Sunday, November 20, 2016

Photo Journal 2016: October

October brought changes in the scenery, namely in the colors of the leaves, especially during October's final week. One of these weeks also happened to be The Big Sit, one of my favorite birding events. Click here to read more about this fun, global birding event, where sitters stay in one spot from dawn til dusk, counting the bird species they see. On our sit, we saw over 60 species, which isn't half bad for not moving all day. I also had a life bird toward the end of the day, which was a magical moment for all in attendance (read more about that below).

Enjoy these images of the progress of my photo journal. It can also be viewed week by week and in greater detail on my Little Bird Nerd Facebook page.

October, Spot 1

Spot 1: October 2016, Weeks 40-43

October, Spot 2

Spot 2: October 2016, Weeks 40-43

October, Spot 3

Spot 3: October 2016, Weeks 40-43

Life Birds:

This month, I spotted three new species I'd never seen before, including:

Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus), found by Tom Hince near New Baltimore. I had a feeling I would never ID this bird unless it was found first by someone with lots of experience and a scope. Thankfully I have friends with both! This bird was characteristically chasing gulls in a very Jaeger-ish manner. As we observed the bird through the scopes, the park happened to be teeming with people who had come to see a very giant flagpole being erected. When one of them asked us what the heck we were looking at (because we were clearly looking in the opposite direction of said oversized flagpole), Tom said, "The flagpole will be here tomorrow; the bird won't!" I don't know if they found it funny, but I definitely chuckled.
Parasitic Jaeger

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca): The second of my three scoter sightings, this bird was "moseying" around the beach at Metro, in a quite gentle way. I was able to get some good shots of it in the sun; those white wing patches showing clearly.
White-winged Scoter

Nelson's Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni): By far my favorite sighting of the month, this elusive little sparrow was the highlight of our Big Sit circle. As Paul stepped outside the circle for a moment, the rest of us were busy laughing and being silly as the day begin to decline. Out of nowhere, Paul screams, "NELSON'S SPARROW!" which he had to repeat a few times before it sank in that he was not joking. And then began the mad dash of us birders scrambling for our cameras and binos, running into the reeds where this master of disguise was hiding. As a group, we narrowed down its position and most of us were able to snap some great shots of a sparrow some of us had never seen. The beautiful golden hues, gray and brown crown stripes, and expert skulking skills of this bird made the sighting a breathtaking treat. It was like we had a collective high, and our spirits had lifted right up out of our bodies as we basked in the glow of a group sighting like this. The energy of such a thing is real, is palpable, is unforgettable.
Nelson's Sparrow at The Big Sit 2016
Big Sit Buster! Nelson's Sparrow

Last year's January through October total species count: 207
This year's January through October total species count: 239

Photo Journal 2016: September

September brought new changes to my 2016 Nature Plots (3 spots I visit and photograph each week). Fall flowers bloomed, leaves held fast, and the weather remained pleasant.

Enjoy these images of the progress of my photo journal. It can also be viewed week by week and in greater detail on my Little Bird Nerd Facebook page.

September, Spot 1

Spot 1: September 2016, Weeks 36-39

September, Spot 2

Spot 2: September 2016, Weeks 36-39

September, Spot 3

Spot 3: September 2016, Weeks 36-39

Life Birds:

Just like August, September was a 5 "lifer" month (meaning, I saw 5 new birds I'd never seen before)!

The Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriwa) was my most expensive life bird to-date! This amazing bird, whose normal range typically tops off around Southern Texas, happened to get blown way off course, and ended up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The bird arrived months ago, but I needed to wait until my semester was over to be able to spend the time and money on this trip. Luckily, the bird hung around (and as of now, mid-November, is still there) long enough for me to make it up there! After renting a car and driving over 7 hours to a small paper factory in the little town of Munising, Jason and I were able to spot the bird within about 30-45 minutes of scanning the grounds. The bird appeared to be casually foraging for worms in a field adjacent to the paper factory. Standing over two feet high, it struck us as some strange hybrid between falcon, vulture, and chicken. The rest of the trip was spent exploring northern Michigan, but in this first hour of reaching our destination, the feelings that flooded me were indescribable.
Crested Caracara in Munising, Michigan
Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera): This bird, unlike the Caracara, came unexpectedly and close-to-home. As I was making my way through the woods of my favorite local park, searching for a Gray-cheeked Thrush which had been sighted recently, quick movement at the top of a tree caught my attention. Lifting binos up to my eyes, I knew immediately that this was a Golden-winged Warbler. Even without having ever seen this bird, and not having it on my immediate "radar", there was no mistaking this striking little warbler. The black eye mask and throat, yellow cap, golden wingbars, and plain belly were classic identifiers. I felt like I'd been graced by the presence of a little bird fairy! And just as quickly as it flashed into view, it was gone. A sight for my memory only.

Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus): As I made my way back out of the woods, giddy from the sighting of the Golden-winged Warbler, I was clued in by fellow birder Andy about a Gray-cheeked Thrush who appeared to be injured, sitting on the side of the path. I hated for my first sighting of this species to be of an injured bird, but it was cool to be able to get up-close shots of a bird which is commonly mistaken for other types of thrushes. Having these photos is an amazing educational tool for later study. And later, I passed by the bird once again and it flushed, flying deeper into the woods. Perhaps there was hope for it yet.
Gray-cheeked Thrush
The next two life birds, Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) and Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus), were both found along the Shiawassee wildlife drive. The Ibis was awesome because it's normally a bird found much further south. It's always a treat to be able to get a faraway bird close to home. The dowitchers were awesome because they present such a difficult ID challenge (compared to Short-billed Dowitchers). In this case, we had Long and Short-billeds together, so it was cool to be able to see them side by side.
Glossy Ibis and Ring-billed Gulls

Long-billed Dowitchers
Last year's January through September total species count: 202
This year's January through September total species count: 233