a "comfort station", I did a turn-around in the mini-mall, and stopped briefly (at a good distance - I did not spook his birds ...) for a look at the birds he was shooting. At least 15 Lapland Longspurs with a few Horned Larks! Cool!

I did not recognize the younger man (oh heck, almost everyone is younger), but I sure hope he posts his photos and tells birders where to see the pics! With his huge optics and being only perhaps 15 feet away, the pics should be incredible! Thank you mystery man for not messing with the birds I was shooting! Similarly, I did not mess with yours. It is all fun!!!

Anyway, I do think the next time I visit Dutton, I will toss seeds at the new location. It was not recently graded like my old spot and seemed to draw far more birds than by the driveway. Thanks to whomever seeded it first this year - great job!

FYI - new spot is "uphill" (southeast) from old spot, and not too far after the mini-mall driveway after you turn off Lapeer onto Dutton Rd. access.

Again, thanks Ed for starting this as a winter feeding/birding ground! It is one of the few places where we can "car blind bird" when temps are frigid and collect annual records!

You can probably see Horned Larks at any time and they are really cool photogenic birds! But, just hang out in your "blind" and maybe you will see the Buntings and Longspurs!!! What the "L"! Try it!

- "Dr. Bob"


Kim said...

I still haven't managed to find the longspurs over there...wish I'd thought to go over yesterday! I need them for my life list.

Great post with a creative title, Dr. Bob.

troutbirder said...

We love our snowbirds here as well. Though the L.Longspurs are hard to come by....:)

"Dr. Bob" said...

Kim - keep trying! I probably will not seed before Friday, but there were lots of seeds there. Try the "new spot" as well as the driveway area. I generally go in the afternoon about 2-4 pm, and stay a half hour or more. Just gotta be lucky, but well worth the visit for a lifer!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the detailed directions! We got the triple crown there,Lapland Longspurs,Snow Buntings,and Horned Larks.
Mike Dee

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to my Flickr page with a shot of the Lapland Longspur I got at the Dutton Rd. field.

"Dr. Bob" said...

Mike Dee - WhopeeYYY!!! It is indeed a rare day to see all for the trifecta! Thanks for "coming back good buddy"!