Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Along the Au Sable River

After a very hectic and somewhat scary weekend in Indianapolis I am home and ready to blog about birds. The show was pretty slow but the weather was anything but. We had a nasty storm rage through the show on Sunday, wiping out several booths. I came through unscathed but it was a frightening experience being in the booth with what had to have been at least 50mph winds blasting my tent, watching my life's work flop around on the walls as we were battered by the gale. I had a family of five in the booth, who had taken refuge from the storm, and along with Lisa and I we held on tight until the storm passed.

I will have to rethink doing shows south of Michigan in May, as the weather seems to be quite volatile--just ask the folks in Joplin, Missouri. My heart goes out to them.

So on to more pleasant things! The Tawas Point Birding Festival was a joy and an amazing experience for me. I had never attended a festival of this sort before, and am really only a recent bird watcher/life lister, so I had lots to learn. I think my novice status helped make this even more exciting for me--I've identified so few birds up to now that it seemed every time I turned around I was seeing something for the first time.

On Thursday I took a bus tour out along the River Road National Scenic Byway that parallels the Au Sable river. It was an where area I had spent some time in the past as Lisa's family used to have a cottage in there. The bus took us out to the Westgate Overlook, where I saw a Nashville warbler, male Grosbeak and a robin with a mouth full of mud. I stayed put at one over look while much of the group walked down to a second. They got to see a male Scarlet tanager, who apparently posed for them while they ogled and snapped lots of pictures. Ah well.

One of the things that struck me about the area was the number of White-crowned sparrows. We usually see one here at home, just once in mid-May, and then don't one again until the next year. Up in Northern Michigan they were everywhere!

Our second stop landed us at Iargo Springs. The road is on the bluff-side of the river, and here there was a 300+ step stairway leading down across several creeks to the river. While the first stop was hot and dry, this place was cool and damp, and there were hemlocks and yellow birch. Here I saw, at quite a distance, a Blackburnian warbler, as well as a Song sparrow, a Black-throated green warbler and more Nashville warblers.

Our last stop was at Lumberman's Monument. Here there was a small gift shop and drinking fountains. I mention the fountains because when we left for the tour, it was around 65 degrees. By the time we got inland it was near 80, and none of us was prepared for the heat. I resisted the urge to stick my whole head in the fountain but did drink like a camel.

A pair of Eastern wood pewees hoped about the branches over the sidewalk near the monument. This one caught itself a snack.

Farther down the trail a group of folks had gathered, trying to identify this bird. We finally decided it was a Pine warbler.

The Au Sable River is a wide, shallow, placid river that is dammed in quite a few places along this stretch, nearest Lake Huron. There are many places along its course where the bank is scarred from the practice years ago of rolling logs down to the river--you can see one here on the right. The timber industry pretty much harvested this part of the state down to bare ground, with much of the timber going to construct such towns as Buffalo, New York. But some areas have been allowed to grow back, without being harvested again, and finally we are back to having 100 year old trees in Northern Michigan.

Posing very nicely in a young tree by the overlook was this pair of Northern rough-winged swallows. I didn't even know such a bird existed. They were joined shortly by a third, and I spent some time watching them.

Once the tour was done, I stopped by a small park along Lake Huron with a couple of ladies from the bus ride to do some more birding. There were gobs--GOBS--of White-crowned sparrows, but also a male and female Northern parula in the trees. This isn't the greatest shot but it shows the olive-colored patch on the parula's back.

This one got itself a nice, juicy bug.

And last but not least, one of my favorite warblers, maybe because we have them near home, a female Yellow warbler plied the same trees in search of a meal.

Next: Birds on the beach.

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