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  • Terry Grabill

Michigan Big Year Part 20; June 28 and July 5

The astute reader of this blog, assuming they exist, will begin to notice "gaps" in the entries that appear to document my sitting back and sipping lemonade. From January until late May, the majority of my efforts, as documented on eBird, have yielded new species. Part 19 was some days ago. I have not been sitting back sipping cold drinks, waiting for rarities to show up. It's become evident that racking up big numbers in summer is tough, especially after the spring I recorded. I was five birds short of my June 30 record and I understood that additional species were not going to come looking for me, birds are found by birders that are in the field looking. So, since June 22 I had recorded several checklists, some with some great birds. New birds, though, were starting to elude me. In April I figured if I could make it through May in a high ranking, I'd be able to establish some distance in summer. Well, now it had been almost a week since the yellow-crowned night-heron.

The reader may remember that in January, I had no idea that I'd be competitive in my Michigan Big Year species count. I was determined that my Big Year had to mean more than just spending a lot of time away, drive a ridiculous amount of miles, and spend an absurd amount of money on gasoline. My Big Year would include a mission of birding in each of the 83 Michigan Counties. What that looked like in documentation remained to be seen. Daryl Bernard is the king (in my mind) of Michigan county birding, Yes, it's a real thing. Daryl has a goal of documenting a list of 100 species in each of the 83 counties. No, not 100 different species. Several species are repeated in many counties. Um, no, my goal was not to be 100 species per county in my Big Year. I decided at LEAST double-digit records in each county was realistic. Early, I discovered that Big Year birding would take me to a handful of counties several times leaving many counties untouched or just driven-through. Summer will be my opportunity to explore these counties that, for one reason or another, are less birdy. Perhaps they're just under birded. June 28 found me, once again travelling north to the eastern UP. I made birding efforts in several northern Michigan interior counties, tallying double-digit lists in areas I'd just driven through earlier in the year.

My UP target (yes, one target for a UP trip) was another grassland sparrow in the Munuscong Potholes region. I knew Marie Rust had picked up this species and I was determined to keep the pace. I found myself in a familiar situation, a dirt road in the middle-of-nowhere. I hadn't been searching long when I noticed a familiar SUV nearby. The auto come closer and its driver walked up to greet me, "Hey Terry, it's Robert Lawshe!" Robert, I'd met while picking up the black-bellied whistling duck and who I'd talked with via text several times. Selfishly, I was happy to have a reputable birder along because this sparrow was not just coming out to greet me. With my sub-par photography skills, I wanted more eyes and ears to witness the effort, assuming we found the bird. We did eventually hear the sparrow clearly, though with no clear views. Fortunately, vocalizations count, especially if you have a good witness. The day was moving right along. It was now close to noon. Robert told me he had ground to cover yet, as did I. I told him I was heading to Whitefish Point to see what was showing. He told me we were going to the same place! We caravanned the couple-hour drive to Paradise, MI where we turned west to a site where spruce grouse had been seen fairly regularly. Long story short...it did no show for us that day. Even at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, nothing remarkable was found. We had not turned up much for our 2021 lists, but I appreciated the company and new-found friendship. Many times I've felt that the personal experiences I've had while birding have far out-shown the birds I've found. Thank you, Robert. It had been a long day and Newaygo was a long drive south yet.

#296 Leconte's sparrow

The end of June came just two days later and my total had not eclipsed 300. Total was now increasing at what seemed to be a snail's pace. 4 species short of my 6-month goal but far above what I'd dare hope for as a year's total when I'd first begun this mission.

July 5, Nope, not just sitting around, despite what this blog would indicate. I'd had a least daily trips afield, many times fairly distant, without new species to record. Andrea would be working at the Lansing office and I set off SE to Point Mouilee in Monroe County. You may remember me mentioning my feelings about this site. I'm told many birders have a love-hate relationship with it. I was still working to achieve one of those emotions. July 5 was hot...I mean hot hot. There is no shade on the marsh and, to my knowledge, no way to take a vehicle onto the dikes. The rarity was a couple of miles distant into the marsh. It probably wasn't more than 1.5 miles but carrying every optic I had, it might as well have been 10. Bloody Run Unit was the site. If I had been able to manage a chuckle, I'd have done so at the irony of the name. With a drenched shirt and cap, I found the flock of gulls and terns panting on the mud-flat. The Bonaparte's gulls left the ring-billed gulls behind and took my target with them. But, a sighting is a sighting.

#297 Laughing gull

Besides, I figured, records had indicated that FRGU had been coming and going from this spot so I drank a bunch of water, ate a granola bar and set up to wait. And wait I did...for what seemed like hours. Two other birders showed up in an SUV (really, an SUV? what gives?) They glassed the mud, I told them I'd had the bird. They looked so fresh, having just emerged from an air-conditioned auto. I began my journey back to my car, starting to feel my age and my right leg began to drag in the gravel. My right leg is my permanent reminder of a very close brush with mortality. I'd had my right side torn apart in a cancer surgery and put back together with parts of my right leg. It's not too much of a bother unless I've over-exerted....like this day. As I continued my march-to-the-car, I heard the SUV approach from my rear. Maybe if I look as pitiful as I feel, they'll offer the old man a ride. They waved as they passed me. I figured if I stopped to rest, they'd find me sometime...perhaps dehydrated and wrinkled like a prune. My optics bag was fairly dragging behind and sweat was pouring from every pore I had. About then I realized that I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. Zero landmarks looked familiar. The SUV had stopped and I imagined these men had had a change of heart and were waiting for me! As I got within a few yards, however, the car drove away. I was too exhausted to feel anything about it.

Finally, I had gotten very close to the stopped SUV again. It wasn't pulling away this time. They were glassing a mud flat. I didn't even look to see what they were studying. As I walked up to the side of the car, the driver gave me a wave. I actually considered climbing into the back seat without the invitation that wasn't forthcoming. I trudged on. I moved to the side of the trail as they passed me again the passenger murmuring "sorry". Did I mention that I was lost? I messaged Andrea telling her I'd be there to get her once I finally found the car....IF I found the car. I didn't have enough signal to load a map of the area, at least not one with my location indicated. Andrea did though, and she got me to a landmark I recognized. Great! only about a mile to go. I approached the parking area apparently looking a little distressed. A man out for a walk asked "Mister, are you alright" "Fine" I gasped.

Have I mentioned my feelings for Point Mouilee are complicated? I can't wait to go back, it's an incredible place. I'd like to walk out of that marsh feeling good about the walk.

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