Thursday, July 7, 2016

Photo Journal 2016: June

Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser)

As spring gave way to summer, the vernal ponds began to evaporate. Because of this, the changes this month were most evident in Spot 2. Although I welcomed the warm temperatures, spring will always be my favorite season, and I wished those ponds could stay.

June, Spot 1

Spot 1: June, 2016, Weeks 23-26

June, Spot 2

Spot 2: June, 2016, Weeks 23-26

June, Spot 3

Spot 3: June, 2016, Weeks 23-26

Other June Happenings:

Life Birds

This month brought 6 new birds into my life. This is great for June, which is not typically the best birding month. In fact, of the 16 FOYs I saw in June, 6 of them were lifers, which gave me a 37.5% lifer-to-FOY ratio for June. Alright, enough statistics (NEVER!), I'll get back to the storytelling. :)
Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea)

If you recall, last month's summary mentioned "Code Red, White, and Blue". This refers to my three target birds I set for myself this year. May brought Red, the Red-headed Woodpecker, and June happened to bring Blue, the Cerulean Warbler. Andrew Simon and I took a morning trip out to Port Huron State Game Area, which is a known summer site for these gorgeous warblers. As we followed directions outlined by other birders, we sat patiently waiting to hear the warbler's call, or to see a flash of blue. For a while, the only calls and flashes of blue were coming from the many Indigo Buntings in the area. After standing in the same spot for a time, we decided to head back to the car, as we had other spots to check and a storm was coming. In one of those wonderful moments where you just start to give up and let go, in flew a male Cerulean Warbler, allowing us to view it and get pictures. It was a lifer for both of us and we were so excited!

The near-threatened Henslow's Sparrow has declined in numbers due to habitat loss. Fortunately, our local area still supports at least one of these birds, as it was conveniently tucked into a field not far from home. In this same field were more Bobolinks than I'd ever seen in one place; and these birds always make me think of my Grandma, who says she grew up with Bobolinks all over her farm property. While standing in grasses up to my waist, scanning for small brown birds, this tiny sparrow happened to be sitting just in front of me! Its sparsely streaked breast and small size, along with its facial patterns and head shape, helped confirm this bird's identity. I was very happy with the sighting as well as the photographs I was able to capture.

Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii)

Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii)
As the break between spring and summer semesters came to a close, I decided I wanted to do a Big Day of birding before getting back to "the grind". So, on June 26th, friend and classmate Andrew and I decided to join forces and bird hard. We began our trip at Oak Openings in Ohio, which is a beautiful, huge park that I'd like to return to. Our first sighting was not of a bird but of a birder who was very helpful in providing directions to hotspots around the park. We were looking for Summer Tanagers and Lark Sparrows, and found the latter with little effort (thanks to our aforementioned friend!). Although we didn't find the tanagers, I was more than content to spot this distinctively marked, large sparrow which nests in sand dunes. This bird is the only member of its genus, and when compared to the Henslow's Sparrow above, it is obviously quite different in almost every way: size, shape, pattern, behavior, and habitat.
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)
Our next stop was back in Michigan, to a farm road called Meyers Road, near Ann Arbor. This stop proved to be a winner, teeming with just about every meadow bird we could expect: Dickcissels (the lifer we were after, which we decided looked like a mix of a meadowlark, a sparrow, and a grosbeak), Eastern Meadowlarks, a Northern Mockingbird, Bobolinks, Horned Larks, Killdeer, Eastern Bluebirds, Barn Swallows, and more. I joked I was really glad we didn't drive all the way out to a dusty old farm road and strike out. It would have been a little harder to swallow than if we'd struck out at an "official" park, somehow.

Dickcissel (Spiza americana)
The final stop on our Big Day was Pointe Mouillee, a birding treasure trove located off Lake Eerie in Monroe County. Here we rode our bikes in nearly 90-degree heat, and covered much of the giant wetland territory. We found a lifer gull, a Franklin's Gull, which added to my pitifully short gull list. In my defense, gulls are arguably the most difficult of bird families to ID, with endless subtleties and variations in plumage. I was also lucky enough to see my lifer Black Tern, a beautiful bird which I hope to see soon in my home county, as they are known to fly around Harsen's Island during the summer.

Franklin's Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)

Memorable FOYS (first of the year sightings):
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)
Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)
This Piping Plover sighting was magical. My Love, Jason, and I spent almost a week up near Traverse City, Glen Arbor, and Pearl Lake. Of course there was some birding to be done! One of my main targets was the Piping Plover, which we tried for on multiple occasions before finding this one. As we crept along the shoreline at Sleeping Bear Point, we kept our ears open for "peeps" and our eyes open for movement. Out of nowhere came a single "PEEP!" which caused Jason and I to look at each other with excitement, then look around. It was behind me and right near the tide, a single Piping Plover standing there on the rocks. I was able to snap a few quick pictures and then, just as mysteriously as it had appeared, it flew off out over the open water and disappeared. We had to be there at that exact moment to have seen this endangered bird, and I was grateful for the chance. <3
American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus)
For a comparison between the Black-billed Cuckoo and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, click here to read my first edition of "Two Birds".

Last year's January through June total species count: 181
This year's January through June total species count: 213
Common Loon (Gavia immer)

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