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  • Writer's pictureTerry Grabill

Michigan Big Year Part 4: February 1-24

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

The second month of my big year has been a time where it has become obvious that new birds are going to be hard-fought. Weekends have become targeted on rarities and weekdays frustrating as I watch eBird report findings that I have no chance at unless I quit my job...or hope they'll stick around until the weekends.

Feb. 1: Brennan and I took a trip to White Lake Channel to scope ducks and Gulls. The duck show was pretty spectacular, gulls less so. No new birds.

Feb. 6: After another work week of no new birds, I set out for Muskegon and birded the wastewater and Channel. again... no new birds.

Feb. 7: Afternoon I drove to Croton to see if I could make one of the redpolls into a hoary. I'd seen a nice flock there in January and, with all the hoary redpoll reports in Michigan, I figured at least ONE of them had to be a frosty fellow! No such luck, but I did add a bird at a feeder by the Consumer's Energy drive by the dam!

93. Pine Siskin

Andrea and I drove to Fremont in an attempt to catch a hoary redpoll at the feeder of a friend who'd shown me a picture of a whitish redpoll they'd been seeing. My friend, Lynn, had moved her car for us and we sat glassing her porch and finally...

94. Hoary Redpoll

After, we went home and watched Tampa Bay beat up on Kansas City in the Super Bowl.

This week was parent-teacher conferences at FMS. I watched my ranking in the Michigan Big Year stats drop daily...I had once been close to the 30s...

Feb. 13. Brennan and I hot the road early to head north. Barrow's Goldeneye had been seen in Manistee and Cackling Goose just NW of Traverse City. Our route took us past Dublin so we swung by the bunkhouse to see if we could catch a red-headed woodpecker. No luck! but we stopped in to the Dublin General Store to get some jerky for the road.

Manistee: The location described on eBird for the BAGO sighting didn't look promising to me. The marina was mostly frozen with a few pockets of open water maintained by bubblers. We saw a tight cluster of Common goldeneye with a few Mute swans. As we were glassing them, looking for the crescent white patch of a Barrow's, the flock took to the wing...argh....but, they flew only a few hundred meters and touched down in another opening in the ice. My partner and I hoofed it to the new site where we found hundreds of mallards, redheads, scaup, and goldeneyes. A passer-by asked if we'd seen the Barrow's and assured us that he was still there, just be patient! Bren calle out "I've got him!" and the birds took off back to the original opening. We rushed back to where we could scope the open water and, after only a few moments of staring down every goldeneye, THERE! He floated slowly into and across the field of view of my spotting scope!

95. Barrow's Goldeneye (last seen by me in 2014)

We continued north to Traverse City and stopped at several hotspots in town. Picked up a couple new birds that would have been easy in summer. In Grand Traverse Bay we saw rafts of hundreds of redheads.

96. Double Crested Cormorant

97. Lesser Scaup

Feb. 16. Snow Day. Took Andrea to the Dr. in the morning, got a call from our daughter, Caitlin, on the way home asking for help as she was stuck in her driveway. We drove to Hesperia to help, she was rescued before we got there, we turned toward home for Ann to rest. On our way, she noticed birds in the intersection of 24th and Baldwin Ave.

98. Lapland Longspur

Feb. 17. Andrea had been suspicious that many of the birds we'd had at our feeders were not just house finches, that many of the males had much less streaking and a more raspberry color. Indeed!

99. Purple Finch

Feb 20. Mid-winter break came that weekend. Huge opportunity to play some catch-up birding! I'd met a birder from Florida a couple of years ago who happened to be the brother-in-law of an old friend of my Dad's. He was going to be up visiting on Saturday and wondered if I'd take time to bird with him along the lakeshore. We started early and I hoped we could at least pick up a cackling goose at the Muskegon Wastewater. We saw some birds that Bill (Kaempfer) was excited about. Apparently, snowy owl and rough-legged hawk aren't that common in FL! At Muskegon channel we got some good ducks and swans, but nothing new for my year list

Sunday. off early in the morning to Michigan's UP! Just me, Andrea and our dog, Izzy. After stopping to take our pictures with the blue ice of the Straights of Mackinac, we scoured the Eastern UP for Sharp-tailed grouse. We went to at least a dozen sites on eBird where the grouse had been seen in the last week. We stopped, glassed, waited and drove hundreds of miles back-and-forth and we arrived in Sault Ste. Marie close to dark. No grouse, no new ducks, no additions. Got take-out, found out that grouse had been seen where we had been, went to bed early. In the morning, after a run-in with hotel management and police involvement, we went west to Hulbert Bog. What a beautiful place. Anticipation was high for boreal birds like Spruce Grouse, Canada Jay, and, dare I hope?, Northern Hawk Owl. Chickadees and Ravens. The silence there was deafening! The most peaceful place I can remember being. Maybe if we drove north, toward Whitefish Point, we'd catch some crossbills! We returned home Monday evening after some great alone time with Izzy with my list stuck at 99.

Feb 23. Now 2 months after the solstice, days are getting longer! There's at least 3 hours of daylight after school lets out. I grabbed Brennan and set out after a Red-throated Loon and King Eider in St. Joseph, just above the Indiana border. We made it there in two hours, found the site, and scoured the channel for bird # 100. What a great variety of ducks! Scaup, goldeneye, redheads, canvasbacks, all three scoters, mallards, gulls...but where was the Eider? What about the Loon? Thanks to the studying Bren had done on the drive down, we were able to quickly get herring and ring-billed gulls, a great black-backed gull and

100. Lesser Black-backed Gull (I had hoped the century mark would have not been a gull) (life bird)

We continued to glass the channel and got buffleheads and Shovelers along with some Mute Swans. We helped a nice lady to identify several ducks. Bren was talking her through an ID when I GOT IT!

101. King Eider (another bird last seen by me in 2014)

Feb. 24. As I mentioned, I had recently noticed that there was enough daylight after school to get to most places in the LP before dark. Just so happens that White-fronted geese were found only 30 miles west of Fremont! Andrea and I left right after school and found a flock of Canada geese in a corn field near the reported site. We scoped and scoped and I saw a flash of white that had to be a snow goose wing. Sure enough, about 28 snow geese, 8 of which were the dark phase Blue Goose! and, just to the right...

102. Greater White-fronted Goose.

On our way back to Fremont, we stopped by a campground and watched the tops of spruce trees, hoping against hope..wait, is that? really?

103. Red Crossbill

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