The North Coast

Two weeks ago we vacationed in Manistee, Michigan, located at approximately the base of the pinky fingernail of the mitten and right on the shore.

Manistee Lighthouse

Manistee is one of many small beach towns on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. But it is a little less tourist-gentrified (a little cheaper) and a lot further north (colder) than most of them. That made it an ideal place for us to spend the week, where all we needed was the beach and a couple restaurants.

Angry Waters

The peak tourist season is early August to probably Labor Day, when the water has had a chance to warm up a bit. For us in late June, it was still closer to spring than the height of summer, and the first day we were there the water showed it. Our Airbnb was about a mile from one of the two public beaches, and the surf was rocking like the ocean, with sand churning up to the point where the water was brown and you couldn’t see your skin just below the surface.

Common Grackle

Activity on the beach was obviously limited in these conditions, so I contented myself with the good light and common animals.

Eastern Gray Squirrel – Black Color Variant

Common Grackles abounded, and the local population of similarly black Eastern Gray Squirrels paid no attention to us.

Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary

The next morning was sunny but the temperature was only in the 50s. So we went to the Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary operated by Michigan Audubon about two miles north of the city.

Scarlet Tanager

I enjoyed racking up a list of about 20 species while we hiked, including what eBird tells me is somehow only the second June county record of Northern Parula. Jaime and I observed this Scarlet Tanager preening while the kids pretended to be explorers bushwhacking through the (for them) head-high grass. Thankfully, I was the only one who ended up with a tick.

Giant Sequoia, aka California Redwood

The bird sanctuary also doubles as an arboretum and hosts some impressively large specimens of cottonwood, gingko, and a few Giant Sequoias. This one is the Michigan state champion at 95 feet, and it was transported from California in a coffee can as a seedling to this site in 1949.

What a difference a day makes

We returned to the beach later that afternoon to warmer air and MUCH calmer water. The difference from the previous day was remarkable, with the water almost glasslike and nearly indiscernible from the sky at the horizon.

Midwest Water

Without the boiling surf, the clearness of the water became staggeringly apparent. As someone used to murky Midwestern rivers and lakes, it was shocking actually. And it was also completely free of debris to resemble something more suited to the Gulf of Mexico than the Rust Belt Great Lakes.

Gull Tracks

There was almost nobody else on the beach, which was amazing. And once you got used to the brisk water, swimming was not too bad either.

Ring-billed Gull

My favorite 80s new wave band

As the day warmed up even more and the beach became more active, I began to lose focus on the birds and instead made sand castles that the kids repeatedly wanted to build and destroy.

Piping Plover!

That’s why I was shocked to see that some movement to our left just a few yards down the beach was a Piping Plover! There was nothing there when we arrived in the morning, so this one must have flown in unnoticed by me. Lifer! I was very much hoping to see one of these birds on my trip, but had gotten a little discouraged because the pair that had nested in Manistee for the last several years did not do so in 2019, and there had been no eBird reports of any birds at all since May.

(L) Orange Flag, Light Green, Silver, (R) Silver, Yellow

I watched the plover for a few minutes before some people walked by and flushed it, when it flew away to the north and disappeared. With only 200 or so individuals in the entire Great Lakes population, pretty much all of these birds are protected, monitored, and banded at birth. Thankfully my photos showed all of the bands, and I submitted the sighting to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, who gave me a biography.

This particular bird is a female that hatched in 2009 at Sleeping Bear Dunes, about 30 miles to the north of Manistee and the stronghold for the species on Lake Michigan. She mated for the first time in 2010 on the lake’s North Manitou Island, which is part of Sleeping Bear. In subsequent years she did nest at Manistee, but in 2019 she decided to nest elsewhere in the city of Ludington, just to the south. She lost her mate during incubation and her nest failed as a result. Since then, she has been seen in various places in the area but has not paired up again because this year there are many more females than males in the area. Godspeed, little plover.

Ludington

Later in the week we also made it to Ludington, most recent nesting place of our plover. It is a slightly larger, slightly more redeveloped town with quite a bit to do (including Jaime’s and my favorite beer of the trip: Ludington Bay Brewery Tangelo).

American Mink

While walking on the park by the city marina, we came across a close-range American Mink hanging out underneath of a group of fisherman. Smart guy. Besides the rocks there was no cover of any kind, so seeing this dude here was a bit surprising.

Yard Deer

Later that night (while playing some Wingspan), we noticed a White-tailed Deer strolling down the sidewalk. The next night it was in our front yard.

Baby Deer

The next morning we found two baby deer in the back yard. No wonder mom was hanging around.

Bar Lake

On one of the last days of the trip, I went to Bar Lake just north of the city to try for some reported Black Terns. The angle of the public access point made seeing anything impossible without a kayak, but the scenery was pretty just after sunrise.

Ribbon Clouds

So we went to the beach again, where the scenery was still in full force with these outstanding clouds.

Fog

Apparently, the wispy ribbons of cloud meant hella fog was about to roll in. No problem. You can build sandcastles pretty well even in zero visibility.

Herring Gull

When the fog lifted it revealed some new gulls on the beach in the form of a small group of Herring Gulls mixed in with all the Ring-billeds. With my tern miss it was nice to add one last trip bird.

Farewell Dunes

Manistee was great, both for vacationing and for birding. There is plenty to do that we didn’t get to on either front, including a great little art deco theater in its downtown, kayaking everywhere, and Sleeping Bear Dunes, all things I would go again for to get the chance to experience. Bird-wise, you can never see too many plovers, and if I go again I will seek out plover chicks! The aforementioned Black Terns are also a possibility, as are Ruffed Grouse, and Kirtland’s Warblers are only two hours away. All in all this was a fantastic trip on all fronts and I would recommend a vacation here to anyone, birder or not.

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Starting This 5MR (With Guest Blogger)

Since January 1st all of my Indiana birding has been inside of my 5MR. It has been productive!

HAWO

Hairy Woodpecker

In the first few days of January every bird is exciting. It’s always great to reset the odometer and be able to count literally everything all over again, from the ubiquitous Northern Cardinal to the otherwise aggravating House Sparrow. During that glorious window where each and every feeder bird is new again, I was also lucky enough to be visited by a female Hairy Woodpecker, which is infrequently seen in the yard.

Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed Park

Outside of feeder watching, I have also made a few brief forays deeper into my 5MR territory, including visits to find ducks at Johnny Appleseed Park and the water treatment ponds.

Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

I was lucky enough to get a nice little waterfowl haul that included Common Goldeneye at both locations. These trips also yielded Common and Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and numerous other water-based FOYs:

GBHE

Great Blue Heron

RBGU

correction: Herring Gull!

**Thank you so much to commentor Raf for pointing out that this is actually a Herring Gull, and not the Ring-billed I assumed it to be. I noted the field mark of “bird is a gull inland in February” and therefore just checked it off as a Ring-billed. Shame on me. Herring is actually an incredibly good county bird here, and I believe this is only the third one I have seen.

MUSW

Mute Swan

Most of the rest of the month of January was spent alternating between bouts of weird weather. The star of the weather show, though, was last week’s Polar Vortex during which the temperature did not exceed -10 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately three days. While I still had to go to work during that time, someone was at home stuck inside with the kids but still keeping an eye on our bird situation: my oft-mentioned but never before featured wife, Jaime! Everything below is in her own (orange) words, and also her photos. She deserves literally all of the credit for me being able to see a state bird in our own yard as well as tick a rather uncommon variety of hawk!

Feeb

My recent bird binge started when I looked out of our kitchen window and saw a strange-looking squirrel in the owl box. I quickly grabbed Greg’s camera and zoomed in for a closer look.

Snowy Owl

Strange-looking Squirrel

I started screaming and jumping up and down, and our daughter came in to see what was the matter. I called Greg at work frantically and yelled to him “there’s an owl in the owl house!” He thought one of the kids had been injured until he realized what I was yelling into the phone.

EASO

Eastern Screech-Owl

It was so fluffy and so sleepy, and there was snow blowing in its face. It was cute. I want one. I couldn’t stop looking at it all day.

Three Amigos

Three Amigos

So then I was on bird watch. I was mostly concerned that it would swoop down and eat one of our other birds, but it didn’t. As I was watching all of the other birds, I saw in the pine tree that there were these other colorful ones all huddled together, and I liked them even though they are common. I was moved to photograph them.

RSHA

Red-shouldered Hawk

Later when I was looking out the window, I saw a giant thing fly down and sit on the branch in our neighbors’ tree. I thought at first it was the owl, but then when I saw how big it was I knew it was a hawk of some sort, but not one I had ever seen before. It was some sort of shouldered-hawk. It impressed Greg.

Starling.JPG

Not an owl

It eventually got dark and we couldn’t see the owl any more, then the next day there was a squirrel in the owl house. A few hours later another bird was in there, but it was not an owl unfortunately. Just a starling trying to stay dry. They must be smart birds. There were also about 50 of them in our yard. But I was sad. I missed Ollie the owl.

I want everyone to know that I was traumatized by birding one time when we went hiking and I got a bug in my eye. Also there was a turkey on the loose that we couldn’t see but we could hear chasing us. Other than that, I like birding.

Novembirds

Greetings again reader(s)! After a month since my last birding outing, I know that my “big year” has become laughable, but I have had to balance my life with other things, such as having nonsense conversations with Walter (who is now 3 months old), being busy with a promotion at work, attending a way cool UU church, and listening to the new Arcade Fire on vinyl (happening now… I especially dig ‘Joan of Arc’ and ‘Awful Sound’). Despite this other life I lead, I got out to Eagle Marsh today and had a fruitful day with the birdies.

#146 Herring Gull and #147 Dunlin

#146 Herring Gull and #147 Dunlin

This is basically all I had to look at, but there are two new year birds in this photo! The Herring Gull (#146) was one I was worried I would miss out on entirely this year. Up until today, it is probably the commonest resident Indiana bird that I had not seen. The larger, browner bird in front of the Ring-Billed Gulls is a first-winter Herring. Way behind the gulls in the background are a bunch of little peeps running around. Those are Dunlins (#147 + lifer). This is the best I could do photo-wise, so you just have to trust me here.

#148 Wilson's Snipe

#148 Wilson’s Snipe

The final new bird of the day was one that I almost overlooked amongst the Dunlins: Wilson’s Snipe (#148 + lifer)! You can’t see much in this super grainy photo, but the absurdly long bill gives him away.

Since my field days have been limited, I have been birding Grosbeak Gardens (aka the back yard) much more frequently lately. Some highlights:

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

I have since learned that the Chickadees floating around the yard (and much of Fort Wayne, actually) are Carolina, not Black-Capped. Apologies for the error. Additionally, everyone has been happy in the yard recently (especially the Carolina Wrens) with the installation of a new suet feeder (not pictured).

Honeymoon Birding

This past Monday minus one year, I got to marry the woman of my dreams! Not only does she put up with this bird obsession of mine, but she actually embraces it, too! As anyone who attended our wedding can attest, there were birds involved. Is that love or what?

Stuff!

Stuff!

As I am sure you are all surprised to hear, there was also much birding going on during our honeymoon to Maine. Observe!

Common Eider

Common Eider

Common Eiders were everywhere! Including the dockside bar that we went to before our sunset cruise in Portland Harbor one night. One of them was so trashed that she came right up to our table, removed everything from it, and demanded that she take our picture all the while telling us how much she hates Tom Brady and people from Massachusetts in general.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant

Though frequently seen in Indiana, Double-Crested Cormorants also abounded in Maine. We ran into this one at Wal-Mart, where we grudgingly had to go (twice) because we forgot to pack beach towels and I broke my flip-flops.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

We got lost on our way to see Lenny the Chocolate Moose one day, so I had to stop and ask this Herring Gull for directions.

Osprey

Osprey

This Osprey forgot to keep putting on sunscreen because it was so cold with the wind blowing off the ocean, and it ended up getting really ridiculously sunburned.

Great Black-Backed Gull

Great Black-Backed Gull

This Great Black-Backed Gull paid $20 for a margarita and was so mad that it stole a pen from the bar when it paid its bill so that it could get even.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

This Semipalmated Plover drove us around all week in a seafoam green Ford Focus.

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderlings finally convinced Jaime to eat a lobster… after an afternoon of pub crawling around Portland.

Rock Dove

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeons served us some excellent pastries at a French cafe downtown.

A Flock of Seagulls

A Flock of Seagulls

On our last day, we were so tired that we just decided to veg out! It was a great trip!