Monday 20 June 2016

Michigan day three

There'd been a fair bit of rain overnight, but the dawn skyline at Sault Sainte Marie showed signs of promise as we headed to Munuscong Potholes (about half an hour back south). This was an area that Mark and I decided to do within the last week of the planning phase of the trip, specifically targeting two species - Sharp-tailed Grouse and Le Conte's Sparrow. We considered it was the effort as you'll see.

On arrival at Munuscong, first bird of the day was a low flying American Bittern - superb! This was then closely followed by some blurry shapes in an adjacent field, that as the light got better turned into ten Sharp-tailed Grouse at their lek site. Great to see the violet display patch revealed on their necks, as well as them strutting about revealing their sharp tails!

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek at Munuscong, Michigan 30th May 2016
Whack onto that a couple of flyover Sandhill Cranes and a healthy population of Bobolinks - really nice pleasant open landscape US birding. And very few other people about too. A pretty isolated, remote location benefiting from the US's relatively extensive agriculture.

Bobolink Munuscong, Michigan 30th May 2016
Munuscong is, however, home to a bit of a prize species. American sparrows are pretty fascinating and with Henslow's Sparrow recorded on day one, it was the buffy toned, diminutive Le Conte's we were after here. Typically these scarcer sparrows are always early morning birds and this species was no exception - they seemed to like the wet grassland and although there were probably half a dozen singing males, we only managed to track down this one. Try and spot the bird - it was actually singing from this same spot for a good ten minutes!
Spot the Le Conte's Sparrow...
Munuscong also had some (in my opinion) beautifully plumaged, pristine Ring-billed Gulls, lots of Yellow Warblers, Savannah Sparrows and a couple of Alder Flycatchers. Three species of 'common' sparrow too with Savannah, Song and White-throated. The undoubted pride of place went to this Upland Sandpiper though, that decided to do a display flight and then land on a post right next to the road - exactly what dreams are made of. Or at least that's what I'd really wanted...
Upland Sandpiper Munscong, Michigan 30th May 2016
We had a quick look round the campsite area where a Blackburnian Warbler and Northern Parula were the highlights; Ovenbirds sang pretty frequently but remained fairly elusive, though a Hairy Woodpecker was a decent addition to the trip list.

We drew ourselves away from Munuscong mid morning, knowing that there was a six or seven hour drive ahead. All went pretty smoothly to be honest - the Canadian border lacked the supercilious attitude on the yank side and to top it off, I got caught for speeding (55mph on straight roads with traffic is no use really) and got let off by a lovely Canadian policeman who wished us on our way with 'you'll be blown over by Algonquin'! Let's hope so...

An evening trip out from our base in Huntsville, Ontario produced at least one Eastern Whip-poor-will calling away. Try as we might, among the vast number of midges, we couldn't see the species once again. Can't win them all I suppose.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Michigan day two

I didn't even remember going to sleep the previous evening. After some pretty heavy overnight rain, Sunday 29th May dawned warm and a bit overcast in Tawas. We headed off to Tuttle Marsh first thing where a quick visit revealed a single Trumpeter Swan, the target species, along with a couple of Hooded Mergansers sitting pretty in the early morning light.
Trumpeter Swan Tuttle Marsh, Michigan 28th May 2016
Hooded Mergansers Tuttle Marsh, Michigan 28th May 2016
The main event of any trip to Michigan was up next. Kirtland's Warbler - one of the rare success stories, with conservation and habitat creation boosting the population to c.3,500 birds (up from  a global population of just 167 singing males in 1974!). The species nests in jack pines that are rarely over a couple of dozen feet, and their song rings out from the Huron Forest pretty much wherever this habitat can be found these days. Tours to see this species still happen pretty regularly (see here) although a quick search of Ebird gives you some up-to-date gen on where to find the species too. We did the latter, and though tricky to pin down and get good views, a quality male Kirtland's Warbler performed admirably. Pretty large warblers, at least more so than I'd expected with a nice slate back, rich yellow underparts and nice white eye crescents: -
male Kirtland's Warbler Kobs Road, Michigan 28th May 2016
Black-capped Chickadees, Nashville Warblers and the odd Blue Jay were the only other birds seen. However, it was at the Kirtland's Warbler site we met John Lowry - a well connected Michigan birder - who provided us with some really useful gen for later in the day. But before we left the Tawas area, it was time for a walkabout Tawas State Park again. Numbers were down overall compared to yesterday, but there was a real push of Blue Jays (dozens) as well as about 20 Orchard Orioles. Warblers were on the quiet side with a single Wilson's the highlight along with a couple of American Redstarts while a vocal Willow Flycatcher was good to nail to species.
Willow Flycatcher Tawas State Park, Michigan 28th May 2016
We headed southwest from Tawas, on the basis of some Mourning Warbler info from John Lowry, to Big Creek Road (location here). Here this elusive target was located with relative ease, at least vocally. Given the propensity of the species to frequent and sing from low perches, views were not easy compared to the other warblers we'd been watching but some semi-decent views were had in the end. Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Indigo Bunting and Belted Kingfisher were also seen here.
Blue Jay Tawas State Park, Michigan 28th May 2016
And then it was up north a couple of hours to the Amish land immediately to the north of Mio. The real highlight here was an Upland Sandpiper feeding in the fresh pastures, while our first displaying Bobolinks were quality too despite the distance...
Upland Sandpiper near Mio, Michigan 28th May 2016
With an early start required the next day, it was mid evening by the time we reached Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the Canadian border at Sault Sainte Marie. A fair bit of driving done, but with all targets seen, not a bad day's birding.