Saturday, October 27, 2012

Siskins and Plovers

SLBD continued...

After lunch at Art's Tavern in Glen Arbor, I picked up a few new books at the Cottage Book Shop and then headed back south along the coast towards the campground. My plan was to go back to the beach at Platte Bay where I'd seen the piptits and chill for the rest of the day.

I got sidetracked, however, by a small park on the western side of Glen Lake. It sits right across M-109 from the famous Dune Climb. This is not for the faint of heart. It's 206 feet to the top and the whole trail, which is 3.5 miles, takes 3 to 4 hours to hike. I think I'll pass.

Dune climb from Glen Lake.

I decided to spend my time looking for more birds, of course. I was hoping for some interesting waterfowl on Glen Lake, but all I saw were some mallards and this lone coot, hanging out with a small flock of Canada geese.

Hey, buddy, you lost?

Across the road from the park was a marshy area, pretty dried up after a dry, hot summer. This is actually why I stopped at the park--I could see some waterfowl resting on mud humps out a ways in the marsh. But they were a long way away, and I could not get any good shots. I could identify several young wood ducks by their eye ring, but the others I just couldn't tell. I did get a few shots of a bird who flew in and landed in the middle of the marsh.


I had forgotten about it until I was sorting through my photos, and when I saw it I thought well, what have we here? Even with the poor image quality, the markings on its head are pretty clear. Built like a shorebird it has a definite white eyebrow and cheek, a dark bill, and in the photo below, dark/black primaries. I decided to check Sibley's to see if anything jumped out--so many of these birds look so similar, and I was sure I would not be able to pinpoint a species. But I was surprised when one jumped out at me--the American golden plover!

American golden plover--fuzzy, but recognizable.

I have found the best way to get an ID on a bird is to make a guess and then do an image search online. There you are bound to find all manner of images, angles, plumage etc. that help in making a final identification. I found this image, from much the same angle as my bird, and I am 99% certain my ID is correct. Another new bird!

American golden plover, by Miriam Bauman

Back at the campground I parked at the trailhead instead of walking from my site. I was already getting tired, and there is a bathroom/shower facility at the trailhead, which is also where the walk-in sites are located. I figured there'd be a lot less competition for the showers there as only a few people were using this area. I would hike to the beach and back and then clean up--I was getting pretty ripe!

When I am out hiking, I almost never try to ID a bird on sight, especially if I am alone. My first objective is to photograph it--as you've seen, it's often the only way I can ID many of the birds I see. There are other factors other than my novice birding abilities that come into play, one of which is the lighting. This day, with clear skies and bright sun, the shadows were very intense, and it made detail tough to see. But I can adjust for that in Photoshop and bring out details that are hard to get in the field. That is why I didn't recognize this vesper sparrow as the same species I'd seen the day before on the dunes at Otter Creek.

Vesper sparrow checking me over. That solid eye ring is a dead giveaway.

Now, as you might recall, I had decided Thursday would be beach day as winds were forecast to be less than 5 mph. Yeah, right. I knew it was windier than predicted, but when I topped the last dune I was blasted with 15-20 mph winds off Lake Michigan. I hadn't brought gloves or ear protection, so it was going to be a short visit to the beach!

I saw some more piptits but otherwise the beach was pretty deserted. I sat for a while on a log, examining footprints in the sand, but my ears got cold so I got up to leave. I noticed several gulls hovering over the water to my left and put the camera up to see what was going on. A huge flock of common mergansers--I'd guess over 100 total--were feeding in an area between two sandbars. I watched and photographed as the birds moved from south to north through the rough waters.

Common mergansers

 The waves had sculpted the beach, and the blue skies on the water created a nice contrast with the sand.

On my way back through the dunes I finally managed to get a few photos of the pine siskins that were, well, eating pine nuts up in the trees. This image is not really sharp but you can see what I think is the bird's most obvious feature--the yellow on the outer edge of its primaries, which you can just see against the blue of the sky at the bottom of its wing.

Pine siskin.

Another way to tell, of course, is when you see them eating out of pine cones!

Next, I'll finish up with a few more birds, found in a few unlikely places.

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