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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 some
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 was present.

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 us
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.

Birds seen

Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Turkey Vulture
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ruffed Grouse
Virginia Rail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Semipalmated Plover
Solitary Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Upland Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Common Snipe
American Woodcock
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Black Tern
Rock Dove
Mourning Dove
Black-billed Cuckoo
Eastern Screech-Owl
Barred Owl
Great Gray Owl
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Winter Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Pine Warbler
Kirtland's Warbler
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Canada Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Le Conte's Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak
House Sparrow