Sunday, February 14, 2021

Scoters and Warblers, Michigan Big Year Vol 6

 January 29

I got a text from fellow Michigan Big Year birder Terry Grabill around 11:00 am that he'd seen all three scoters (surf, white-winged, and black) at the pier in Muskegon. I wasn't planning on birding today, but after letting it stew for a couple hours I couldn't resist going. I already had black, but needed the other two.

I walked the channel from the harbor mouth to the submarine museum, as Lisa and I had done a few days prior. I saw the White-winged Scoters right away, drifting and diving not far from shore, but a search for the Surf Scoter came up empty. 

White-winged Scoter, Muskegon Lake Channel

White-winged Scoter laughing at the silly birders.

I took advantage of the nice light to admire a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers and, of course, a Long-tailed Duck.

Red-breasted Mergansers, Muskegon Lake Channel

Love that red eye!

Long-tailed Duck. I just wanna pinch his cheeks.

The weather was pleasant with little wind so I walked out the short middle pier to check out the harbor but it was all mergansers, Mallards, and a ton of gulls on the ice that has built up on the south side of the north pier. I set up the scope and scanned for anything that looked unusual. My gull identification, beyond our normally occurring gulls, begins and ends with looking at their primary feathers (the flight feathers that you see extending over the tail when a bird's wings are folded) and looking to see if any of them were white or gray (most gulls have black primaries). White primaries would indicate an Iceland, Glaucous, or Glaucous-winged Gull, rare but not unheard of winter visitors.  I didn't see anything odd among the 200 or so birds, so I went back to the car and drove over to the south pier parking area. 

Inner light at Muskegon Lake harbor, from shore.

Harbor at Pere Marquette Park, Muskegon

I walked out the south pier as far as was safe. There were ducks off the end of the pier, and another birder was set up ahead of me with her scope. After about 20 minutes she packed up and I asked her if she'd seen a Surf Scoter, but she had not. I moved up to take her place. As clouds pushed in the temperature dropped, and I was starting to feel the cold come up through the soles of my hiking boots. I had watched as flocks of Redhead flew in down the channel to join the multitudes, continuing to scan for scoters. Just as I was about to give up I finally found the Surf Scoter, hanging out with a White-winged Scoter. Having the two together was helpful in identifying them both. They were too far to bother with trying to even get photos with my scope, so I packed up and headed home, not getting back until after 7:00 pm.

Lake Michigan sunset from the south pier, rocks coated with ice.

January 30

I was minding my own business, eating lunch and checking emails, when I read that the Yellow-throated Warbler that had been seen in December was still hanging around the feeders at a home up in Frankfort. A rare bird any time and anywhere in Michigan, it is a super rare bird this far north in January. Looking at other birds on my eBird needs email I saw that the pair of Red-necked Grebes were still being seen at Sleeping Bear Harbor in Glen Haven, about 1/2 hour north of Frankfort. The weather was still mild (relatively speaking) so I decided to make a day of it. 

I pulled up at the address to find one birder already there, a fellow named Roberto with whom I've chatted with online. He said the bird had been coming and going for about an hour. We stood only 10 feet or so from the feeders but he assured me the bird did not seem to mind. I left the suet cakes I'd brought for the homeowner, who was not home, on the stoop and waited. 

Within about 10-15 minutes another car pulled up and two guys, Ross and Mike, walked up the drive. They'd come all the way from the Ann Arbor area to see this bird, and were also planning on making the drive up to Glen Haven. The guys got to talking while I watched the feeders. Not five minutes later I heard a bird call that I was not familiar with, almost directly in front of us. I looked and there was the warbler, perched in a shrub next to the driveway. I pointed it out to the others, then it flew over to the suet feeder. We all got great looks at the bird before it flew around to the front of the house and into a large tree, then off down the road.

Yellow-throated Warbler, Frankfort

One of my favorite warblers with such bright, sharp markings.

Having already seen this bird down south, and since I'd gotten some decent shots of it, I decided not to hang around and wait for it to return. I told Ross and Mike I'd see them in Glen Haven and drove up to Sleeping Bear Dunes. I wanted to get the grebes and get home before dark. 

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans--but we'll save that for next time.

Pere Marquette Park, Muskegon River Channel, January 29

#71) White-winged Scoter

#72) Surf Scoter

Elm Street, Frankfort, January 30

#73) Yellow-throated Warbler

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