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  • Writer's pictureTerry Grabill

Michigan Big Year Part 23: July 18 and 19

Now that 300 was accomplished, I had set my eyes on catching counties that I'd missed or skipped in my efforts to build the list.

July 18 Andrea and I had returned home from birding through the fence at the Fremont Wastewater facility when a report of a sandpiper I'd missed this spring popped up in Allegan County. It was evening, but sunset came late and a 90 minute drive would put me there at about dusk. I wasn't thrilled with that idea but waiting for morning put me in grave danger of missing this bird again. With under two hours before dark I set off, planning a good half hour of light left at the site. I arrived with the sun low on the western horizon. One car was parked at the site which I took as a good sign. I would need to find this bird fast! Next to the car was Tim Cornish! He and his young son were not having any luck finding this bird. To the south was the mud flat where several least sandpipers, killdeer, and spotted sandpipers were foraging under great blue herons. As we glassed the field, peeps came and went. I made my way east to get a look at the part of the mud that we couldn't see from the road. I could see the whole field, but even with a spotting scope, the mud was too distant to make out any birds in the fading light. Tim and his son left to check some other nearby fields and I made myself comfortable for the late-evening stakeout. Least sandpiper flight calls are unique and I'd heard them coming and going in the time I'd been there but there was also killdeer calls and spotted sandpipers to add to the flights. Another call that I was not that familiar with joined from just over the brush lining the ditch between me and the mud. This part of the field was not visible from my vantage point. As sunset gave way to twilight, the leasts set to the air at once. As they flew past, another, larger sandpiper joined them. Very long-legged, long, drooping beak and barred breast. This was the bird I'd come to see.

#301 Stilt sandpiper

July 19, Rare heron reported in Bay City! I'd gotten the report while chasing the STSA. Knowing that I was 1.5 hours SW of home, and that Bay City is 2 hours east of home, I had zero chance that day. So, I left home early on the 19th heading east to Bay City State Park. Robert Lawshe checked in on the What's App rare bird chat that he was on the bird while I was still an hour out. Someone on the bird in the morning as I'm less than an hour away is a good feeling. Maybe my nerves would stay unfrazzled this time! As I drove past the state park gate, I saw what seemed to be an endless beach. The bird was supposed to be on the beach by the boardwalk. That would be very useful information if I had known where on this beach the boardwalk was. I reached out to Robert by phone. He was still on site and, while the heron was out of his sight, he'd meet me by the location he'd seen it last. I was glad to have a familiar face and, if necessary, a witness to a rarity sighting. We met on the beach and walked together to the boardwalk where another birder stood with his spotting scope. White herons are not hard to pick out, even at a distance. There it stood, on a dead branch, fairly glowing against the green foliage background.

#302 Cattle egret

Robert and I birded the beach a little more from there, finding Bonaparte's gulls, sandpipers, and a very photogenic snowy egret.

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