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  • Writer's pictureTerry Grabill

Michigan Big Year Part 15: May 18-30

May 18: My oldest daughter, Caitlin turned 28 this day. As often happens with adults doing "adulting" things, schedules didn't accommodate us having her birthday dinner on her birthday so, with a few hours on a school night, Andrea and I headed to MWW to see what was showing. I had had several discussions with Oliver Kew about Wilson's phalarope and my seeming inability to find them. I'd dipped several times in Muskegon and the time at Seney when he tried to get me on a pair but I was out of cell coverage. We arrived at MWW and finally found a decent group of shorebirds.

#259 Wilson's phalarope

#260 Short-billed dowitcher

#261 White-rumped sandpiper

May 21. American Golden-Plover in Allegan County? I'm in! Allegan county, close to noon, standing by a large road-side pond scanning and scanning, wait, there it...oh, that's that killdeer again. There was another pond, probably connected to the first one before the road was built. Sandhill cranes were there and several killdeer. Another dip I guess. At least Allegan County was 5 times closer than the flycatcher dip last week. I spied another birder in the distance to the south looking at me while was looking at him (through our spotting scopes). Creepy, yeah? Not for birders. I drove to him knowing the more eyes in the search, the better the results. I learned a long time ago that sightings increase disproportionally as pairs of eyes are added. This was Tim Cornish, the guy I chased the black vulture with earlier in the year. This was his turf and this might work yet! Tim took me to another sire and recommended a couple others. "Look for the dickcissel calling in the distance" at the next pond. Shorebirds are there in back near the singing dickcissel. Sure enough, some FOY birds were there, but no golden-plover. I swear, if ANYONE ever accuses me of cheating my way to #1, let them look at the dips....

#262 Dickcissel

#263 Semipalmated sandpiper

#264 Sanderling

#265 Semipalmated plover

"Right on the way home" is a relative concept. When chasing birds, "right on the way" doesn't necessarily mean its even in the same direction as home. With that in mind, I drove to Ottawa County to chase another flycatcher, though not one as rare as scissor-tailed. I arrived at Port Sheldon Natural Area cold. I had no idea how big or well-marked the trails were. As I marched off, I looked briefly at the trail problem, looked simple. Looks are sometimes misleading though! The trail didn't match up with my memory of the sign. Note to self: take a picture next time. It was warming up, especially the faster I walked. Would I even recognize this bird if I saw it? Empids are a genus of flycatcher that are notoriously hard to ID visually. If this bird didn't sound-off I'd be out-of-luck. I had gotten to a point in this little trail where I thought I had a clue how I would re-emerge when a lady walked up with her dog and asked "Are you BirdGoober?" What a weird question. "I saw your car in the lot at the trailhead!" she said. Oh, yeah, the car-door magnet on my old Edge! I was on the right path after all! As her dog glared at me over his shoulder, "pwit-SIP". The flycatcher was talking finally!

#266 Acadian flycatcher

Muskegon was on the way home from Holland (no, really!). Lane's Landing had become one of my favorite birding locations. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by a FOY

#267 Black-billed flycatcher

May 22: Andrea and I were off to Tawas Point! We love this site and I was excited that Ann could be with me for the day. We were there a little later in May than we had been in the past, nevertheless, warblers were there, as were lots of flycatchers. We picked up some shorebirds and met some new friends. Close to leaving, we encountered a group of birders gathered around Marie Rust. It looked like a sage holding court with her entourage listening with total attention. I leaned in and asked "wouldn't happen to have a golden-winged warbler for me, would you?!" But I think she was distracted and didn't notice who had asked. Weird... Andrea and I continued our walk to the car. From behind, we heard someone ask something about Terry Grabill. "Ask him yourself!, he's right up there" said Marie. "Terry! Terry Grabill!" he called as he came forward and introduced himself. He was travelling with Marie. I jokingly told him "she's making m life rough!" "That's by design!" he replied. The gloves were off now! My 'why" became crystal clear. Marie would not beat me!!

#269 Connecticut warbler

#270 Least flycatcher

#271 Willow flycatcher

#272 Olive-sided flycatcher

#273 Black-bellied flycatcher

#274 Sedge wren

#275 Black tern

Driving home, we stopped to rest just west of Houghton Lake and over flew a small group of

#276 Whimbrel

May 24: Watching Ms Thomas teaching, I checked ebird for rare birds and found one post from Jim Markham. A rare tern in Grand Haven? 30 minutes from school. Heck yeah! I arrived with the usual dread (anxiety of just missing it). My heart was pounding out of my chest as I jogged out onto the pier. as I turned the last corner, I saw the crowd of scopes and birders and knew they had the bird and this would be one of those "easy ones" I walked up to Jim and congratulated him on the find and got a great look through his spotting scope.

#277 Royal tern (life bird)

#278 Ruddy turnstone

May 25: We own an alpaca. Her name is Chelsea. Chelsea gets sheared once a year by friends that live east of White Cloud. Paul and Gina are terrific people that make special time for us, even though we only have one animal to shear. While there, I heard in the distance

#279 Yellow-billed cuckoo

With Memorial Day approaching, Andrea and I are usually on Beaver island to help guide their birding festival "Warblers on the Water". COVID had changed that for 2020 (the festival was cancelled) and 2021 (the festival was greatly scaled-back) and we were not to be guides but we decided to go birding there for the holiday anyway. While I didn't find anything to add to the 2021 state list, we had some terrific birding and renewed some old friendships.

Returning from Beaver Island, I had the 2020-21 school year to wrap up before our annual FMS student trip to Beaver Island. I was keenly aware that spring migration (May madness) was coming to a close and I'd better make the days before the BI trip count!!

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