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Michigan, May 2002

Part 14: Whitefish Point

All photographs ©2002 by Mary Beth Stowe

Headed on in to Paradise after that, where the wind had really picked up (fire danger extremely high because of it) and finding an open restaurant was the biggest adventure of the day! (Wait till Memorial Day, they all said...) Wound up going to Tahquamenon Falls where they have a brewery and restaurant right there in the park, and it was wonderful; they even had pasties! On the way back a bird flew in front of me and attached itself to a tree, looking suspiciously like a Black-backed Woodpecker, but alas, it was gone by the time I turned around; maybe tomorrow!

Started out overcast, but much warmer the next morning; however, the wind was kicking up, but rather than wallow in disappointment I chose to go by faith that it would work for good (and that proved to be the case)! Started out on Vermilion Road, the tradition place to get Spruce Grouse (and where I indeed got my life bird several years ago), but this time kicked up nada; the road in was making me nervous as well, as it was very sandy, and if it did start raining, I didn't wanna be stuck on that thing! So after about five or six miles of stopping and listening (picking up the usual stuff: mostly Chippies, Butterbutts, Pine Warblers, Ovenbirds, and Blue-headed Vireos), I backtracked to Sheldrake Flooding, a little lake and campground. An adult Bald Eagle was sitting across the way, and a pair of Spotted Sandpipers hung out at the spillway. In the shallow creek bed spooked a Great Blue Heron, but other than that just picked up Cedar Waxwing, Red-winged Blackbird, and Belted Kingfisher, which I didn't get elsewhere during the day. A Common Merganser also flew over.

 

   Sheldrake Flooding

Headed on down to Whitefish Point proper, where the first thing to blow me away (besides the wind) were the Blue Jays: there just hundreds and hundreds of 'em, filling the sky! I had never seen so many Blue Jays in my life! It seemed like half the crowd was at the feeders: I sat myself down and enjoyed the jays (shades of the Green Jay feeding frenzy at Laguna Atascosa), as well as the crowds of Black-capped Chickadees coming in as well. I was shortly joined by Joe and Vicki from Corpus Christi, of Hazel Bazemore (hope I got that right) Hawk Watch fame, and we enjoyed Rose-breasted and Evening Grosbeaks in the same bin view, a Clay-colored Sparrow skulking in the bushes, and an incongruous pigeon. They had spotted a Red Crossbill while I was looking elsewhere, which was disappointing; that woulda been a state bird! They shared a little of their trip so far: they got the Kirtland's Warbler on Monday, along with a blanketing of snow!! They had also run into Jon Dunn who had told them about a Little Gull at Tawas Point (which they got); hope the thing hangs around till Tuesday!

      

All those black dots are migrating Blue Jays! (With Black-capped Chickadee at right...)

       

Chow time at the gift shop, with female Rose-breasted Grosbeak at right

  

The main chow hounds were Blue Jays...

            

Evening Grosbeaks and Clay-colored Sparrows, evidently a bit unusual up here...

They informed me of a hawk watch that was going to take place at nine, so I thanked them and decided to head down to the beach, where a waterbird count was presently taking place. By the time I got to the shelter the wind was really whipping and cold, and it had started to drizzle on top of that! (One of the guys there quipped, "Just another day in Paradise!") But several ducks were making their way north; Long-tailed Duck had been seen, but unfortunately that one passed me by. I did get excellent looks at White-winged Scoters and Red-breasted Mergansers, and thanks to Joe (he and Vicki followed me down after all), I got a great look at a Red-necked Grebe through his scope! A couple of unknown loons whizzed by, and a tern of some kind was way out there, but that was the extent of my identifiable ducks for the day. (Did have three American Pipits bounce overhead in the songbird department...)

       

Waterfowl observation shelter at the Point with Red-breasted Mergansers

  

Trail from the Point to the woods and dunes near the Lake

  

 Migrants gather here in numbers: in spring as a staging area before the big push across the Lake, and in fall as a place to crash after the big crossing

Trudging back through the woods, I was told by one of the staff guys that the Boreal Chickadees were around, but usually in the Blackcap flocks and in very small numbers (and they never came to the feeders L). So I trudged back through the woods and to the hawk watch platform, where Joe and Vicki had set up camp and were happily chatting with one of the staff, who had also been involved with Hazel Bazemore! As we sat the wind conditions were great for the hawks, and we'd get a Red-tailed Hawk here, several Sharpies there, the occasional Harrier, and a couple of Bald Eagles, but the real show was a kettle of Broad-winged Hawks way in the distance, where there was probably 30 birds at least! Some of the Broadies made their way over the platform, and one had us thinking he was a Goshawk at first! (There had been one hanging around...) Great flocks of Evening Grosbeaks kept flying over, along with the occasional Eastern Bluebird doing its little du-du call.

     

   Juvenile Broad-winged Hawks; note the heavy streaking on the side of the neck

Joe had been told about a little pond in the woods where migrants often landed, so I joined them and we weaved our way through the woods once again, finally finding the little pond, and enjoying Magnolia Warblers, Nashvilles, Parulas, Least Flycatchers, Redstarts, and Black-throated Greens at point blank (in addition to the ubiquitous chickadees; still no Boreal, though...). Vicki caught sight of a Mockingbird of all things, but I missed it; I was really starting to get frustrated over all these missed goodies! (They had also had a Rusty Blackbird at the feeders before I got there... L)

            

L-R:  Chestnut-sided Warbler, Swainson's Thrush, and American Redstarts (female)

After that I went back to the car to get my scope and check out the lake, but got waylaid on a little trail with some other birders where Redstarts, Chestnut-sided, and Black-throated Blue Warblers were coming down to our faces (along with more chickadees...)! I really didn't wanna trudge through the rocks and sand all the way to the shelter with my scope, so decided to scope from the viewing platform; nothing on the water, but on the boardwalk on the way back was a tremendous flock of chickadees; probably at least 50 birds! They sounded more like Bushtits the way they were carrying on, and they'd fly back and forth, back and forth across the boardwalk to the pines, then back to the straggly seed-bearing trees they were feeding on, then back to the pines again, each time passing by me on both sides and at eye level; a couple of times some almost ran into me!

After that I put the scope away and went back into the woods, not quite ready to give up on the Boreals! On several occasions the Blackcaps almost landed on my camera, and a couple of times I was sure I heard the Boreal, but just couldn't find the bird, they were all moving through so fast (and not convinced that an annoyed Blackcap might sound very similar, I wanted to see the bird to be absolutely sure). Back over by the pond a Swainson's Thrush popped up and allowed close approach, and a Merlin zipped back and forth. Coming back on the trail that dumps out at the feeders, I thought I actually had a Boreal in sight, but the stupid thing flew before I could get a look, never to be seen again! How maddening! I really had to stop and be thankful for all the wonderful birds I had seen this day (and how close they got, and the numbers for cryin' out loud!), because I didn't want the one elusive target bird to ruin my whole experience!

Back at the feeders I just sat for a few, adding White-crowned Sparrow for the day and a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird for the trip, when the same staffer who told me about the Boreals called over to me: he had the Mockingbird! I zipped over there (along with several other eager birders) and saw the bird skulking in a tree; what a great tick! Wasn't a state bird, but the only other one I had seen was when I was 12 years old on the golf course back in Port Huron!

 

           

L-R:  Red Squirrels, Black-capped Chickadee, and Blue Jay  

It was close to quitting time, so started for Indian River after that (had to smile at the adolescent kids who were all excited about the "huge hawk" soaring low over the parking lot...it was a TV); I really wished I had had more time to check out Tahquamenon Falls, cuz I found a brochure in the gift shop that precisely outlined where in the park to find things like Spruce Grouse, the chickadee, Rusty Blackbird, and Black-backed Woodpecker (which, according to said brochure, I could have very likely had one the day before on the way back from din-din: that was right where they were supposed to be! Didn't stick around, though, shucky darn!).


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