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  • Terry Grabill

Michigan Big Year Part 17: June 13-17

Updated: Jul 28

I was back from Beaver Island and, from now until late August, my time was my own! No more waiting for weekends or after-school races to get to the birding site. I ad looked forward to this all year. NOW, I'd be able to distance myself from the others and really ...

My "needs" reports from ebird showed that NOTHING was showing that I didn't already have. What to do? Should I select some likely spots and just go watch and wait?

June 14 All spring I'd figured I'd gotten all the ducks for the year. Not so! Rare bird in eastern Bay county. That's only a couple hours east. A dip here wouldn't hurt as bad and the flycatcher at Grand Marais! I arrived early on Monday morning. what a weird looking site. No birders, just a little dock and a slow river. I glassed the water and saw a large, dark bird fly upstream. Please let that not be my target!!! Another birder arrived and watched me hanging off the dock, holding the piling with one hand and holding my binoculars in the other. "I'm Robert Lawshe." as he extended his hand. "I'm Terry", reluctant to look away from the water. "You're number one!" he exclaimed. "So far!" I replied. A familiar theme presented itself as I wondered how else to bird this little boat launch. Once again, the familiar feeling of being unfamiliar with my locale. Robert wasn't familiar there either, although, as I tempted fate and dangled off the dock he called "there is a boardwalk over here!" Well, that's handy! I opened the car to get my scope when he called "the suck is HERE!" I grabbed the scope and fairly hurtled up the slope to the boardwalk and a couple other birders arrived. The bird was very photogenic and allowed us lots of clear views. Turns out this bird would offer good views for weeks!

#287 Black-bellied whistling duck

As we glassed the area, I mentioned to Robert that I still needed snowy egret this year. He told me a sure thing was just a few miles east in Tuscola County. Just don't tell Marie Rust that I told you!! Sheesh... this was becoming a real drama movie! I told him "Tell Marie Rust HI for me when you see her!"

Robert's "sure thing" wasn't. I saw some terrific birds but no SNEG.

Rare bird in Macomb County as well. This one was trying to blend in with its similar cousins at St. Clair Metropark. It wasn't even close to "on the way" but, since i was on the east side of Michigan, go for it! Robert had given me a pretty good idea where to look once I got to the park. I drove to the site, took off my socks and shoes, set out a lawn chair, and studied the nesting colony of double-crested cormorants across the lake. The colony was made of several dozen (maybe hundreds) nesting big, grunting birds.Each bird was black with a hooked bill which was agape in the hot afternoon sun. My job now was to pick out the ONE that didn't have a big red gular sac and had a fine white line separating the face from the beak. This bird would be a little smaller than its cousins and have a somewhat longer tail. I munched on some snacks and water, looking at each face... on - by - one... After what seemed like an eternity, trying to ignore the strange stares from the normal people, I found my bird, in the top right quadrant of the colony, standing out so obviously now that I had found it!

#288 Neotropic Cormorant

It would be easier to write this only about the success and adventure. I'm learning that dips are a huge part of birding. I drove to Washtenaw County for a yellow-crownded-night-heron "on the way" home. It was kind of a dumpy park, a little scetchy, though, the birding was pretty good! I'd read the ebird report for this night-heron and was fairly dubious of its ID. I did my due-diligence, though. Turned one corner and thought I had it, but turned out to be a green heron.

June 17: I turned 59 years old yesterday! This year's Big Year has, in some ways, made me young again. Anxiously watching ebird for rarities, ready to drive as far as necessary to find a bird. Also, this quest has reminded me of how 59 years can make a body less... resilient. Lack of sleep seems to affect me more than it did when I was thirtysomething.

But, in June, my time is my own. Late on my birthday a report came on ebird and mich-listers facebook page that there was a Mississippi Kite in Washentaw County! A what? where? Okay, off we go at first light! 2 1/2 hours later I'm pulling up to a park and trail system that's obviously make for light use. There's no parking area; as I approached, I saw cars lining the gravel road shoulders. I jumped out of the car and jokingly said to an older couple, "This must be the place!" (I'm such a Boomer). "Well, it WAS", answered the man. It was like a punch to the gut. I don't know this place and the bird has moved. I shouldered the tripod and scope, binoculars, and camera and set out on the closest trail I saw. The bird had been showing around trail marker 7. No sooner had I started my march when I realized this very loud sound, which I initially took for highway noise, was permeating the forest. The trees were full of this overwhelming BZZZZZZZ. I had been aware that certain parts of the Midwest would experience a 17-year cicada hatch in 2021 but I was unaware that Lower Michigan was included! These huge "flies" were dropping from the sky, making the trail a carpet of dead and dying insects. The constant barrage of sound, along with the realization that I was on a completely wrong trail, heightened my anxiety of wasting time and the very real possibility of another long-distance dip. I eventually found a trail marker with a map. Yeah, I had some hiking to do. According to this map, if I'd turned left instead of right at the entrance.... If only...

I was finally on the right trail and checking off marker numbers 10, 9, 8... As I approached 7, I remembered that the old man had said the bird had moved on. That wouldn't be unusual for rarities. They either showed and left or stayed for weeks. I encountered another older couple, dressed in every bird-watcher stereotype; Kahiki from head-t-toe, floppy safari hat, vests with too many random pockets, pants that zipped off into shorts. I asked them if they'd seen the kite. "Oh no dear, is there a rare bird here?" I wondered again what people do that aren't chasing rarities. A pair of men somewhat younger than me (I could tell they were younger because they weren't panting), walked up and the taller man started a conversation, name-dropping top birders left and right. The shorter man was quiet, scanning the surroundings as his taller man attempted to impress his audience. "Is that our bird?" He didn't say much, but when he spoke...! Sure enough, to the west, east? (I had absolutely NO concept of where north was). Anyway, on a dead snag not 50 yards in some direction was a beautiful kite!

#289 Mississippi kite

It took a while to get the older couple on the bird but they finally saw it. I was able to click a few pics and decided I'd inch my was up to the gathering throng closer to the bird. As I shouldered my way to an opening, I heard a collective gasp. I found the opening and a naked branch where the kite had been. Ah, the life of a birder in "full chase mode". I had spotted the bird, nothing more for me here. Turns out the kite stayed for weeks, feasting on cicadas and delighting birders from far and wide.

As long as I'm on the east side of Michigan, I might as well take another shot at a couple of birds in Tuscola County. This route was strangely familiar, just the revere of June 14! I considered how bad my travel history would look to normal people. I felt really blessed that Andrea had signed off on this year and accepted that miles and gasoline were part of the deal. I headed north to the site Robert Lawshe had described as an egret "sure thing". This time, however, Robert's prediction proved true. To the east, feeding with a great egret was..

#290 snowy egret

I was barely half-way through June and only 10 birds short of 300! New goal, 300 in the first 6 months.

Fish Point State Wildlife Area was close-by; just a few miles east. There had been a shorebird there just a single, that I'd missed several times this spring. I arrived at Fish Point and tried to make sense of the trail sign. It looked like I had to trek down the dike into the heart of the marsh. Okay! I was keenly aware, again, that the middle-aged guy was totally unprepared for the journey he was about to undertake... In order to be less "unprepared" I lugged my camera, bins, scope, tripod, and water. The extra weight was dragging at my energy stores soon after I left the road. It was hot in the mid-afternoon sun. I was a long way from Andrea and home and, as was becoming common, humbled by nature again. I questioned the time spent away, the miles and miles racked up on the odometer, the amount of gasoline I'd purchased since New Year's Day. Some splashing in the canal snapped me out of my self-pitty drama. A mother river otter and her two half-grown babies were playing and chasing one another in the shallows. As I continued along the dike, mother otter stayed with me grunting and grumbling all the way. I was about dead-center on the marsh at this point. I'd stopped to glass the reeds by some open water. There's the target, 40 yards left flying right-to-left. Long, two-tone, upturned bill, mottled brown-and-tan body...

#291 Marbled godwit


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