Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Nostalgia

Around this time of year each year I start developing an intense nostalgic longing for my lazy summer days spent wandering the deciduous landscape of southern Jackson County, usually well before they've even ended.  As the first flocks of Canada Geese penetrate the monotonous chorus of crickets through the soft, humid nights of August, followed by the blooming of Cardinal Flower and the sweet autumn scent of the southern forest, I begin wishing I had just a little more time in the field.

Cardinal Flower

Given that autumn is increasingly becoming my favorite time of year, I think my "summer nostalgia" is more appropriately defined as "not wanting to move my crap back to East Lansing where my days are spent in laboratory basements and not outside watching fall warblers" or "wishing I had a car so that I might actually get to bird in central Michigan".  At any rate, I've been soaking up as much birding time as possible these past few days, and have run across a few good finds along the way.

Sandhill Cranes

I took this photo out on the prairie at Dahlem while on my way to try for a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher that I had found the day before (Sunday) in the marsh/bog type habitat in the northwest corner of the prairie.  While I was unsuccessful in this pursuit, seeing a few decent-sized flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying over was a nice treat.  The cranes also got me looking forward to Friday evenings and Saturday mornings at Haehnle Sanctuary in the Waterloo Recreation Area -- an unrivaled highlight of last year's autumn that saw record-breaking crane numbers and the locally famous Whooping Crane on several occasions.

Tennessee Warbler
Not the buckthorn! 

I always associate fall warbler migration with more Tennessee Warblers than in the spring.  Additionally, most autumn individuals seem to have a lot more yellow in their plumage compared to spring birds.  Sibley depicts first year birds as having more yellow/greenish coloration compared to adult birds, which is also mentioned in this species' Birds of North America account.  According to this account, there is some evidence for an elliptical migration in Tennessee Warblers, meaning some individuals follow a different route north in the spring than in the fall while headed south (Blackpoll Warblers, also more common in fall, do this as well).  However, nothing is mentioned regarding divergent routes between adults and immatures in this species, as is the case in the eastern population of Nashville Warblers.

Magnolia Warbler

Amongst the six or so Tennessee Warblers were a couple of Magnolia Warblers, another species I seem to find more of in the fall.  Arguably one of the most spectacular warblers in breeding plumage, these birds also retain quite a bit of color in the fall.

American Robin

A large hatch of insects clouded the evening sky with a thick blanket of food for all the birds present.  As such, virtually every species had a go at flycatching or "hawking", some more successful than others.  A large flock of predominately immature robins were among the more awkward-looking participants, essentially tumbling downward from high perches only to catch themselves at the last second with heavy, overexerted wing beats.  This first year Baltimore Oriole was only slightly better.

Baltimore Oriole

Yesterday was the Jackson Audubon Society's fall shorebird trip to Pt. Mouillee led by Don and Robyn Henise.  Spare for the weekend trip to Sault St. Marie in February, I look forward to this trip the most each year, as shorebird habitat (and thus shorebirds) are all but absent from Jackson County. 

Wilson's Phalaropes

Among the highlights of the trip, I think these phalaropes really topped the list for me.  From our initial, distant view of them, many of us were thinking Red-necked Phalaropes.  As we approached, however, it became clear that these were actually two juvenile Wilson's molting out of their juvenile plumage.  Closer looks also afforded great views of their feeding habits (no phalroping, however), consisting of horizontal "sweeping" with their bills through the heavy metals of Detroit River sludge.  Several Lesser Yellowlegs also employed this feeding strategy, which I don't know that I've ever seen before.

Convergent evolution?  Imitation?

This next picture reminds me of Sibley's illustrations that demonstrate how microspatial variation in habitat use can be used to help identify shorebirds in migration.  Semipalmated Sandpipers seem to forage from the bare mudflats to very shallow water, Stilt Sandpipers are almost always seen wading a little further out still, and Wilson's Phalaropes can be found in deeper water still, especially when phalaroping, though among phalaropes they seem to prefer shallower waters.

Semipalmated, Stilt, and Wilson's

For whatever reason, I failed to photograph several of the very cooperative and notable birds, including three Buff-breasted Sandpipers, a Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, and Merlin that kept shorebirds moving in and out, which, depending on what you happened to be looking at, could either be a blessing or a curse.  One particular air raid scared in a flock of ten or so Baird's Sandpipers, which I managed only a few crappy shots of.

Baird's Sandpiper

After scanning through hundreds of gulls and terns for a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake that was seen earlier in the day, the group left cell 3 to try for Solitary Sandpiper at the Lautenschager Unit.  We dipped on Solitary, but several Stilt Sandpipers and both Yellowlegs were present.

Stilt Sandpiper

A return to cell 3 for a previously reported American Golden-Plover ended up being very successful, as two individuals were found in the company of a single Black-bellied Plover, offering a great opportunity for studying the structural differences between these two potentially confusing species.  I really wanted photos of this mixed group for further study, but they were simply too far away.  Instead, between extensive study through scopes, I snapped a few shots of this nearby Short-billed Dowitcher.

Short-billed Dowitcher

And finally, in other news, a curlew from Allen Creek was spotted Friday in Oahu!

1 comment:

  1. Cody,

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog; here I find great photographs, subtle yet lovely prose, and I can catch up with you, my friend, without having to see your face. Though I hope you are well and wish to see you soon. :)