Birding the Americas Trip Report
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23 May 2000
by Jerry Urquhart
Mike Petrucha and I ran our annual Big Day yesterday and had a pretty good
day. We started in the UP at 2 am and ended at Shiawassee National
Wildlife Refuge at 10:45 am. We had 171 species total, eclipsing our
personal best by 7 species. We missed some fairly common species, including
Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Veery, and Bobwhite. Our
goal was 175, so we were close.
Our route started in the dark near Trout Lake in the UP, went to Vermillion,
then to Whitefish at sunrise, Tahquammenon River Mouth, Trout Lake 3344,
Point La Barbe, Crawford County Kirtland's Area, Houghton Lake area, Nyanquing
Point, and ended at Shiawassee. Below is a fairly long narrative for
the Virtual Birders out there.
We started at 2 am on Forest Service Road 3344 about 1.5 miles north of Trout
Lake. There's a big sedge meadow about 3 miles in where we had a Le
Conte's Sparrow, Sedge Wren, and Swamp Sparrow. No Yellow Rails there
this year, though. It was damp and pretty foggy. We then went
out to Vermillion, where we had Whippoorwill, Common Nighthawk, Sora, Woodcock,
Snipe, and a couple others.
When we got back on the road up to Whitefish, it was about 5:10 am.
About two miles down the road, a huge bird flew up right off the middle of
the road and flew away down the road about 40 feet in front of us.
It was huge, gray with dark spots, and when it turned to look back at us,
we could see it was about four three inches between its huge eyes:
A Great Gray Owl! We didn't expect that. Another half mile and
there was a Ruffed Grouse in the road, then a Coyote. Things were looking
good, but the persistent fog was worrying us.
We reached Whitefish Point at 5:20 and were at the tip by 5:35. It
was light enough to see that it was very, very foggy. We had to get
about 25 feet away from a group of birds before we could make out that they
were Sanderlings along the beach. A few loons and gulls flew by, and
passerines overhead. The previous day we had two scoter species, a
Peregrine, and other birds an the tip that were probably flying by in the
fog currently. When we left the tip at 6:15 am, we could just begin
to see the water from the counter shack 50 yards away.
Back at the feeders and jack pines, we had a few species: Siskin, Wilson's
Warbler, and a few hundred blue jays that made it hard to hear anything else.
Leaving the point at 6:45 am we were depressed and thought the day was a
wash. Where we should have had 60 species, we had about 30. We
hit a warbler flock a mile south and picked up a couple more species, and
then went to the Tahquammenon River Mouth Campground. It took a lot
of work to get our usual warblers there, and nothing out of the ordinary
Back at 3344, we found only a few of the birds we had the day before:
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, and a couple more. No
Gray Jays (3 at two locations the day before), no Veery, few warblers.
Things were bleak. The fog was bad, so bad we figured Point La Barbe
by the bridge would be a wash. We headed there and hoped, but decided
we were shooting for a "Medium Day," not a Big Day. We had 70 species
at 9 am, usually we have about 90-100. My goal of 175 species set before
the trip was readjusted to 140. The forecast was calling for rain,
and the fog was killing us.
Our spirits were lifted at Point La Barbe. Usually it's not very productive,
but there was a minor passerine fallout and the fog was light enough that
we could see the islands nearby. We had four species of flycatchers
in a 20 foot circle: Olive Sided and Alder (both new) and Kingbird
and Least. We picked up about 3-4 new species of warblers and had a
few waterbirds, including Redheads and Goldeneyes. It was raining now,
harder and harder, but we were up to 109 leaving the UP!
The rain reached downpour stage by the time we crossed the bridge.
Our usual stop at Exit 322 was almost rained out, but we lucked into an Upland
Sandpiper on the roadside and had some of our grassland species at exit 322.
The rain kept going, weakening and then coming back stronger for the next
hour. This was usual travel time, heading south from the bridge to
Grayling, but it looked bad. Miraculously, it stopped just as we got
off I-75 at Four Mile Road, and was almost sunny when we reached the Kirtland's
area off Fletcher Road. About four or five Kirtland's sang on our drive
through, and we had Junco, Vesper Sparrow, Field Sparrow, and a few others.
Back on the pavement, an olive blip on the side of the road suggested Phoebe,
so we turned around and it was!
Houghton Lake was the next stop, and we had some good ducks out in the flats
and sewage ponds. Things were really picking up. Point La Barbe
had salvaged the UP and the Northern Lower was productive. We left
Houghton Lake with 139 species.
Nyanquing Point had some shorebirds, but a limited variety: Short-billed
Dowitcher, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, and Dunlin. No big
plovers, no big sandpipers. With a lot of looking we found some terns
and then made a minor mistake by taking a half hour hike to get the
Yellow-headed Blackbirds. They were there, along with a fly by Chimney
Swift, but we spent a half hour on two species, one of which we would see
later again. A pair of Pintail that were present on Sunday were gone
yesterday, and nothing else hopped up out of the dikes. In all, we
had added 20 species at Nyanquing and headed to Shiawassee at 160, just four
below our previous high.
On the way to Shiawassee we made a list of missing species: Kingfisher,
Bank Swallow, Yellow-throated Vireo, Wood Thrush, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,
Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Towhee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted
Nuthatch, Veery, Horned Lark, ... We quickly picked up the first six
of these. We were at 166, and knew we could do better because we still
needed the usual owls, Virginia Rail, and bitterns. It was windy, and
we heard nothing in the woods as it got dark. Not titmouse, nuthatch,
or Veery. Back out in the fields, a Horned Lark as the sun set gave
167. Barred and Screech Owls responded to our calls, and then we heard
a Virginia Rail and Bittern out in the Bittern Marsh.
One-hundred, seventy-one species! It was 10:45 and about all we could
think of still getting might be a night-singing Bobwhite or a Great-horned
Owl. We stopped a few places and heard nothing, so I dropped Mike off
and drove home. At 12:05 am Wednesday I drove past the Great-horned
Owl nest about half a mile from my house, but it was too late and I had already
dropped Mike off.
We fell four short of our goal of 175, but given the fog at Whitefish, we
felt very, very lucky to have over 150. I think with good weather at
Whitefish and a couple other spots, we might have hit 185-190, but that's
just speculation...Every year we say that. Usually we get hit one of
the elements; wind, fog, or rain. This year we got all three,
with each at a different time: Fog at Whitefish, rain at the bridge
and northern LP, and wind at Nyanquing and Shiawassee.
Great Blue Heron
American Black Duck
Great Gray Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Le Conte's Sparrow