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  • Terry Grabill

Michigan Big Year Part 11: May 1

May 1 was a Saturday. Brennan didn't have a track meet and the warblers were appearing in our southern counties. Bren and I set off early to Berrien County where Hudsonian godwits and Louisiana waterthrush were showing. The HUGO sightings at Three Oaks were a few days old so I wasn't really confident about our chances of catching them. They were, after all, just stopping by for a rest! We did, however get a great view of yellow-headed blackbird on the fence at Three Oaks Sewage Treatment. What else was close? There had been a lingering shorebird near the Berrien County landfill and it was only five minutes away! Across the road from the landfill we found a flooded area in what looked like a gravel pit. From our elevated post, we glassed the "pond" finding a good variety of birds, but where was the target? I wasn't particularly worried about a dip here, I'd get this bird later if necessary. But, I don't like to lose. The tenacity learned from Ann sometimes gets in the way of knowing when to move on and get to birds that are showing elsewhere. Finally, after glassing for what seemed like hours, movement at the far edge of the pond caught my eye. A bird the same color as the sand made its way along the shore.

#205 Piping plover

I'd never heard of Kesling Preserve before that week. According to ebird reports, though, migrating warblers were quite fond of the place. As soon as the truck engine died and we opened the doors, we knew we were in the heat of spring warbler migration. So many birds were singing that it was really hard to sort out the sounds. As we made our way along the trail it was tough to get eyes on birds long enough to see what was calling. These little gems move so quickly and sit still so briefly that getting glass on them was hard!

#206 Black-throated green warbler

#207 Yellow-throated warbler (lifer!)

#208 Northern parula

#209 Black-and-white warbler

#210 Louisiana waterthrush (life bird)

#211 Blue-gray gnatcatcher

#212 Red-eyed vireo

#213 Yellow-throated vireo

We followed navigation to a site where another warbler was seen. As we stopped at the pin, we saw homes on one side and forest on the other. With no trail or park in sight, we stepped onto the roads shoulder and scanned. I often wonder what people think when binocular-toting birders are staring into their yards. A man on a Harley rumbled up from the south. "What are you guys looking for?" was a question I'd become accustomed to this spring. "Looking for birds" always seemed like a ridiculous answer to me, though. "We are following a report of a hooded warbler and the sightings seem to be coming right here!" also sounded silly as I said it. He looked at us a while and asked how we were going to pursue the bird. I assured him that we'd stay on the roadside and he was immediately put at-ease. Seems he'd been having a lot of folks stopping road-side and tromping through his property without permission looking for morels. He wished us well and as the motorcycle rumble faded, we heard the unmistakable call of

#214 Hooded warbler

Cass County was just to the east of Berrien and another warbler that, in my experience, would be hard to find later. Navigation led us to a private campground and boat launch that, apparently, was run by a Native American group. Camping season was a while-off yet and the campsites were empty. At the lake's edge, by the boat launch, was a short boardwalk along the shore. As we moved quietly along, we saw solitary sandpipers, yellow warblers and flying/crawling under the platform,

#215 Prothonotary warbler

It was getting time to make our way north. When you're chasing bird sightings, "it's right on the way home" is relative. In this case, Calhoun County was "right on the way home". Only a couple of hours out-of-the-way. Kentucky warbler had been singing at Woodland Park and Nature Preserve there and "while we were in the neighborhood" we might as well pick up this rarity. As soon as we stepped out of the truck, we were greeted by "beee-buzzzzz", the call of

#216 Blue-winged warbler

Well into the trails of this beautiful park, the rain began. We struggled to gain our bearings as we headed back to the parking lot. Along the way we found our FOY

#217 Great-crested flycatcher

The next stop was so far out-of-the-way it seemed ridiculous in hindsight. Howell was "on-the-way only in the sense that it was north of where we were and south of home. Livingston County was a long ways east of any line between here and home, but, there had been a summer tanager sighted and continuing, and, "while we were in the neighborhood"... The ebird checklists came from a place called "the fortress" . This, obviously was a public place, perhaps a business or park? Nope. GPS navigation led us to another residential area. "Fortress" just didn't make sense here. So, again, we stalked people's yards with optics, hoping no-one would be creeped-out enough to call the police...or take security into their own hands. We drove this stretch of neighborhood for an hour or so, finding a few "easy" first-of-the-year birds as well as, finally, our target.

#218 Rose-breasted grosbeak

#219 Summer tanager

#220 House wren

May 1 yielded 16 new species for the list. Not a bad start to the month!

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