By Terry Grabill
This is the fifth in a series chronicling the efforts by Terry Grabill to follow a dream kindled by a love for birding and the inspiration drawn from the book and movie The Big Year.
Links to his first four installments can be found at the end of the article.
By the tail-end of February, eBird had me flirting with top 10 in Michigan and I had nearly all of the expected birds. I found myself checking the rare bird reports several times a day, hoping for birds that seemed to be stationed and in striking distance after school or on the weekends. It had been a long time since I'd picked up a bird driving to or from work, but on Feb 25, I found one gliding over the road after filling the tank with gasoline.
104. Sharp-shinned hawk
Feb 27. Brennan and I drove to Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery. Helping him get driving time in toward his driver's license has been good for both of us! I'm a much safer highway birder when I'm not behind the wheel! The birds were great at the hatchery, lots of ducks and a few geese. Picked up two new birds.
105. American coot
We continued into the city of Kalamazoo to find the resident falcons. I wasn't prepared for the food festival (chili, I think) along with the requisite crowds. We got some strange looks as we glassed the 5/3 bank building with our bins, looking for the nest box. A few people made comments about our strange birding location, but were genuinely interested in our quest. Feeling frustrated and out of ideas, I was getting cranky. Brennan suggested we climb to the top of a parking structure next to the bank building to get a better view. Sure enough, we found a great view of the nesting structure! Now we waited...and scanned. We had the expected pigeons and house sparrows as well as some Canada geese flying over the city. We commented that we should have brought lunch with us and enjoyed a picnic while we waited. Scanning the horizon, we spotted a hawk and,
107. Turkey vulture
And we waited some more, constantly scouring ledges and the horizon. Neither of us cherished the idea of dipping on the falcon, especially since we'd waited over an hour and we were so near the nest. I focused my bins on the structure, just hoping against hope that we'd not go away empty when, from the side, one falcon came flying in to perch in front of the nest.
108. Peregrine falcon
We watched the bird as its mate came in and perched near it. They flew and soared circles around the skies above Kalamazoo. One even treated us to a dive (stoop). While it was an unsuccessful dive, watching Earth's fastest animal at top speed was amazing!
I suppose I've gotten a little conditioned to birding without finding many to add to the total. And, I suppose that's okay. Helping my young friend pick up a life bird is more important than racking up numbers. Although... the numbers are hard to ignore. I knew there was a teal waiting in Grand Rapids and Riverside Park was on the way home!
109. Blue-winged teal
Mar. 1. The teal in G.R. brought me to the top 10 and I was not anxious to sit out the school-week while I dropped into the teens again. Monday, quick trip to Muskegon Wastewater. I was determined to NOT CHASE birds that would be a gimme later, but... there were green-winged teal there and, perhaps, a cackling goose. I found almost no geese at all (very weird) but got a nice pair of long-tailed ducks and,
110. Green-winged teal.
Mar. 6. I'd never been to Kensington Metropark, one of Michigan's most popular birding destinations before. My first solo trip in a while, Kensington was 2 1/2 hours east. I had absolutely NO IDEA how to bird it, how hard could it be though? Well, at over 700 acres, there were a lot of trails to walk. I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn't see it all in a day. Anyway, I had a general description of where a virginia rail had been seen earlier in the week and VIRA (birder code for the rail) is never easy for me to list. I was greeted by extremely tame and friendly sandhill cranes. The sign read "Do Not Feed The Cranes" so, of course, families with young children were anxiously feeding them as much as they would eat! On the way to the trail map, I picked up my first-of-the-year (FOY),
111. Common grackle
The birder that posted the VIRA sighting had told me to look on the aspen trail and not much more as far as detail went. I stopped and searched any likely habitat, even played a recording of the rail's "song". Along the way, families were stopped trail-side with birdseed in-hand, raising their outstretched palms skyward while chickadees, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers ate from their hands. I found one passerine in my search for the rail.
112. Swamp sparrow
In the distance I heard the tremolo call (at noon?) of
113. Eastern screech owl.
I wonder if it was responding to my rail call? I made my way back to the parking lot, ate some fruit and then made another sweep of aspen trail. I was very nearly back to the car again when I stopped at some likely habitat and scoured the dead cattails for the red bill of VIRA. The pictures on facebook showed the tan bird against snow. Today, there was no snow...and the cattails were a perfect match for VIRA colors. Okay, one more try with the "song". I no sooner got to the ka-dik part of the recording when not 3 meters into the marsh came .... wok, wok wok. The unmistakable call of
114. Virginia rail
My route home was side-tracked north of Lansing to Motz Park, where a cackling goose had been seen the previous day. Hundreds of CAGO flew over and were roosting in an old corn field. If only I could find access to somewhere close enough to scope the masses. No such luck. I managed to find my FOY
115. Brown-headed cowbird.
March 7. Sunday. I heard (from the front porch) FOY
116. Eastern meadowlark
March 8. I knew this week would not be a big birding week. My youngest son would be visiting from VA and we'd be meeting his girlfriend for the first time. He wouldn't be arriving until late Monday, though! Several years ago, I'd found a nice flock of migrating blackbirds in a wet field near home. Maybe, since the snow was melting fast, I'd get lucky again!? I'm never one to find luck though...except today! A large flock of mostly red-winged blackbirds was on the meadow. Along with starlings, grackles and cowbirds were mixed in
117. Brewer's blackbird
118. Rusty blackbird
After a quick stop home to see Andrea, I wondered if maybe a walk on Camp Newaygo's Wetland Trail would turn up some migrants. I'm not positive whether red-headed woodpeckers are migratory, but I'd had NO luck finding them in locations where they are abundant in summer. Slogging back to the truck through slushy roads, calling up the hill at the main camp came the call of...
119. Red-headed woodpecker
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