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Michigan, May 2002

Part 4: Allegan State Game Area

All photographs ©2002 by Mary Beth Stowe

I had heard such wonderful things about Allegan State Game Area, so I was rather bummed to wake up to the sound of rain (although the thunder was fun). Thanks to a map and pointers from Ken, I headed on over despite the water, determined to bird from the relative dryness of the car if nothing else. Lake Allegan itself was devoid of birds, but the common things were singing and calling from the parking areas, as well as the day's only Wood Thrush across the lake. On the way to headquarters we crossed Swan Creek, a recommended stop, but since it was still raining I just sat for five and listened; best bird was a singing Hooded Warbler, in addition to a Blue-winged. Proceeded on to the headquarters where the nice man in charge gave me a bigger map and pointed out more good birding spots, so with the use of his highlighter we marked out an auto route. Back out in the parking area, it was still spitting a little, but managed to add Butterbutt, Blackburnian Warbler, and Blue-headed Vireo to the list!


Yellow-rumped Warbler (aka "Butterbutt") at Lake Allegan

I had noticed a trailhead just before the headquarters, and according to the map they do have quite an extensive trail system. It had actually let up some, so decided to hike this trail which at first went straight down the hill before T-ing with the trail that goes along Swan Creek Pond. Least Flycatchers were all over the place, and a pretty Veery popped up from a tangle near the shore. A curious Red-eyed Vireo came in close as well, and a pair of Canada Geese noisily drove off a rival in the middle of the pond (which is actually more like a small lake). Something sang from the pines across the way that I suspect was a Pine Warbler (it was a very dry, rapid trill), but I'm still not sure I could tell it from Chipping Sparrow, so I let that one go.

Trail to Swan Creek Pond

Headed south after that, to another crossing of Swan Creek that was recommended. Parking up at the top of the hill, rather than taking the main trail I walked along the road and crossed the bridge to the little trail along the creek; heard Golden-winged Warbler and Northern Waterthrush in here, but it started raining again so I hightailed it back to the car...

Heading west after that I just stopped every mile and listened, getting out only when it was relatively dry. The roads were a mess, though, with lots of big puddles to drive through; after that thread on rental cars, I know Alamo's not gonna be too happy with me (to say nothing of "Kenny the Kar")! Heard Ovenbirds at almost every stop, and at one point three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were drinking from one of these puddles, as well as lots of Chipping Sparrows, and a knock-out Baltimore Oriole landed on a little shrub practically next to the car! One stop had a Prairie Warbler doing a more typical song, and in the open fields (where in fall I guess geese gather there by the thousands) picked up Eastern Meadowlark and Horned Lark. Surprisingly had no raptors out here (had a Blue Jay doing a pretty good Red-shouldered Hawk, though...)! Pheasants crowed occasionally, and practically ran over a pair of Turkeys at one point!


Baltimore Oriole along one of the messy roads in the game area...

Nothing much was at the campground (was still dripping by this point), so headed up to a field where the guy said they had Henslow's Sparrows. By this time the rain had pretty much quit, but a horrendous wind came to take its place! Needless to say I didn't add much on this leg of the trip, but in some sheltered areas had nice looks at Field Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, and a Yellow Warbler. In the windbreaks had White-crowned Sparrows and a singing Eastern Bluebird, plus an Eastern Kingbird on a wire, hanging on for dear life!

Zigzagged up to Old Allegan Road, where the local mail-lady's jeep was having some problems, so after letting her use my phone to call for help I hiked a little of the trail heading to the Ottawa Marsh Unit. Didn't make it that far, but at the resting spot a flock of Butterbutts came in, along with a single Nashville and Black-throated Green, and a little later a stunning Golden-winged! (I guess that was God's "jewel" for helping the mail lady out...J) A male Scarlet Tanager came down for a look, and Ovenbirds were very common and cooperative along this trail, too.


L-R:  "Kenny the Kar" (my rental) on Old Allegan Road, Chipping Sparrow, and trail to the Ottowa Marsh Unit


Old Allegan Road looking northwest, and Swan Creek

From there headed over to the Kalamazoo River trailhead, and here the sun actually peeked out! And as soon as I stepped out of the car I was surrounded by Cerulean Warblers! Once on the trail I was also surrounded by mosquitoes, but the knock-out look I had at one male Cerulean was worth it! A Belted Kingfisher yelled at me from the river, and a Redstart duetted with the Ceruleans, but that was the extent of the excitement.

Zigzagged around the river in order to get to another Swan Creek access the guy told me about, but on the way passed that first crossing where it was raining earlier, so since it was sunny, decided to hike the trail this time. Ken had told me this was a good place for Prothonotary and Worm-eating Warblers (at least I think this was the spot), but the first new bird I heard singing at the little boardwalk was a Louisiana Waterthrush! Shortly he started piking from the shore, and after a little pishing he came rushing in, bobbing his whole rear end like a Spotted Sandpiper in slow motion! Also got a pair of gnatcatchers excited, but what should also come within kissing distance but a male Chestnut-sided Warbler! A Hairy Woodpecker peeked from the opposite shore as well; seeing as that's strictly a high mountain bird where I come from, it was rather incongruous having that next to a waterthrush (and the southern one at that)!


L-R:  Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-winged Warbler, and Chestnut-sided Warbler

A little further along the trail a beautiful Blue-winged Warbler came close for pictures, and on the way back I was trying to spot one of the frogs I kept scaring into the water, when I suddenly noticed a twitching snake! Then what I thought was the tail was actually the head of a smaller individual; it was a mating pair! Since I didn't bring my herp book with me, I had no idea what they were at the time. But after finally getting my hands on one at Seney NWR my best guess is Northern Water Snake.


Mating Northern Water Snakes


Dam at Swan Creek

Had to head to Grand Haven after that (and thankfully, the gas station I stopped at in Holland had a car wash... J)!

Continue to Muskegon State Park

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