Thursday, July 7, 2016

Photo Journal 2016: May

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera)
"It was May, the best of months nearly everywhere..." -Phoebe Snetsinger, Birding on Borrowed Time

This month brought some of the most noticeable changes to my nature plots. From sparse to full greenery, spring breathed life into the woods. The vernal ponds filled up to the brim, and by the fourth week, began to collect a filmy coating on their surfaces. I even got to take some of my nature plot photos on my 27th birthday (Week 20- May 16th).

May, Spot 1

Spot 1: May, 2016, Weeks 18-22

 May, Spot 2

Spot 2: May, 2016, Weeks 18-22

 May, Spot 3

Spot 3: May, 2016, Weeks 18-22

Other May Happenings:

Life Birds

May was a 5-lifer month for me, which is nothing to complain about!

In the birding community, we joke that there is often a sacrificial birder. This is a birder who decides to call it quits for the day, knowing by Murphy's Law that right after leaving, some great bird is going to appear. The sacrificial birder can also be a birder who goes out of town, and while out of town, a rare bird appears in his or her home county. Well, local birding legend Tom Heatley happened to be out of the country this May, searching for his last bird family (he found it!). We figured his absence would make him the ultimate sacrificial birder, and we were not wrong.
Whooping Crane Capture- Photo by: Kevin Rysiewski
The first of these 5 life birds (birds I'd never seen before) was a species that when I heard of its presence in Macomb County, I immediately thought it had to be a joke.  My friend Andrew had been scanning the eBird reports and stumbled across a record of 4 Whooping Cranes in Romeo, MI. We analyzed the GPS position of the reported sighting and tried to determine where these mysterious cranes could be. In the following days, Andrew did the legwork, driving around the reported area in search of this rarity. Finally, on May 3rd, he texted me in a fury of excitement- he'd found the cranes! I was about an hour away, and was about to search a local park for a recently spotted Blue-headed Vireo (not a rarity, but a FOY for me). I was also supposed to take my dad out for dinner for his birthday in approximately 2 hours. Going for the cranes would mean leaving right that second, driving as quickly as possible, viewing them for a maximum of a few minutes, then driving over an hour straight to the restaurant. I wrestled with this mentally, but I was already on autopilot, driving toward the expressway. Seeing the cranes was one of those moments that command silence. I was struck by the reality of what I was seeing, and aware of the fragile state of this protected species. With fewer than 500 wild birds left on the planet, this was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting. As I was pulling up, I was joined by an Operation Migration vehicle, which had come to collect the cranes and bring them back to their breeding area in Wisconsin, where they would have a much better chance of reproducing with the other cranes in that population. The four cranes had completed their first solo migration from the Mississippi Basin back up north. Interestingly, they had reached the exact latitude point at which they needed to be, but were a bit too far east on the longitude. I was happy for their mistake. The capture of the cranes is something I would have liked to witness, but I had to rush off for my dad's birthday dinner. I exchanged a few words with Andrew and Chris DeWolfe, who introduced himself as "the only Ebirder in Lapeer County" and sped off back down the dirt road, grinning from ear to ear. Click here to read more of this story from Operation Migration's blog.

Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina)

May 7th brought 3 lifers in one day! First we found a Lincoln's Sparrow along one of the Ford House Bird Walks with Wild Birds Unlimited Grosse Pointe Woods. As new co-leader of these walks, it was exciting to be able to get a lifer with new birders who were also seeing some of these birds for the first time. After this great bird walk (where we also found the uncommon Hooded Warbler, one of my favorite warblers), I received news there was a Red-headed Woodpecker at Stony Creek!
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

At the beginning of the year, I had set three top bird targets, which I nicknamed, "Code Red, White, and Blue" for the colors of the three target birds. Red was the Red-headed Woodpecker, followed by Northern Shrike (white) and Cerulean Warbler (blue). I headed straight from the Ford House to Stony Creek Metropark, where Kevin R. and Andy W. showed me my lifer Red-headed. Shortly after, Kevin clued me into a spot to find a Louisiana Waterthrush, which is also an uncommon bird I'd been hoping to find. Sitting in the microcosm of a swamp which this bird calls home; the LoWa singing and flitting about, was about the most peaceful moment I could dream up.

Finally, at the end of the month, I located two Yellow-billed Cuckoos at Nicholson Nature Center. Their ka-ka-ka-ka-kow calls helped me narrow down where they were perched, and when I saw their brightly spotted tails and unique profiles in flight, I was overjoyed.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)

Memorable FOYS (first of the year sightings): 
Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens)
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
This month provided FOY sightings of 19 warblers, from common warblers like Black-throated Green and American Redstart to the less common Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat (which has the potential to be taxonomically split apart from warblers altogether), and the most surprising of all- the Kirtland's Warbler, whose appearance may have been the first ever documented appearance of this bird in Macomb County. With the help of Jeff Steinmetz and all of the other diligent birders who posted their sightings, I was able to witness this bird in my own home county. This sighting made the Sterling Heights Nature Center a birding Mecca for a few days, with hoards of birders coming to document this bird one usually must go Up North to see.
Kirtland's Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii)

Click here for a very interesting radio take on the Kirtland's Warbler story.

Other great FOYs include: Common Nighthawk, Bobolink, Eastern Screech-Owl, and Clay-colored Sparrow.

Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida)

Last year's January through May total species count: 170
This year's January through May total species count: 197


  1. Hi Andrea - a great summary of your spring birding! Your pictures are beautiful and your writing is fun and insightful as well. It was nice to meet you and Andrew and everyone at the Whooping Crane landing :) I have to clarify though because now I feel bad - I feel like sometimes I am the only "ebirder" in Lapeer. I have met many wonderful people in Lapeer County while birding, like Lee Western and Michael Champagne, the director of Seven Ponds Nature Center. I just wish we communicated like the strong network you have in Macomb County.
    Now that I have that cleared up, keep up the great work! I follow your blog regularly and have been for the last few months - take care!

    Chris DeWolfe

    1. Aww sorry it took me so long to see this but I am glad I did. I'm going to edit your statement to include "eBirder" so as not to offend anyone :) Sorry if I misquoted you. I'm so glad you follow my blog and I look forward to running into you again some day! By the way, if you're on Facebook, you should follow my Little Bird Nerd page there. I update it much more regularly than here. Happy birding to you Chris!! >(')