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Michigan Revisited, July 2017

Part 7: Huron National Forest

All photographs ©2017 by Mary Beth Stowe

Anyway, headed to Mio after that, and decided to scout the dirt roads instead of the scenic drive; even though I did get Kirtland’s Warbler on it last time, the book says your chances are slim, and I know the dirt roads can be good.  Only problem is, the forests change over the years, and as I found out the hard way today, the tracts which were wonderful last time are way too large now!  Fabulous South River Road didn’t have any warbler habitat, but it looked to be a great birding road, and even at that hour I added Hermit Thrush, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Common Raven to the trip list!  I was late getting to the hotel (wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as I’ll explain later) because I was distracted by butters every five feet:  later perusal of the book would confirm old friends like Mourning Cloak (didn’t need the book for that one J), Red-spotted Purple (nor that one), Dun Skipper, Aphrodite Frit, and a Great Spangled Fritillary that fell in love with me J; Texas friends like Monarch, Red Admiral, and Painted Lady; and best of all, several life butters including Compton Tortoiseshell, Pink-edged Sulphur, and a hapless Black Dash that had gotten caught by a spider (I think he was still alive – barely – so I counted him…)!  The Sulphur was especially exciting because I thought they were just Clouded at first (which technically would still be a life butter because I’m not sure I have seen one since getting into it)!

Scenes along South River Road

Great Spangled Fritillary that fell in love with my shoe...

After exploring South River, I took the scenic route to Keely Road, as the book said that was one of the warbler areas, and I must admit that road was pretty dicey going in!  But we shortly did come to a stand of proper Jack Pines, and although I didn’t hear anything then, it’s good to know that that’s the place to include if we want any chance at all of bagging this guy this late in the season.  I also checked out the Wagner Lake area (where it was so good years ago, but that road has become dicey as well), but didn’t see any promising stands on the good roads, so the plan was to go straight to Keely, BBS that stretch, and just explore other roads around there as we could.

Jack Pines along Keely Road (which turned into Evans Road later)

(This was the good part of the road...)

Got to the Ramada Inn where I discovered they were having a big biker’s convention, they didn’t have my room ready yet, and it was on the second floor (although I think I forgot to request the first floor), so I went to the Chinese joint (which was very good) to kill time.  The staff were great, though; the guy even came and helped me with my bags! J

Amazingly I was able to sleep through the band more or less L and was rested when I got up and headed out to Keely Road (the good portion), but not before making a brief stop along the woods out of Grayling pre-dawn, and hit the jackpot with a singing Whippoorwill and a Barred Owl doing a wail just before getting back in the car!  At Keely the usual suspects were tuning up:  Hermit Thrushes were out the yin yang as were Ovenbirds, and had this really weird call that I recorded and tried to get the perp to come out, but when three grosbeak-like things shot over the road, I figured it was one of those odd sounds that a Rose-breasted Grosbeak makes. 

Upon reaching the Kirtland’s Warbler area I slowed down enough to listen out both sides of the window.  A guy with some hound dogs came by and said he and his buddies were hunting bear (!) but also cottoned me onto some other warbler roads, so I was very grateful!  It turns out I was planning on checking those roads anyway, and this one unnamed road had great habitat, but the only warblers singing were Nashvilles!  A Black-capped Chickadee was cooperative for a movie, and some Ravens were caterwauling like no one’s business!  In some of the tall piney areas a Pine Warbler actually came in, and some Red-breasted Nuthatches were also making some odd noises and bopping all around!  That road met up with the road that winds up in McKinley, but it went through some great habitat similar to South River Road (which we crossed) and picked up Chestnut-sided Warbler, among other things.  At the end of the road was an access to the Au Sable River, which was gorgeous, but also added a handful of birds to the day list, including White-throated Sparrow and Eastern Phoebe!

"Heppy" in the Habitat

Deeper woodland along McKinley Road

Au Sable River near the end of McKinley Road

Once on the paved road I took the “Jack Pine Tour” loop to Summers, but stopped at the designated stops on the way; some great KIWA habitat had no warblers, but the Au Sable Overlook was stupendous (I just don’t remember driving in and hiking a little trail last time; I thought it was right along the main road for some reason…)!

Au Sable River from the overlook

Summers Road was another spot the guy told me about, so I took that to Mack Lake Road back up to the pavement and then, after some debate, headed over to Fowler and went south.  Boy am I glad I did that, as we came to some absolutely perfect KIWA habitat, and by golly, there he was, singing away!  Thankfully he sang once for the recorder, but then shut up after that, so I was pleased as punch; you only need one sample!

Mack Lake

Where the Kirtland's Warbler sang!

Continue to Hiawatha National Forest

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