Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Best of 2010

It is about the time of year where I start putting my Top Ten Birds and Experiences together.
Almost Finished.
Happy Birding and hope to see you on the trails.

Bob Setzer and Ed Lewandowski at Drayton Plains Nature Center

Top Ten Birds
1. 9 May- Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area (Illinois) Blue Grosbeak- This HAS to be #1! I have tried at Oak Openings more than a few times now with good people and no luck. Why #1? When I first started birding I was bonkers about seeing a Scarlet Tanager. Father-in-law/bird veteran/closest competitor couldn't help but tease me about NOT seeing one yet. He even would go so far to carry out pranks with the help of other family members. Well with this Blue Grosbeak being added without him around, I now have some prank leverage a'comin'. Maybe... it will be a state first for me by then...

2. 14 Aug- Point Mouilee SGA Hudsonian Godwit- Ok, this bird was flat out cool to the point of almost being mythical. Oooh! A Hudsonian Godwit Ahhhh! Really!? I felt as though this would be one of those birds I had to go to Cape May at peak time for. I just had to make the Moo a must to do, said the Cat in the Hat.

3. 2 Sep- Point Mouilee SGA Buff-Breasted Sandpiper- This one came with style points. We began meandering around Cell 3 for another look at the grandiose number of shorebirds strung along the mudflats. We biked passed a group of Sanderlings on the dike heading to our new spot and I thought hey, "Cool Sanderlings!"... Kept going. Had nice looks at shorebirds yada, yada,... back out to find the King Rail. As we bike by our seemingly familiar group of Sanderlings, I felt that something about these guys was different! I had to look again. Craig (bird sidekick) must've thought I was just doing an "Ed thing", and kept going, when low and behold... A Lifer baby (ok seven of them)! You still have much to learn Grasshopper.
I landed another one just like it a day or so later at Metrobeach.

4. 8 May- Prairie Ridge Natural Area Loggerhead Shrike- Not much doing in the middle of Farmfield-Nowhere Illinois, but something enough to catch my eye was a Shrike and Loggerhead kind too. A lifer while driving by?! My kind of sighting.

5. 9 Feb Tri-City Landfill (Sanilac County) Glaucous Gull- With the 2nd only known sighting of a Glaucous-Winged Gull in Michigan and a Glaucous Gull being a lifer (still hard to believe I just typed that), I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it shot. Why not, considering I was being moved out of a job placement for the third time in a year. Damn it I deserve a lifer! I got just that at what better place than a landfill in the middle of Sanilac County on a cold rainy day in February. No job, a borrowed scope, drive thru cup of Joe, and with about 30 more Glaucous lifers to spare, I found Peace.
How on Earth did I not have this gull by now? Little Gull and Iceland Gull in Michigan before I get a Glaucous just seems crazy but it's true.

6. 2 Jun- Wetzel SP Sedge Wren- Started to wonder if I was doing something wrong here. I realized that I kind of was. I need to spend more time near sedge no matter where it was and listen patiently. I saw a Wetzel posting for one and wanted to go there anyway so it worked out great. I found where the sedge was and a very inquisitive group of Sedge Wrens.

7. 8 May- Cache River Natural Area Chuck-Will's-Widow- Top 10 by default. Great bird for me but wanted a better look. I was driving on what turned out to be my 42nd or so straight awake hour of birding (not intentional, see Top Ten Experiences) and heading hopefully for a place to sleep. Out pops a "new" bird into the headlights. With a little nudge to keep an eye out by the Illinois bird bible, we landed us a flyby goatsucker. Now say that ten times fast.

8. 7 Aug- Farmer Gough's Residence Red-Shouldered Hawk- With an RS Hawk being a state first, I really wanted to get one but never seemed to be patient enough at Hawk Watch or even go at the right time to see one. Craig kept telling me stories about his noisy local hawk that I should try and see sometime. Years and many maddening stories later, I took him up on the idea! I can close the book on this nemesis bird.

9. 17 Sep- Port Austin Islands Willet- The annual family Thumb trip. I did what any fanatic birder would do: Unpack the scope first. The first noticeable bird off the balcony before emptying out the ridiculous amount of luggage that comes with a family of four just so happened to be state-lifer-Willet. Well that's cool; let me show everyone in the family who don't care!

10. 30 Jun- Schneider Road Pond American Avocet- I still can't believe I ever heard someone utter the words "garbage bird" for this one. If it is such a "garbage bird" why does it get posted whenever someone sees one? And why would Don "the man" Chalfant state that it is only the 2nd known posting of its kind in all of the great Washtenaw County? A pretty darn good county for shorebird I might add. Let me not leave out that I played hooky from class on this bird. Shhhh! I got an A. Calm down!!!

Top Ten Experiences (Still to come)

1. Aug 14 Pt. Moo Part I- We put the band back together (Tom Shehan, Bill Loomis, Bob Hart, and Craig Gough) and FINALLY got out for a bird trip. Our first full trip as a group this year and we opted to test our skills at shorebirds. It was a combination trip with Washtenaw and Detroit Audubon groups. It was great to meet, reconnect, and discover birding with other people on a bigger level. I have been on Audubon trips before of course but this trip made me realize just how much that I love birding with other people that love to bird. In a very trying year with job fluctuations, adjustments, and frustration, this gathering of phenomenal people put things back in balance for me. I must get more involved with Audubon and finally get the courage to lead some groups and give back a bit. Special thanks to Jim Bull, Jim Fowler, and Dea Armstrong for giving me the confidence I need going forward. I didn't even the mention birds. Interesting...

2. May 8 & 9 Illinois Trip- Bitter sweet is the best way to describe it. Originally I was asked by Ray Stocking to team up and help with a Pelee trip. Thanks for that Ray, I certainly want to do more and appreciate you thinking of me. I already had a big trip planned for S. Illinois targeting specific birds like Greater Prairie Chicken, Purple Gallinule, and Mississippi Kite. The idea was to leave Friday night, drive our butts off and start the day at Horseshoe in the s. end of Illinois. The grand idea was to stop at points in a northerly direction to shorten the trip home.
That DID NOT HAPPEN! We blew a tire in Gary IN, around 1 in the morning. Instead of completely losing our cool (Craig and I) we got the doughnut put on (35mph winds) and plotted a trip in a southerly direction. We unexpectedly stopped at Middle Fork State Natural Area and grabbed some good birds rather quickly in (again) horrific 30+ mph winds. We found refuge and rattled off ~13 warblers including a Golden-Winged, and a nice group of Lark Sparrows.
We finally made it to Prairie Chicken land with no Chickens (thanks to the wind and oh yes a blown tire). The idea was to start birding here on the way home the following morning (no winds and clear skies on that day of course). Consolation: Loggerhead Shrike (lifer) and Bobwhites. We continue to pick up birds despite conditions and tire replacement. We stop at a few spots absolutely exhausted (42 hours straight) with 1 lifer to show for it and luckily stumbled on to Horseshoe. I crashed at 1am while Craig put up the tent. The next morning (5 am) we woke up to a 60 bird count without even trying and the most gorgeous cypress swamp sunrise. I can't explain how beautiful this place is. You would never guess that you were in Illinois! To wake up to birds on that view is a life memory. With my spirits lifted while clinging to a depressing 2-bird lifer trip we headed home with one last hope for redemption and we hit what turned out to be liferville for Craig. I unexpectedly found Blue Grosbeaks, a 5-year nemesis, bird while driving and whipped around for a certain ID. It took getting back to Indiana to actually believe that we saw them.
With perfect weather on the morning of our return, we found more birds eating breakfast at the tent than the entire first day.
Time was up though. Had to go home. I have some unfinished business with this place. I will return!
One of the most peculiar things about this trip though is that Craig and I never ran into any birders the entire trip.

3. 14 Sep Owls with the girls at Craig's- Anytime your 8 month child starts to mimic an owl call with you during your own built-in owl prowl... it is a moment to remember. County lifer with the Screech Owl that landed within feet from us.

4. 2 Sep Pt. Moo Part II- I worked in some time so to speak for this trip. I really haven't had many opportunities to bird this year to be honest so you sometimes have to do what you have to do to keep your sanity. I wanted to venture back to the Moo being not satisfied with all of these state firsts and a few potential lifers slipping away while idly sitting back and festering over it. Poker player Phil Helmuth said, "Luck favors the bold". So Craig and I put things aside for that morning and really pulled great numbers with the second run. This decision to try again also gave me my best year for shorebirds.
I have to get a new scope though. I have the oldest/cheapest junker out there. I consider myself a pretty good birder but a hell of alot better one when I can actually SEE details of a bird.
I led us to the wrong spot for the King Rail as it turns out when I ran into Thomas Schlack the next day. A third trip back? Well... that was pushing it! Another great bird for another day.

5. Enter the Setzers- My new bird buddies for life! After chatting over email for a bit we finally made a mostly birdless winter run around what I call the Telegraph loop. I pointed out a few things along the way. It made for a fun afternoon over coffee. It was made better when we reconnected for some good birds at Wetzel many months later. Thank you Bob and Judy for becoming an enjoyable piece of the birdier side of life. Look forward to many more adventures with you!

6. 25 Sep It's a Detroit Thang!- Having to contribute rare time with my girls on Saturday to work purposes does not set well with me. The bright side of things came when our group was heading to Heidelberg Project in Detroit. Being just minutes away, Belle Isle was screaming my name here! I called up Bob Hart, ol' bird buddy, guru of the arts and Detroit doings. We put in a little time at Belle Isle before and after the tour. Things were moving for us each time, particularly in the afternoon when the weather cleared up. There were plenty of warblers species and quite a few county firsts.
We went to the Heidelberg project to meet my group; a very moving experience. Anyone with a soul, human compassion, or love of art would enjoy this place. Make time for a tour it is well worth the effort.
Bob and I haven't birded together much so we had to make it count. He pointed us in the direction of the Clique Restaurant (nope not our usual Wendy's) and I had one of the best breakfasts I have had in a long time. Clique is certainly a Detroit classic. My 2nd recommendation.
We walked off the meal from there with a river stroll at William Milliken State Harbor to land more birds. Marsh Wrens were singing up a storm and Palm Warblers came by the bushel. This recently added park will be a nice spot for observing waterfowl in the winter and many other possibilities as it develops.
Lesson of this story folks... Go to Detroit! I can't wait for my next visit. You heard it hear.
I went over the century mark for Belle Isle birds on this trip as and added bonus to the outing.

7. 3 Sep Metrobeach- As the unexpected front runner for the bird year trophy, I wanted to put away the possibility of a Tom Shehan come back with this trip. It did, I cleaned up on warblers, thrushes, and a few more shorebirds to boot.
I missed a lot of birds in Michigan this spring during the migration, but this outing put me above 200 state birds again for the year. I also went over the century mark for birds at Metrobeach. Not too shabby.

8. 1 May Lakeport Birthday Gift- With only one real bird trip to show for the year thus far (May), any birding would help. On a weekend retreat with friends, I was witness to the wonderful Southwesterly winds of Lakeport that bring hawks, and oh man the Blue Jays! I have seen Jay migrations before but this took the cake! Literally thousands just kept showering by for what seemed two days straight. Remarkable! To that reason I decided to take the girls in the baby jogger for a light walk. I came back with a present to myself; my 6th county over 100 birds. Happy Birthday to me!

9. 13 Feb LEMP with perspective- My first outing of the year, a cousin of ours wanted to see an Eagle. So Tom and I felt it was our responsibility as the knowledgeable bird folk of the family to enlighten the little guy. He saw a fair bit more than the one Eagle that day. He was all over my scope, trudging through snow like a champ, asking off the wall questions, binoculars here, binoculars there, pointing things out, shuffling the field guide, and being one of the guys. And then... "Hey, Ed, what kind of bird eats the most?" Well I guess I didn't see that one coming.
Fun day in the end.
Be more prepared for questions next time Mr. Tour Guide!

10. 10 Oct Sunset at Haenle- Seeing the cranes come in at night surpassed any previous experience there. Birders, bird watchers, and average Joe's came from all around to see this phenomena. It was no disappointment. The Whooping Crane being reported came in with a pair of Sandhill buddies just after 6pm keeping the crowd in good spirits. I have seen a Whooper before but this time it was just a moment of pure peace. The rest of the world just seemed to fade away to a single event. Birding is so great!

Other Stuff...
Adding Counties- This year I added St. Clair, Livingston, and Lapeer County to my group of counties over the 100 mark. Macomb, Wayne, and Washtenaw each above 150.
I would like to add every county in SE Michigan to the list of over 100.
Next year I am hoping to add Genesee County as the last county I need bordering Oakland with 100 birds.

Park milestones- I never really thought much about this much before, but keeping track of park lists is an interesting way to look at your area compared to others. It adds a fresh perspective to your well traveled local parks.
I now have Belle Isle, LEMP, and Metrobeach joining Pt. Moo for parks over 100. I am a mere two birds shy of the mark for Bald Mountain SRA. I would be joining Allen Chartier as the only two known birders to achieve that feat. Kind of cool.

What's next? I intend to do an all Michigan year in 2011. Each year I plan a big trip or two to the hot spots of Ohio, Ontario, and Illinois to a lesser extent. It is time to add a few more lifers and state birds to my list. I have been almost everywhere in the state at some point in my life, but I want to go back and record a bird in every county. The list is getting smaller, I am already looking forward to the new year.
In addition to sticking around, I want to find time to lead a group or two. I think it is time to get more involved when possible. I intend to join the Detroit Audubon and do what I enjoy most. Bird with people that love to bird.

New places- Each year I pride myself on trying a new state, county, park, or even a trail I overlooked. This year being no different, I found that of ~20 new places I visited I was most pleased with Novi Wetlands. A spot that offers good views of marsh that is tough to come by in Oakland Co.
Quanicassee SWA- was another reminder to keep going north. I have birded parts south of me quite a bit so far.
William Milliken SP and Harbor- Been wanting to find another vantage point of the river other than Belle Isle. Couldn't be happier with this location.

New people- It is hard to remember the names of all the birders I come across while on the trail, chatting on birders@umich or eBird, but I am truly grateful to be part of such a wonderful network of people.
Good luck next year!