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  • Terry Grabill

Michigan Big Year Part 25: July 31-August 1 Keep Your Phone Handy

I love Andrea's family, especially her parents. Words cannot describe how much I respect these two. So, out of respect, I try to leave my phone in the car when we spend time with them. Who wants to visit with a guy who's tied to his phone?

July 31 was one of those visits. We'd spent the afternoon at the Potters. After, we drove home and, only then, I checked the rare bird reports. Birders around Michigan had been watching for another Gulf Coast specialty like the spoonbill. Wood stork had been reported as far north as Ohio and even once on Michigan's west coast near me. The MI report had been a fly-over heading north along the coast. We all knew it was just a matter of time before it was found in a marsh somewhere. At 7:30 I checked What'sApp and, sure enough, my friend Brian Allen had found it! In Ludington! A little over an hour away. We had just been half-way there while we were at the in-law's house...

Now, should I scramble through my home duties and race to Ludington in fading light? Or wait for morning in hopes it will stick around? This was only the sixth record of wood stork in MI ever...I couldn't afford to miss it! Besides, Marie Rust had gotten the bird while we ate at Andrea's folk's place. It was a great #300 bird for her. As happy as I was for her, I couldn't lose this one!

I got my chores done, kissed Andrea and raced against dark to get to the bird. Ignoring speed limits, I drove like a man-on-a-mission, having a close call with a black bear along the way. Google maps put me there as the sun set. Again, Andrea was working with me to calm me down as I realized light would be gone soon. By twilight, I searched. Then by headlight I searched. the bird was roosting somewhere (storks roost, right?). "Be patient", Andrea said. Then, with absolutely no light left, I resigned myself to another dip. "Just go back in the morning", she said. Have I mentioned that I have the most supportive spouse imaginable?

August 1 was Sunday. I have responsibilities at church on Sunday Morning, but not until 11:00 on this Sunday. I was racing NW before light to either get this bird or another grand dip. Either way, I was at Ludington at dawn. 30 minutes out and Amy Lyyiski reported the bird was showing right where it was the day before. Had I overlooked a huge, white bird on Saturday night? Probably.

As I arrived at the scene, Amy was just ready to leave. I had met Amy once before chasing the black vulture with Tim Cornish in Allegan County. She put her window down as called "you're Amy, right?" She said "yes, and you're Terry! You're having a Big Year, aren't you?" I don't think notoriety will ever seem normal to me. I hope they all know that I'm in first place only because the real hot-shot birders are not doing a big year in 2021! In any case, Amy told me the bird is just ahead in a flooded ditch...right where I had been looking the previous evening. I gazed into the ditches on BOTH sides of the road...nothing... Alright, anxiety time! I reached the hill at the end of the ditched part with a sinking feeling in my gut. As I started up the hill, I noticed a little pond... and in the pond was..

#304 Wood stork

I came to a fast stop, opened the door, stood on the running board and quickly snapped of a photo. I was NOT going to take any chances! After turning around as the nearest driveway, I made my way back to the pond, camera at the ready. The pond was empty! Well, that was not much of a sighting, but as least I had a decent photo for proof! As I pulled away from the pond, I saw the bird had moved across the road into the ditch where it had been seen Saturday and that morning. The bird was unfazed by me snapping picture after picture.

I made it back to Hesperia in plenty of time for Sunday morning service.

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