Mid-Summer Update Part 2: Things I Saw Recently

Having not gone anywhere or done anything as a family for four months, last weekend we took a socially-distanced and masked long weekend to South Haven, Michigan on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. We arrived at the beach early enough to avoid people, and we left before it got crowded. We did the same with the restaurants and took a few meals back to our AirBnB.

We spent the early part of each day at the beach, and I brought my camera in case cool birds showed up. They did.

RBGU 1

Ring-billed Gull

The dominant Midwestern gull is the Ring-billed. With nice weather and photogenic surf, I practiced my bird portraits on these guys. Here is a snappy adult.

HEGU

Herring Gull

The ratio of Herring-to-Ring-billed Gulls was approximately 1:200. The first morning there was only one other non-Ring-billed, and it was a young-ish HERG.

CATE 1

Caspian Tern

Caspian Terns were constantly flying around overhead. But only a couple of times did one actually land on the beach.

BOGU 2

Bonaparte’s Gulls

At one point, a tight flock of tiny gulls swooped by and landed in the lake. Bonaparte’s Gulls! eBird didn’t like it. There were 13 in total in various stages of head molt.

BOGU 1

Bonies

They came in to shore, where a few other people took notice and pointed them out. I resisted the urge to go up and talk about the different kinds of seagulls.

WILL + BOGU

Willet + BOGU

While I was watching, a Willet flew in and landed with the flock!

WILL 3

Willet

This Willet was somehow the first one ever recorded at the eBird hotspot. They aren’t super common on the Great Lakes, but they are numerous enough that it’s surprising nobody had previously recorded one from this relatively huge and easily accessible beach. This was my first Great Lakes Willet, and my first time seeing the “western” subspecies, with all of my previous sightings coming from Atlantic beaches. If (when?) they get split, this will be my lifer!

MAGO 1

Marbled Godwit

I watched the Willet fly up and down the beach for a while, with it occasionally going out of sight and then coming back. After a while, I thought I saw it fly by again low over the shore, but realized it did not have the fancy underwing pattern of a Willet and looked very orange underneath. I took off with my camera to find that it was a Marbled Godwit! Lifer!

MAGO 3

Marbled Godwit in the waves

I wasn’t quite sure how common these birds were at this location, so I re-activated my Facebook account because I felt the need to let people know about it. It set off a small flurry of activity on the Michigan Listers group, and within a couple of hours there were other people on the beach who were definitely birders. But by then the Godwit was gone and it appears I was the only one who saw it (I mean besides a bunch of oblivious beachgoers). According to eBird, this is either the 3rd or 4th county record. Cool!

WILL 2

Fly-by Willets

The next day, the bird activity was much lessened. But two fly-by Willets were a highlight. I ticked a bunch of other Michigan state birds over the weekend, too, like Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, and other common things I had just never picked up in my intermittent travels there. The trip was great, and it marked my second consecutive Michigan beach trip resulting in a lifer (or possibly two if that Willet gets split).

My history with birds

As anyone who was at my wedding can attest, I like birds.

I think it all started when I was in elementary school and had a weird obsession with parrots. I am neutral toward parrots now, because the one endemic species found in the United States was driven to extinction about 100 years before I was born. There are feral populations in much of the country, though, of which I have seen a few species, but it’s not the same as seeing a bird in its native habitat. But to a kid, parrots are pretty cool. Probably because they are brightly colored animals that can talk. Trips to Disney World only reinforced how cool this concept is to a 7-year-old.

Fast forward to around 2005 and I was a sophomore at Ohio State. My uncle had sent me a small point-and-shoot digital camera, and I was trying to figure out a project that would let me put it to use outside of my intermittent trips out of town. One day while at Mirror Lake, I noticed a Northern Cardinal (I did not know at the time the proper prefix), and tried to photograph it. Then I saw an American Goldfinch (again, I was oblivious to the “American” part), and was amazed that two different kinds of birds would present themselves to me. I didn’t get a decent photo of either one, but it was then that I decided to document all of the wildlife at Ohio State. After a month or so of wandering around campus looking for animals, I realized that the most diverse wildlife at Ohio State was bird life, and I didn’t know what any of them were, so I started looking them up. I then realized how many kinds of birds there are, and I realized that I had a life-long quest perfectly lined up in front of me. That’s when I became a birder. I got a new camera with a 12x zoom and the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, and the game was on.

Because that camera has just recently gone the way of the Carolina Parakeet, I present to you now some of the earliest birds that I photographed while at OSU.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

This Brown Creeper flew directly in front of me on the South Oval and landed at eye level on a tree trunk about two feet away from me during fall of my senior year. It was a pretty lucky catch.

Willet

Willet

During my junior year, I went on a Habitat for Humanity trip to Brunswick, GA. Our group went to the beach one day and I just started snapping pictures of all of the shore birds I could, not having any idea what they were. Peterson confirmed that my life list included these Willets, and this is still one of my favorite bird photos that I have taken.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

On another Habitat trip in Bluffton, SC, this Northern Mockingbird wanted to help us out on the job site. After flapping around terrified for a few minutes, our trip leader threw a towel over it and transported it outside, but not before I was able to take this picture.

More to come soon, especially once this whole master’s degree thing is all finished (19 days, but who’s counting?).