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  • Writer's pictureTerry Grabill

Michigan Big Year Part 24: July 29 and 30

I'd never been to Michigan's NE Lower Peninsula before, which is kind of surprising for an outdoorsy guy in his late 50s who's lived in the state his entire life! I set out on July 29 to correct this. My plan was to drive east and turn north and drive along the coastline to Mackinac Bridge then head south to pick up the interior counties. I birded Gladwin, Ogemaw, and Oscoda Counties along the way to Lake Huron. I had anticipated a quiet stay at Harrisville State Park. I had guessed wrong...again. There were precious few sites available. I managed to find a site right on the shoreline, wedged between two families with travel trailers. They watched as I drove in, probably wondering why I had no camper...and why I was not getting a tent set up. As I made up my bed in the back seat of the truck, they went back to staring at their campfires. I wonder why a fire is an expected part of camping? I wonder just how many tiny fires were burning in Harrisville SP? I wonder how many fires were burning next to a tent or travel trailer in Michigan right at that time? It's amazing what a person wonders when they're out on the road on their own. I grabbed a hot shower, climbed into the truck and contorted myself into a reasonable sleeping position and slept fitfully until daybreak.

July 30. Not many were stirring when I went to the bathhouse to brush my teeth. A few early risers were out lighting the obligatory fires. My neighbor, wrapped in a blanket, sat watching me as I arranged the truck for the day, the skunky smell of cannabis wafted my way as he enjoyed his wake-n-bake. I headed north to find coffee and birds.

Alpena has some terrific marsh birding spots. I selected a hotspot from eBird and made my way to Partridge Point Park. It was not much of a park, but very birdy. The broken sandstone flats that lead to the water was partly flooded, reminding me of birding Gull Harbor on Beaver Island. The birding was grand. I only stayed about an hour because I had a lot of ground to cover before I returned home but I recorded over thirty species in that short time. As I sloshed by way back to the truck, I heard a strange finch call. I thought I knew the call so I checked the Merlin bird ID app and confirmed I was hearing a finch that I'd dipped on countless times since New Years. Not to find the bird! The calls came from a tall black spruce but I could not see the birds! As usual, I wished Andrea was with me to calm me down when my excitement, anxiety, and, sometimes, panic overcame my ability to focus. I texted her my position, next to the singing spruce that, apparently, held invisible birds. She talked me down via text and my breathing came back to normal as one drab little finch flew from the spruce to a dead twig out in the open. It was yellowish-olive with dark streaking overall. White wing-bars and a strange crossed beak left no doubt...

# 303 White-winged crossbill

I'd spent more time in Alpena than I had intended and I had a lot of ground to cover as I intended to make it home that night. I birded southeastern Presque Isle County ( I wonder what Presque Isle means?) at the old Presque Isle lighthouse. Again I wondered what the normal people though of this lone middle-aged guy with binoculars was doing climbing the lighthouse and stalking through the surrounding forests. Finding a good crop of warblers, that's what! As I left the park, I drove by a group of motorcycles that had followed me north from Alpena. One carried a questionable inflatable person that appeared to be a Freddie Mercury model. I made it home before dark after adding one bird species and seven counties to my Big Year list.

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