A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Michigan Birding Trip Report - Day 4 (Monday 28th May 2018)

Having failed to find any Clay-coloured Sparrows the previous day, a little bit of local research directed us to a particular hotspot just off the road in Grayling Forest we’d travelled down the day before, so once more we headed in to the young Jack Pines to see if we could locate any, Kirtland’s Warblers and Juncos serenading us with their songs for a second time. This being our only realistic chance to see them during the trip and me having a personal liking of American sparrows, I was keen not to dip, so it was encouraging to wind down the window and catch snippets of distant Clay-coloured Sparrow song further down the valley. 

Navigating the sandy off road track and overgrown bushes scraping at the car, we were certainly glad of a 4x4, a pair of Eastern Kingbirds gathering food for their brood nice to watch as more Kirtland’s sung all around. Chancing upon a pair of birders with their cameras outstretched (always a good sign) it transpired they had been photographing Clay-coloured Sparrows all morning, and after a slight wait, we too were rewarded with brief views of what turned out to be an incredibly skulking species. Nevertheless, we persevered, getting a much better look at this charming sparrow as it scurried mouse-like through the grass, picking off the small seeds and clinging to the swaying stems – success!
Clay-coloured Sparrow - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Clay-coloured Sparrow
Clay-coloured Sparrow - Grayling, Michigan, USA
With the Clay-coloured Sparrow moving off further in to the pines, we bid the two birders farewell, heading much further north to our next site – the warbler hotspot of Shumsky Road. Planned in to target Mourning and Golden-winged Warblers, but already having seen both, we decided to pay a visit regardless, if only to try and get some photos of the warblers on territory. A small stretch of road leading to a river and lined with scrubby trees, it wasn’t long before we’d located at least 3 male Golden-winged Warblers, singing proudly and providing absolutely outstanding views on the branches in front of us – much better than our brief encounter at Haughton Boardwalk a few days earlier. 
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - a cracking male
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Golden-winged Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Despite not managing to locate any of the Mourning Warblers on site, a handful of American Redstarts, Bay-breasted and Chestnut-sided Warblers displaying added a burst of colour, while another Alder Flycatcher called from the tops of a pine.
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
American Redstart - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Male American Redstart
American Redstart - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
American Redstart - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
American Redstart - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
American Redstart - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Female American Redstart
Mourning Cloak - Shumsky Road, Michigan, USA
Mourning Cloak Butterfly
Still missing Winter Wren, we explored a section of forest next to a nearby river in the hope of connecting with what was turning in to a bogey bird, a calling Spotted Sandpiper on the rocks and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker working the bark the best for our efforts, in what once more seemed a pretty deserted patch of pines. 

Exploring a few wooded back lanes alongside a nearby river also produced nothing more of note, however a fine Broad-winged Hawk perched on some roadside telephone wires was our first of the trip, much smaller than the Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks and the black and white banded tail pattern distinctive as it took flight. 
Broad-winged Hawk - Mayfield, Michigan, USA
Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk - Mayfield, Michigan, USA
Broad-winged Hawk - Mayfield, Michigan, USA
Mayfield, Michigan, USA
With a short stop over for the night in the delightfully named town of Gaylord on our way to the Upper Peninsula, we fuelled up on Applebees chicken and a bowl of some of the best French onion soup I’ve tasted before our journey north the next day, ready for exploring the vast expanses of pines in search of Gray Jays and Black-backed Woodpeckers. 
Gaylord, Michigan, USA

Monday, 21 October 2019

Michigan Birding Trip Report - Day 3 (Sunday 27th May 2018)

We rose bright and early the next morning ready for our first real attempt at connecting with our main target for the trip and most birder’s reason for visiting Michigan in the first place – the endangered and extremely range restricted Kirtland’s Warbler. 
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
The extremely range restricted Kirtland's Warbler
Jack Pines - Grayling, Michigan, USA
The young Jack Pines the Kirtland's Warblers need to breed
Once reaching numbers as low as 167 singing males in the 70’s and 80’s, thanks to a number of conservation measures and effective management of their necessary young Jack Pine habitat requirements, Kirtland’s Warblers have now bounced back tremendously, with a current population estimate of around 2,300 pairs. Expanding from their previous Grayling Michigan strongholds, with birds now breeding in Wisconsin and Ontario in Canada, this conservation success story has now resulted in the Kirtland’s Warbler looking to be downlisted as no longer endangered, with totals having reached more than double the original recovery number goal.
Kirtland's Warbler Sign - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler awareness!
Arriving on site at Grayling Forest and driving slowly down the road scanning the young Jack Pines that the Kirtland’s Warblers specialise in, it wasn’t long before the sound of singing male Kirtland’s Warblers filled the air, and sure enough, pulling over we soon had our first male belting out his song and showing off his delicate streaked lemon yellow chest proudly. 
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler!
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
With more males singing in the Jack Pines and chasing each other across the road frantically, it wasn’t long before a particularly showy male caught our eye, singing at extremely close range in the nearby tree and allowing for excellent photo opportunities over the course of the next hour. 
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Pleased with our success on the Kirtland’s front, we scanned the surrounding areas to see what else we could find, the delicate sounds of a Slate-coloured Dark-eyed Junco catching our attention. Our first for the trip, like the Kirtland’s Warblers, one in particular gave outstanding views in the tree in front of us, showing at eye level and providing bursts of flutey song as we watched on. 
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-coloured) - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-coloured)
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-coloured) - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-coloured) - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-coloured) - Grayling, Michigan, USA
This was the only real location that we achieved views of Dark-eyed Junco, and we notched up a small handful of birds holding territory along one stretch of road. 
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-coloured) - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-coloured) - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-coloured) - Grayling, Michigan, USA
My first Field Sparrow for the trip was a little less showy however, belting out its distinctive call from the top of a tall pine but remaining distant throughout, offering good scope views only and providing no real chance for photos.
Jack Pines - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Prime Jack Pine habitat the Kirtland's reside in
Juvenal's Duskywing - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Juvenal's Duskywing (?)
Juvenal's Duskywing - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Juvenal's Duskywing - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Exploring the young Jack Pine plantations, it became apparent that Nashville Warblers also bred here in abundance, and several males offered good views as they fed on pollen bundles between the pine needles. With no Clay-coloured Sparrows appearing, we briefly explored another section of track, but with just a single Vesper Sparrow, several Brewer's Blackbirds and a Great Crested Flycatcher all we could muster in the late morning sun, we called it a day and headed over to our next site – the fantastic Hartwick Pines Visitor Centre and home to our second most wanted bird of the trip – the sublime Evening Grosbeak. 
Vesper Sparrow - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Vesper Sparrow
Brewer's Blackbird - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Brewer's Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird - Grayling, Michigan, USA
Brewer's Blackbird - Grayling, Michigan, USA
With Hartwick Pines offering unrivalled views of Evening Grosbeaks coming to feed on the visitor centre feeders just feet away from the viewing platform, this is a must visit for anyone in the area, and it most certainly didn’t disappoint for us. 
Hartwick Pines - Michigan, USA
The Hartwick Pines Visitor Centre feeding station - the source of all the activity
Before we had even got outside we’d already secured brief but close views of a male Evening Grosbeak clinging to the windowpane feeder, swiftly followed by a pair of female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds hovering up against the glass. 
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
One of the beautiful male Evening Grosbeaks
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Females were also in attendance
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Stepping on to the raised wooden platform overlooking the feeders, we soon spotted a pair of Pine Siskins unobtrusively hoovering up seed on the ground, our first and only birds of the trip and a fab addition after wondering if we were too late in the year to connect with them. 
Pine Siskin - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Pine Siskin
Pine Siskin - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Several White-breasted Nuthatches also gave great views as they came to the feeders, scurrying mouse-like along the wooden framework as they hid and pummelled away at gathered seed stashes. 
White-breasted Nuthatch - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
White-breasted Nuthatch
Black-capped Chickadee - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Black-capped Chickadees were also regular visitors to the feeders
Black-capped Chickadee - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Our first Red-breasted Nuthatch of the trip was sadly much shier, providing brief but good views as it clung on to one of the thick trunks, vanishing before we could get a photo. Despite expecting reasonable numbers during our trip, this proved to be just one of two birds during our entire stay.
Eastern Chipmunk - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Eastern Chipmunks fed on scraps below the feeders
Eastern Chipmunk - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Eastern Chipmunk - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Several male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks provided close up views as they boisterously came in to make use of the feeders, while the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds continued to dance around the sugar water dispensers. 
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Female Red-breasted Grosbeaks were less numerous but were also present
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Amazingly, we had up to 5 Evening Grosbeaks surrounding us during our visit, with three vibrant males offering close up views right in front of us. 
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
The Evening Grosbeaks put on a fantastic show for us
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
 Soaking up the sight of the males feeding together, we spent a good while photographing these charismatic birds, their bright sunshine yellow creating a splash of colour in the dark pine forest and creating an everlasting memory of our trip – a highly recommended experience. 
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Eventually tearing ourselves away from the artistic paint pot of colour that was the feeders, we explored the trail around the visitor centre a little, a pair of Black-throated Green Warblers chasing each other excitedly through the tree tops our first of the trip while no fewer than 4 Pine Warblers trilled in the trees above.
Female Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Less brightly coloured than the males, the female Evening Grosbeaks were still attractive
Female Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Female Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Female Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Female Evening Grosbeak - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Eastern Phoebe - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
Eastern Phoebes also put on a close show
Eastern Phoebe - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
American Red Squirrel - Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
American Red Squirrel
Hartwick Pines, Michigan, USA
With Winter Wren and Brown Creeper high up on Alex’s target list we decided to explore the Au Sable River Trail, one of a number of walks in the reserve. Unfortunately, we hadn’t banked on the sheer volume of mosquitos present, and with Alex forgetting to deet up his arms he was surrounded by a constant cloud of furious biters, counting no fewer than 42 angry raised bumps on his upper arms the next day – mosquito repellent and protective clothing in the forests of Michigan in the spring is a must!
Bites - Michigan, USA
Alex's bites!
Bites - Michigan, USA
Unfortunately, our online map was slightly misleading, and what looked like it should have been a short walk in the pines turned in to a several hour long hike through the forest, (completely lost, with very little juice and hoping not to bump in to a family of Black Bears!), only emerging back to the car park hours later after luckily spotting the main road through the trees and following it back – and not a single Winter Wren or Brown Creeper in sight!!

With no further success in the pines we called it a day, a bag of warm curly fries from the diner next to the hotel adding a touch of flavour to our Pot Noodle dinner, the lack of good restaurants in the area never more so apparent after a tiring day!
Grayling, Michigan, USA
Kirtland's success!
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