Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bulletin 177 - other birds, wildflowers, and butterflies in Michigan

I had a birding trip to northern Michigan in early June. I was accompanied by my stepson Seth for his first birding trip and we had a good time birding and photographing together. Also, we met some friends (Dutch and Bonnie Zonderman) from Northern Michigan and birded with them the first day to see the Kirtland's Warbler.

I employed a guide in the Upper Peninsula, Skye Haas. He doesn't have a web site yet, but his email is here. I would highly recommend him to anyone heading that way.

This bird was a lifer for me. I had spent probably 3 entire days looking for it previously, first in the Sierras of Northern California and then in Duluth, Minnesota in winter. Finally I got it. The third time was the charmer. This bird is the Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus). This woodpecker prefers trees killed by forest fires. Fortunately for me, there had been a small fire last year, and Skye found several pairs nesting in the burned forest. So here is the male. It has an all black back, black head and white stripe below the eye.

Black-backed Woodpecker - male
And he then flew to the nest hole that was only about 4' off the ground. Notice how he chipped off the burned bark below the hole.

Black-backed Woodpecker - male
This bird has 2 features not seen in most of the North American woodpeckers. Can you find them?
The male has a yellow patch on his head rather than red. Also, there are 3 toes on each foot, rather than the usual 4. The female would be similar, but she lacks the yellow patch on the head.

Another lifer was the Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis). This tiny (4") hyperactive bird stayed deep in the brush, frustrating our attempts to get any photos.Finally, he popped into a small clearing among the branches and was spotted by Seth. I got off a couple of photos. As you know, this bird was split into Winter Wren and Pacific Wren several years ago. I had only seen the Pacific form in California. Thus I needed to see the eastern form as it was now a full species. It is IDed by the brown overall color, whitish spots and the short cocked up tail.

Winter Wren
The Bobolink (Dolichonyx orizyvorus) is a (7") member of the icterid or blackbird family. Its range is southern Canada and northern USA, east of the Rockies. It migrates through eastern USA with Houston being on the extreme western edge of the route. I remember this attractive bird from my childhood in Canada, but had seen it only twice in 20 years in Houston. It tends to be a late migrant in early May.

The male shown here has a black body, white rump and wing patches and a distinctive yellow occipital patch. The female and winter males are streaked brown like a large sparrow. He still has a few brownish feathers on his face, so has not completely finished molting.

Bobolink - breeding male
Seth got a great photo of him flying which shows the field marks.

Bobolink - breeding male
Photo by Seth Kelly
We found several species of flycatchers. The first is the Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi). This is a medium sized (7.5") flycatcher of the northern woods. It likes to perch on the tops of trees. It has one a memorable song "Quick..3 beers" and that is exactly what it sounds like!
It is IDed by the dark vest, no eye ring and faint or no wing bars.

Olive-sided Flycatcher
The empids are small flycatchers that have both eye rings and wing bars. Many of them are difficult to ID by appearance and can only be IDed by voice. The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris) has yellow underparts.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Two closely related species were formerly lumped together as Traill's Flycatcher until split about a decade ago. The Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) is a small (5.75") flycatcher of the north woods of Canada and eastern USA, preferring alders as its name suggests. I had seen this bird in Houston in fall migration.

Alder Flycatcher
The second one is the Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii). It is the same size as the alder, but it range is south of the Alder above, but ovelap occurs. It likes to be near water in willows. Our guide, Skye Haas, said this bird didn't occur on the Upper Peninsula, but told us of a place to check on our way back to the airport.

This location was Shiawassee NWR outside Saginaw Michigan. So Seth and I got up early and were able to take the 1 hour driving tour through the refuge. At the first group of willows we came to, we stopped and played the tape. Out popped several of the birds. This was another lifer for me. How easy to find the birds in the right location! Notice he has almost no eye ring, compared to the two empids above.

Willow Flycatcher
Other flycatchers seen were Eastern Kingbird, and Great-crested Flycatcher.

As this was spring in the north woods, there was a profusion of butterflies, wildflowers etc, all awakening from the long winter. We saw 2 species of wild orchids.

The first is the Pink Lady's-Slipper or Moccasin-Flower (Cypripedium acaule).

Pink Lady's-Slipper
There was also a similar yellow orchid, but I wasn't able to find the ID on line.

Yellow Orchid - upper peninsula Michigan

Several interesting butterflies were seen. The first is the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis). The range is Alaska, Canada and USA along the Canadian border.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

The next one occurs all over the USA and Canada, althought I don't recall ever seeing it before.
It is the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa).

Mourning Cloak
The Eastern Comma (Polygonia satyrus) has very indented wings.

Eastern Comma
Lastly a tiny. thumbnail sized butterfly, the Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon). This tiny butterfly has azure blue upper wings, but when perched has its wings closed, so only the spotted underside is visible.

Spring Azure

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald and Lisa Kelly-McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bulletin 176 - Michigan warblers

I had a birding trip to northern Michigan last weekend to photo the last of the eastern warblers that I did not have already. I was accompanied by my stepson Seth for his first birding trip and we had a good time birding and photographing together.

I employed a guide in the Upper Peninsula, Skye Haas. He doesn't have a web site yet, but his email is here. I would highly recommend him to anyone heading that way.

The rarest bird in North America is the Kirtland's Warbler. It is only found in the jack pine forests of northern Michigan, so anyone wanting to see all the birds has to make this trip to Grayling Michigan. The Michigan Audubon runs trips to see it. There are currently about 1000 pairs of birds left, however, in 1970 there were only 200 pairs, so the intensive recovery effort to save this bird is paying off.

Fortunately for birders, it breeds in areas where the pines are young and short. The males sit on top of the small trees to sing and are about 6-8 feet off the ground. This was of course a lifer, as it was my first trip there.

Kirtland's Warbler - male

Another lifer was the Connecticut Warbler. This bird doesn't migrate through Texas, so I had never seen it. The male has a gray hood, olive back and yellow breast. The complete white eye ring is an important field mark.

Connecticut Warbler - male
This photo shows the face a little clearer.

Connecticut Warbler - male

A similar, closely related bird is the Mourning Warbler. It also has the gray hood, olive back, and yellow belly. However, it has a black patch on the breast, and importantly, it lacks the eye ring. This bird is seen occasionally here in Houston, but I saw only one in the 7 years since doing photography and never got a picture.

Mourning Warbler - male
A beautiful bird is the Black-throated Blue Warbler. The male has a blue back, black face, throat and flanks and a white breast. Like the Mourning Warbler above, I had seen it only once in Houston since doing photography and missed the photo.

Black-throated Blue Warbler - male

The last of the new warbler photos was the Cape May Warbler. The male is distinctive with bright yellow underparts with black streaking and rusty cheek patches. I had seen it before, but not once in the last 7 years.

Cape May Warbler - male
This second photo shows his underside

Cape May Warbler - male
It was a fantastic trip as I got all 5 warblers that I wanted to photograph.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe.