Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Continues - 02 Oct 2016

Despite 5 - 10" of rain this past week a single Ruby-throated Hummingbird continues to come to the feeder. Its having to squabble w/ the wasps for a feeding spot, but is managing to share the perch.

Other nice sightings include: Eastern Towhee, House Wren, Northern Flicker, and Red-breasted Nuthatch!

On a side note, we are having a new Birch Tree and Red Maple Tree being planted in back of the house. Their placement may affect placement of the feeders from here out...

Nashville Warbler - 25 Sep 2016

A Nashville Warbler made a brief appearance in the yard this morning! I managed to get a couple of digiscoped images before it flew off. Check out that eye-ring!

Shorebirds at Bridgewater - 19 Sep 2016

While driving home from work I decided to come into the Bridgewater complex at Inkster Rd. so that I could check the puddles for shorebirds. Bridgewater is currently in the construction portion of phase 3 of the complex and the bare fields are now seeing foundations and houses being built. A year ago the fields here were alive with meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, and nesting Spotted Sandpipers. Since then, the entire region has been cleared to bare ground in preparation for the new community. During the past summer scrub grasses have started to reclaim the ground, and ponds now sit where dirt has been moved in anticipation of foundations being dug.

I had spotted a Lesser Yellowlegs last evening, and wanted to see if it was still around. It was! So, after dinner, Robin and I hiked the approximately ½-mile distance from Brownton Abbey to the small puddles so that I could digiscope the bird. It wasn't easy.

The Lesser Yellowlegs was visible and in good light. However, I would have to wade through the gauntlet of noisy and skittish Killdeer that covered the fields 150+ birds strong. No sooner had I made my way around (so that the sun was at my back) did the entire flock of Killdeer flush; the yellowlegs flew off with them.  I followed it to several other puddles, and then was surprised when it flew back to the puddle where I was standing. I managed a few pics from about 100' away before it flew to the north.

As I was heading back toward home I noticed a Solitary Sandpiper skulking in the low weeds next to the edge of the largest puddle. Score! I would spend the next hour or so trying to get digiscoped images of the bird in perfect light. It was sunny, with clear skies and zero humidity. The sun was setting toward the golden-hour, and lighting was perfect for getting crisp digiscoped images.

The construction crew must've wondered why a guy w/ so much camera equipment was standing in a bare field photographing piles of dirt...

Come for the Lesser Yellowlegs, and stay for the Solitary Sandpiper!

A Very Interesting Yard Day - 27 Aug 2016

Last night's rain left water all over the windows. So, after I squeegeed them off I could see a Skunk foraging under the feeder. Since I needed to change the hummingbird feeder I decided to head out, anyway. No issues, it skedaddled out of sight as I approached the first time, but decided to stand its grown the second time. Tail up, it looked fearsome (for a second) before running back into the underbrush. I went back into the house and watched it for a bit when it came back. It would feed, then have a tail-up standoff w/ an unseen enemy, make several short charges forward, then run off. Really, very cute to watch.

Once the sun came up and the skunk headed out, the birds came in. At one point I had 8 Baltimore Orioles at the jelly feeder, including 4 brightly-colored males.

I spotted a juvenile Eastern Towhee on the ground and got some great digiscoped images. I just forgot to put a card in the camera. It was gone by the time I corrected my mistake.

A 1st-year female American Redstart made a brief appearance in the yard! It was a difficult ID to make, but luckily I was able to see it black-tipped undertail spots. Otherwise, I would've thought it was a juvenile Magnolia Warbler.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been hammering the feeder all day. I got a few digiscoped images as they fought the wasps for a place on the feeder. I would go out later and vacuum as many of the wasps as I could in order to protect the hummers from getting stung.

I decided to clear away the brush at end of the grass so I borrowed my brother's weed-trimmer. A trip to Lowe's to get string resulted in another 12 bags of mulch, and a dozen perennials to plant once I'm done. I weed-sacked mostly grass, some emerging buckthorn, and a few willow sprouts, and mulched around some dogwood, black-eyed susan, and a few queen-ann's lace that I decided to keep. I managed to get the mulch down just before a nasty thunderstorm hit mid-afternoon.

Once the storm passed I checked the feeders again, and found a Brown Thrasher (adult) foraging next door under the cover of shade. The Eastern Towhee also made another appearance, and this time I was able to get pics of the juvenile bird.

Song Sparrows have returned. They look like little chicken poults as they were all missing tails!

I managed a short digiscoped 4K video of one of the juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbirds just before dark.


Sanderlings - 25 Aug 2016

Afternoon storms in the metro Detroit Area brought high winds to Pt Mouillee this evening. Water levels in the Humphries Unit was high enough to keep shorebirds away. Cell 3 is still dry, and only a flock of Ring-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns were making use of the open, bare ground.

Winds were blowing inshore, so waves were crashing against the shoreline as I rode along the dike from Roberts Rd to Cell 3. But a small patch of exposed sand held a dozen Sanderlings. The sun was shining so late afternoon / evening lighting was good enough to get some nice digiscoped images from about 50' away.

A Glorious Morning - 21 Aug 2016

Clear skies, mild temps, low humidity, and a slight breeze made for a perfect Sunday morning. Sipping a cup of coffee on the back deck and digiscoping the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles in the yard. Simply wonderful!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Michigan's First Sharp-tailed Sandpiper! - 13 Aug 2016

On 11 Aug 2016 Kevin Vande Vusse photographed a "funny-looking" Pectoral Sandpiper at the Muskegon Wastewater System and posted the image to the Facebook ID page. After several back-and-forths it was realized that he had discovered Michigan's 1st Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata). This "Siberian Pectoral Sandpiper" is a vagrant to North America and typically only seen in the Aleutians, Alaska, Hawaiian Islands, and Pacific Coast. To have one appear mid-continent is somewhat astounding. But sure enough, it was here, and birders from all over the midwest started flocking to Muskegon, MI to see the bird.

Robin and I took a day trip and drove 3 hours to Muskegon to look for the bird. Skies were mainly cloudy with high humidity, winds and brief rain showers. We arrived at about 1:30 pm and joined a dozen other birders trying to find the bird, which had disappeared for the previous 30 minutes in the weedy washout of the mid aeration ponds along the NW side of the Wastewater System.  Within 5 minutes we were able to relocate the bird among several Pectoral Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, and Killdeer.

This was not a cooperative bird, at all. No sooner would someone see it the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper would disappear back behind the vegetation patch, or among several of the Pectorals.  I managed to get some brief video captures despite the wind, rain, and distance (>300 ft). Lucky for me that I did, as my digiscoping photos failed to show the key identification marks of the bird, even at full magnification of the scope.

I used a Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope Spotting Scope w/ a 20-75X Zoom Eyepiece, Sony Alpha a6300 Mirrorless Camera with a Sigma 30mm f/2.8 lens, and Digidapter™. At 75X magnification the equivalent focal length was ~2250 mm. However, when I videotaped the bird using 4K imaging the EFL doubled to ~5500 mm. This was enough to grab some sharp stills and see the characteristic identifiers of the bird, which appears (almost) identical to the Pectoral Sandpipers that are common here.

Take a look at the Pectoral Sandpiper (C. melanomas)  at left. Note the yellow legs, two-toned yellowish-gray bill, and distinct "bib" that stops abruptly at the chest and is bordered by an all-white belly, flanks and underside. The bib is finely-streaked and a white supercillium is visible above the eye. Its reddish-brown cheek patch is similar in color to its reddish-brown cap. White-fringed feathers on the back suggest that this is a juvenile bird that shows just a hint of a buffy wash on the breast.

This is a worn adult Pectoral Sandpiper foraging below the water. Note the uniform gray-brown feather coloration on back and neck.

The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper appears similar in size and shape, with a slightly shorter neck, shorter gray-black bill, and flatter head (Hayman, Marchant, Prater, 1986). Note the distinct "chevrons" along the side that extend below the undersides of the tails.

From this image you can see that the distinct bib of the Pectoral Sandpiper is absent. Instead, the chevrons grow in size as the bib is extended well onto the lower belly.

I had a difficult time seeing the distinct reddish cap on this bird. It could have been lighting, or the wind, or the distance, but the cap did appear darker relative to the Pectoral Sandpipers, but certainly not a distinguishing mark.

These images show the back side of the bird, which has brown-black feathers with cinnamon fringes. Nape, neck and cap all seem continuous in color.

If approved, this will be Michigan's 1st State Record of the species. Congratulations, Kevin on a great find!

Epilogue: Over 40 birders tried and failed to find the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper on Sunday, and apparently it hasn't been refound. Today (17 Aug 2016), an eBird report of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was posted from a fish hatchery in Arkansas! Same bird???? Michael Linz sent me an e-mail w/ pics of his bird in Central Arkansas. Congratulations, Mike!


Hayman, P., Marchant, J., Prater, T., 1986, Shorebirds, an Identification Guide, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

O'Brien, M., Crossley, R., Karlson, K., 2006, The Shorebird Guide, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.