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Michigan, May 2002

Part 5: Muskegon State Park

All photographs ©2002 by Mary Beth Stowe

Made a change of plans after I downloaded the Michigan RBA and saw that several Harris' Sparrows had been seen in nearby Muskegon State Park! It turned out to be a beautiful morning and a beautiful drive in (gawked at the fancy homes the whole way), albeit quite nippy. The gate to Snug Harbor was still closed when I got there, so I parked in the headquarters lot and just walked in, which was fine, because I wanted to check out every inch of the place I could, and the habitat certainly looked perfect: a stretch of woodland with a lot of leaf litter and scattered tangles, and there were indeed lots of Whiteys around and several White-throateds as well. The light was perfect, and several things came out for pictures, including Catbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a very cooperative Lincoln's Sparrow! Even the skulky House Wren finally made a show! Making my way towards the marsh added Yellowthroat and another big bunch of Mute Swans, and on the way back to the car several Palm Warblers fed on the ground. By the time I got back they had opened the gate, so I wanted to drive in and park closer to the trail head I discovered in order to give that a whirl. Took me awhile to get to the car, though, cuz several more Whiteyes and Chippies were feeding on the lawn, so I snuck over to the pines, only to have a Clay-colored Sparrow jump up into one of the trees! Trying to get a closer look, only Chippies came out at point blank, and in the grove itself a Red-breasted Nuthatch practically landed on me.


L-R:  White-crowned Sparrow, Yellowthroat, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Lincoln's Sparrow, Veery


L-R:  Catbird, Mute Swan (an "exotic" from Europe that has colonized the Great Lakes), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


Snug Harbor housed Chipping Sparrows and Palm Warblers

This time the office was open by the time I finally got back to the car, so I purchased an annual pass (whoever rents this car after me will get a bonus...) and wheeled back into Snug Harbor. There are several trails in the park, but since the sparrows were specifically reported from this area, I wanted to concentrate on this trail, which I believe is called the Devil's Kitchen trail. And what a trail: stuff was seeping constantly, and at the first intersection the place was alive with sparrows! I ended up just sitting for about ten minutes (within that space a hiker, a ranger, and a couple letting their dog illegally run--and I do mean run--loose went by...too bad the latter two didn't meet up...). Even the dog didn't seem to bother the birds, though, as they kept about their business: mostly Whitethroats and some Whitecrowns, but alas no Harris'. Also picked up a friendly Magnolia Warbler in here, plus both Blue-headed and Yellow-throated Vireos. Wood Thrushes were not only doing their standard songs and call notes, but utilizing single parts of their song as calls (if that makes any sense); I had never heard them do that before! At another resting spot enjoyed a female Towhee doing the famous "Towhee Shuffle", a chickadee practically landing on my lap, and four kinds of woodpeckers all going at once!  Both Black-throated Greens and Blues (for real this time) were singing as well. Around the bend the trail started going uphill, so I opted to take a side trail out towards the marsh, where I nearly stepped on a Pileated Woodpecker on a dead log! He took off, of course, but landed again on another big log at a safer distance. A pair of Least Flycatchers flitted around, and an Indigo Bunting sang from atop one of the trees. From the edge of the marsh I found a swan on a nest, a pair of Gadwall, plus a Great Blue Heron and several Yellowthroats, and in the distance, a circling Osprey!



Fiddleneck grew around Snug Harbor (view from Devil’s Kitchen Trail)


L-R:  Pileated Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Mute Swan on nest, White-throated Sparrow

Ken had insisted that I check out the Muskegon sewage ponds, and after seeing a report of a Hudsonian Godwit there, I wanted to make sure I had enough time to spend there before having to head for Cadillac, so I gave up on the Harris' (but was thrilled with everything else I saw) and headed out. When I finally found the place, went straight away up onto the main dike, where I was blown away, both literally and figuratively: not only was the wind screaming at gale force, but I think these things can accurately be called sewer "lakes", not ponds! They were huge, with plenty of whitecaps! And Ken warned me not to drive on the center dike because of nesting gulls; I saw his point! The place was thick with 'em!


Gull mob at Muskegon Wastewater Facility (yes, every birding trip has to include a sewer pond...)!  An Eared Grebe (a vagrant in Michigan) was also hanging out there, as well as the abundant Red-winged Blackbirds

Actually, I didn't get much action until I wheeled around to the back side, where the landfill was also attracting gulls; just Ring-billed and Herring that I could pick out (I noticed that the shade of yellow on the bills on these Herrings appears to be a deeper golden than the ones that show up in San Diego, in addition to their backs appearing a shade darker; that could have been due to the fact that these were breeding and ours are wintering). But just short of the "nesting dike" several things were taking shelter from the wind: a few Shovelers, lots of Ruddy Ducks, some scaup in the distance (couldn't tell which type), and the real prize: an Eared Grebe! (Actually, that was on the RBA, too, but I had forgotten about it--when you come from a place that's dripping with Eared Grebes you tend to kinda gloss over it...) The next pond was a little calmer, and on the "home stretch" picked up Bufflehead and three closer scaup that I suspected were Greater: the heads looked awfully rounded, and both females had a paler cheek patch. Then one of the ladies sat up and flapped, revealing a nice long wing stripe. A Ring-necked Duck came floating in as well. In the ditches were more ducks, including Blue-winged Teal, and a big hen Turkey was on the hill opposite! A very yellow Savannah Sparrow tried unsuccessfully to stay out of the wind on the dike itself.

Nearing the end of the route I was wondering where in the world anyone could have found a godwit (much less any other shorebird) when I suddenly stumbled upon an almost empty pond, rather hidden away! Couldn't find a godwit, but did add Killdeer, Dunlin, and Least and Spotted Sandpiper to the list here. Another low pond down the road had a rather large group of Dunlin along with more gulls and ducks. Bank Swallows were everywhere, and I noticed that they had Tree Swallow nest boxes on the telephone poles lining the now empty auxiliary ponds!


Scenes along the trail at Hardy Dam with Tree Swallow (left)

Got done with that with time to spare, so checking out the BBB I decided to stop at the Hardy Dam Nature Trail along the Muskegon River on the way to Cadillac. You get a great view of the river and actually walk along the road before dipping down behind the dam, where I added Purple Finch to the trip list. Found an overlook down by the river (got my exercise coming back up that hill), and discovered that, after 15 minutes of walking, that's where the trail really started! Well, I was pooped, so I rested for five, picking up a singing Carolina Wren in the meantime, and spotting a Sharp-shinned Hawk doing loops in the air with his lunch.


Road to the actual trailhead led to the Muskegon River  

Headed up to Cadillac for the weekend after that; a delightful little place!

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