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Michigan, May 2002

Part 1: Point Mouillee State Game Area

All photographs ©2002 by Mary Beth Stowe

God certainly blessed the flight: getting through security was as smooth as silk (pretty much: I did have to unwrap my laptop and send that through separately). The flight over was uneventful, and weather was great the whole way. (First bird of the trip was a Starling, followed closely by House Sparrow...) Checked into the Sheraton, had a wonderful dinner, and had a nice chat with Allen Chartier to make plans for Monday; he said it might rain and I assured him that if it did, my feelings wouldn’t be hurt if we skipped it! (And he agreed that you don’t want to be walking around on those dikes when it’s raining, particularly during a thunderstorm, because with a scope you turn into a human lightning rod!

Decided to "cheat" and make a dry run to Point Mouillee after I got supplies: it was a gorgeous day and I just hiked a little bit of the dike at the Nelson Unit. Wonderfully productive, I picked up (for the year) Common Grackle (first "eastern bird" of the trip), Cardinal, Blue Jay, "Yellow-shafted" Flicker, Black-capped Chickadee, and a Baltimore Oriole in the songbird department, and along the dike a knock-out Horned Grebe was "this side" of the big gang of Mute Swans hanging out in the bay (even had a second flock fly in)! Forster's Terns fed close by, and at the turnaround point were several Black Terns. Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plovers fed in the old corn field, along with a single Green-winged Teal (a Blue-winged was in the channel), but the real prize was a couple of rival Yellow-headed Blackbirds having it out--state bird! Swallows were diverse, picking up every expected Michigan species except for Cliff!


L-R:  Looking towards headquarters from the Nelson Dike, Northern Cardinal, fuzzy Horned Grebe, Common Tern


L-R:  Incoming Mute Swans, Painted Turtle, guardian Red-winged Blackbird           


Anyway, on the "official" day, Allen met me at the same spot and we headed out under much more overcast conditions (oh, picked up a knock-out Wood Duck on the way in!). A Gadwall was not only new for the trip but for my state list as well, but I had to run back to the car cuz I realized I forgot to lock it (unfamiliar vehicle, you know), and missed Ring-necked Duck and Redhead because of it... But I did catch a Snipe whizzing into the cornfield on the way back to meet Allen! Oh, and he did see some Yellowheads further down, so I felt good about that! A real treat was finding a new Bald Eagle nest over by the headquarters building across the way, with one of the adults carrying a big ol' stick to add to it! Back at the cars a Bobolink flew over for the trip.

Headed down to the end of Roberts Road and the dike along the Lead Unit, stopping for a big bunch of White-crowned Sparrows on the way (hey, it's a trip bird, although even Allen admitted he'd rarely seen so many at once out here). Some vagrants had been reported along this trail, including Avocet, Willet, and an immature Little Blue Heron, and lo and behold we got great looks at the first two (the avocet was particularly cooperative, eventually), but a muddy-legged Snowy Egret made us both wonder if that was indeed the "Little Blue". Allen was pleased with the conditions: he said that it's been awhile since they've had shorebirds in numbers like we had that day, even though they were mostly Lesser Yellowlegs and Dunlin (and I had never seen so many breeding-plumaged Dunlin in my life!). We also had a couple of Greater Yellowlegs, and a few Short-billed Dowitchers and Black-bellied Plovers; among the peeps were both Least and Semipal, and well as more Semipal Plovers. While scanning the distant shore I enjoyed a pair of Canada Geese telling a Herring Gull off... The occasional Caspian Tern sailed by, uttering his grating call. A side trip down to Lake Erie produced a Chimney Swift batting low over the water, but that was about it.


L-R:  Looking for goodies with local expert Allen Chartier, Canada Goose, Dunlin


L-R:  Killdeer, Snowy Egret, Willet, American Avocet; both  this bird and the Willet are vagrants in Michigan

We dragged ourselves back to the car, checking for songbirds in the trees and picking up lots of Yellows (Allen said they were early this year, at least in the numbers they're in), and a couple of Butterbutts and one Nashville. Also had a Catbird and two beautiful little White-throated Sparrows in quick succession; heard a Carolina Wren and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Allen heard a Least Flycatcher, but I didn't catch that one. Warbling Vireos were particularly cooperative (Allen said they hadn't read the book where it said they're supposed to sing from the treetops...). An American Pipit bounced overhead, and Soras whinnied from the reeds as well, which got us into a discussion about the plight of King Rails in the state... Picked up a Field Sparrow while Allen tried to straighten out my rebellious "tri-pack" (one of those things you strap your scope to so you can carry it on your back), and a Swamp Sparrow was less cooperative, shooting from reed to reed and only allowing his "peep" to betray him.


Allen on the Lead Dike             

I had been reciting potential state birds the whole way, so Allen took me to a couple of spots near some fields; picked up Horned Lark at one stop and Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrow at the next, but that was about it as the forecast rain was starting to spit. He then led me over to Willow Run Airport where both meadowlarks could be had (I needed Western for the state, and wound up picking up both for the trip).

After that it was really starting to drip, so I decided to try for the Ruff that had been reported near Ann Arbor, then head for Jackson after that, so we said our good-byes and I swam down I-94 along with all the semis to the spot (you go north on US 23, then east on Geddes, make a left on Gale, then a right on Veedland I think it is, and after a bit there's a little wetland on your left). A couple of local birders were already there and they thought they had the bird (it had been reported that morning), but it was very distant, and turned out to be yet just another Lesser Yellowlegs. After my scope and myself got a thorough soaking (I thought, "Why am I doing this?!") I escaped back to relative dryness of the car, having added Solitary Sandpiper and a singing Northern Waterthrush that one of the guys pointed out to me. Had a pretty Pied-billed Grebe sitting in the sludge as well, and an Eastern Kingbird flycatching despite the rain. Oh, and it turns out the Ruff was a male just coming into breeding plumage (had a lot of white on 'im), so there was no way you could have mistaken him for a yellowlegs had he been there...

I had had it with the rain after that so headed on in to the motel in Jackson, where I had a wonderful dinner of frog legs and filet mignon at Gilbert's, just off of US 127 (north of I-94)! That place is a "must eat at" if you're ever staying in Jackson!

Continue to Jackson/Kalamazoo Wildlife Areas

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