Sunday, July 17, 2016

July 16 Field Trip Report

Ten of us began this morning's field trip at the old Ferguson Farm on East River Road followed by a quick, unsuccessful search for the Prothonotary Warbler at the Cedar Creek bridge on Holton-Duck Lake Road.  Thanks to Charlie DeWitt for the five photos!

 Baltimore Oriole at the farm.

It was a beautiful day and many birds were out, several with their families, especially the Great Crested Flycatchers!

Eastern Wood-Pewee singing near the farm parking lot.

Juvenile Green Heron on the farm footbridge.

Our day concluded with eight people walking along the north bank of the Maple River at State Game Area headquarters.  All told we recorded 47 bird species this morning with totals of 35 at the farm and 21 along the river.

Three of us walking the Maple River two-track.

Highlights at the farm included Hooded Merganser, Green Heron, Sandhill Crane, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Sedge Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Gray Catbird along the Maple River

Species of note along the river included Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo feeding a fledgling, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler feeding a fledgling, American Redstart, Chipping Sparrow (many juveniles) and Indigo Bunting (at least 1 female and 3 males).

Monday, May 23, 2016

Big Day Count: 8 People and 117 Bird Species

Four to eight people trekked from 4:45 a.m until 7:45 p.m. from Lane's Landing to the State Game Area headquarters to the Wastewater to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve to Muskegon State Park (Snug Harbor, the lakeshore, and the Muskegon Channel) on our annual Big Day Count, Saturday, May 21, 2016.

Highlights included Common Nighthawk, American Bittern, Black-crowned Night-heron and both cuckoos at Lane's Landing, Blue-winged and Cerulean Warblers at the SGA, Willet, White-rumped Sandpiper, Orchard Oriole, Red-headed Woodpecker and Black Tern at the Wastewater and two Barred Owls at Snug Harbor.

Our final "official total" was the 117 species listed below in alphabetical order.  Disappointing misses included Hairy Woodpecker, both nuthatches, and most of the warblers -- not even a Yellow-rumped!

Bittern, American
Blackbird, Red-winged
Bluebird, Eastern
Bunting, Indigo
Cardinal, Northern
Catbird, Gray
Chickadee, Black-capped
Coot, American
Cormorant, Double-crested
Cowbird, Brown-headed
Crane, Sandhill
Cuckoo, Black-billed
Cuckoo, Yellow-billed
Dove, Mourning
Dowitcher, Short-billed
Duck, Ruddy
Duck, Wood
Eagle, Bald
Finch, House
Flicker, Northern
Flycatcher, Alder
Flycatcher, Great Crested
Flycatcher, Least
Flycatcher, Willow
Gnatcatcher, Blue-gray
Goldfinch, American
Goose, Canada
Grackle, Common
Grebe, Pied-billed
Grosbeak, Rose-breasted
Gull, Bonaparte's
Gull, Herring
Gull, Ring-billed
Harrier, Northern
Hawk, Red-tailed
Heron, Great Blue
Hummingbird, Ruby-throated
Jay, Blue
Kingbird, Eastern
Kinglet, Ruby-crowned
Lark, Horned
Martin, Purple
Meadowlark, Eastern
Merganser, Hooded
Night-heron, Black-crowned
Nighthawk, Common
Oriole, Baltimore
Oriole, Orchard
Owl, Barred
Parula, Northern
Pewee, Eastern Wood-
Phoebe, Eastern
Pigeon, Rock
Plover, Piping
Plover, Semipalmated
Redstart, American
Robin, American
Sandpiper, Least
Sandpiper, Semipalmated
Sandpiper, Solitary
Sandpiper, Spotted
Sandpiper, Upland
Sandpiper, White-rumped
Scaup, Lesser
Shoveler, Northern
Sparrow, Chipping
Sparrow, Field
Sparrow, Grasshopper
Sparrow, House
Sparrow, Savannah
Sparrow, Song
Sparrow, Swamp
Sparrow, Vesper
Sparrow, White-crowned
Starling, European
Swallow, Bank
Swallow, Barn
Swallow, Cliff
Swallow, Northern Rough-winged
Swallow, Tree
Swan, Mute
Swift, Chimney
Tanager, Scarlet
Teal, Blue-winged
Teal, Green-winged
Tern, Black
Thrasher, Brown
Thrush, Wood
Titmouse, Tufted
Vireo, Red-eyed
Vireo, Warbling
Vireo, Yellow-throated
Vulture, Turkey
Warbler, Black-throated Green
Warbler, Blue-winged
Warbler, Cerulean
Warbler, Prothonotary
Warbler, Yellow
Woodpecker, Downy
Woodpecker, Pileated
Woodpecker, Red-bellied
Woodpecker, Red-headed
Wren, House
Wren, Marsh
Yellowlegs, Greater
Yellowlegs, Lesser
Yellowthroat, Common

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

May 19 Potluck Report Updated

After our annual potluck picnic meeting on May 19, 2016, club members took a brief evening walk around the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve finding 38 species of birds.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

May 7 Field Trip Report Updated

Seven of us took two cool morning walks today on Ken Sherburn's field trip.  We counted 32 bird species at Lake Harbor Park, 19 at Hoffmaster State Park, for a total of 39 species for the day.

Warblers hid this morning.  A Pine Warbler at Lake Harbor and an Ovenbird at Hoffmaster were the only members of that family recorded.  We also never saw a robin at Hoffmaster!

Notable at Lake Harbor were Chimney Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwing, the Pine Warbler, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, and an Eastern Towhee.

At Hoffmaster we saw a pair of Eastern Phoebes and their nest, watched an Osprey overhead, heard the frequent calling of a Red-shouldered Hawk, and watched two Black-capped Chickadees zipping in and out of the nest hole they were excavating.


April 23 Field Trip Report

Fourteen people birded the Upper Macatawa Natural Area east of Holland this morning.  Liz Notman led us through woodland habitat beside the Macatawa River and then marsh, meadow and other woodland areas along the main path east of 48th Ave.

Of the 45 bird species encountered, most were the usual spring suspects.  Highlights included 5 Blue-winged Teal landing on one of the ponds, 2 Great Egrets flying overhead, a high-flying Sharp-shinned Hawk, 2 Red-tailed Hawks, Soras and Virginia Rails calling both early and late, Wilson's Snipe, Belted Kingfisher, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow (among the many Tree Swallows), a Brown Creeper, 4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Hermit Thrush, and five sparrow species (Chipping, White-throated, Song, Swamp and House).

Eric Gustafson also showed us pictures of a White-eyed Vireo that he had photographed earlier on the property!

Even without the birds it was an enjoyable cool spring walk through some beautiful areas.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

March 19 Field Trip Report

Six hardy souls birded several Ottawa County locations this morning tallying 47 bird species along the way.

Scoping the Great Black-backed Gull at Grand Haven.

Highlights included Rough-legged Hawk, Pied-billed Grebe, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Tundra Swan, Wood Duck and American Coot at Harbor Island; Cedar Waxwing in Grand Haven; Song Sparrow and Great Black-backed Gull at City Beach; and Brown-headed Cowbird, Fox Sparrow and Pine Siskin at the feeders at Hemlock Crossing.

Female Red-bellied and Male Downy Woodpeckers.

Aberrant-colored Male House Finch at Hemlock Crossing.

All photos by Carol Cooper.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

February 20 Field Trip Report

Seven of us found 25 bird species at four locations this morning.  The day started with breakfast at the Cherokee restaurant.  

Our extinguished distinguished DeWitt Brothers at the channel.

It was windy and cold at the Muskegon Channel where we found 17 species including Long-tailed Duck, Common and Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye.

Long-tailed Duck

A quick stop at Lakeside Cemetary earned us our target bird: a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker.

Young Red-headed Woodpecker by Charlie DeWitt

The trails at Lake Harbor Park had dangerous slick spots so we stayed less than a half hour finding seven of the usual species.

The DeWitt property by the airport yielded ten species including Brown Creeper, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Wild Turkey and this male Hairy Woodpecker.

It was a beautiful morning with temperatures in the 40's, and the birds we found made it all the better.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Charlie Wins the 2015 Trophy

Prior to Myles McNally's fascinating Birds of Japan program last night, Charlie DeWitt accepted the 2015 Club Birder of the Year trophy.  

Charlie's total of 207 species listed in Muskegon and Ottawa Counties last year beat out Carol Cooper (204), Ken Sapkowski (193), Feller DeWitt (182), Ric Pedler (180) and Kathryn Mork (97).

The trophy itself is a priceless treasure designed and created by Dee DeWitt.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

January 23 Field Trip Report



Ken led a group of eight bird-watchers around the Muskegon County Wastewater properties and the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve today.  Thick frost covered everything at the Wastewater as did ground fog early on.  Some of these pictures might make it look cold, but it was colder.

Birds of note among our 26 species included 8 Bald Eagles, a Red-shouldered Hawk, 2 Common Ravens, 3 Golden-crowned Kinglets, an Eastern Bluebird, several Snow Buntings, and 3 Rough-legged Hawks including this one fanning its tail at us as we departed.

- NOON -

An hour at the preserve gave us 17 species, mostly duplicates of those at the Wastewater, but also the Eastern Towhee who's spending his winter here, and this Fox Sparrow who may be doing the same.

As Carol filled the feeders near the pavilion, flocks arrived including this American Tree Sparrow wearing jewelry by Brian, and Northern Cardinals of both sexes.

- 1:30-2:15 -

We concluded our day with lunch at Bernie O's in North Muskegon.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Brian's December Wastewater CBC Report

The 2015 Muskegon Wastewater Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was conducted on Wednesday, December 16. This was the eleventh consecutive year that we have participated with the official CBC program (coordinated by the National Audubon Society), although results have been submitted to Michigan Audubon since 2000. The designated count circle (15 miles in diameter) mostly encompasses private farmland and woodlots, but it also includes large tracts of public land managed by the Muskegon State Game Area (MSGA) and the Muskegon Wastewater System (MWS). Most birding is accomplished by cruising roads, although MSGA offers lengthy hiking jaunts.

The following ten volunteers, separated among seven parties, assisted with this year's effort: Dayle Vanderwier and Connie Peoples (in the WNW zone), Feller DeWitt (NNW zone), Ric Pedler and Jim Zervos (NNE zone), Charlie DeWitt (ESE zone), Jill Henemyer and Ken Sherburn (at MWS), Marc Miedema (at MWS), and Brian Johnson (at MSGA). Combined, observers accrued 27.5 hours (7.0 on foot, 20.75 by car) and 248 miles (7.4 on foot, 241 by car) of coverage.

Because the weeks preceding the 2015 CBC were accompanied by a strong El NiƱo weather pattern, temperatures in September, October, November, and especially December were warmer than normal. The daily mean of 45° on December 16 tied the highest in the history of the Wastewater CBC. Consequently, all creeks and ponds were devoid of ice, and no snow had covered the ground since November. In fact, only 3.9 inches of snow had fallen thus far this season. Unfortunately, winds were strong on count day, and the 2015 CBC ranks as the second windiest in its history. Skies were overcast all day, and rain fell in the afternoon. Cone crops were essentially absent this fall.

A total of 9,909 individuals, representing 49 species, was recorded on this year's CBC. Total individuals and species both fell below the historical (2000-14) means of 10,842 birds of 55 species.

Ice-free conditions and diligent work by Jill and Ken at the MWS lagoons significantly boosted numbers this year. The total of 7,878 waterbirds, representing thirteen species, was 3,000 birds above average and ranks as the fifth highest since the inception of the count. Moreover, waterbirds comprised 80% of all birds seen this year, and that ratio represents the greatest imbalance in the history of the Wastewater CBC. Bufflehead and Ruddy Duck established new high totals, and the 72 Hooded Mergansers completely annihilated the old record of just two! The Shoveler total of 2,447 was a great winter tally for Michigan, and an Eared Grebe was a Wastewater CBC first.

Raptors were relatively scarce this year. Rough-legged Hawks were missed for the first time ever, but a Peregrine Falcon on the center dike was a nice find. Two Snowy Owls were the only owls encountered.

Due in part to weather conditions on count day, landbird numbers were dismal this year. Not only do strong winds reduce landbird activity in general, but they also severely hinder aural and visual detections. The dreary skies and afternoon rain certainly did not help matters. Moreover, sparse food crops and mild fall weather drastically curtailed numbers of winter visitors. Lingering summering residents were very scarce due to a combination of low breeding productivity, reduced berry crops, and dispersed forage and habitat availability stemming from milder weather.

The only regular landbirds more plentiful than usual were Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, and Golden-crowned Kinglet. Conversely, Horned Lark, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Cedar Waxwing, Snow Bunting, and Song Sparrow were missed entirely. Local Turkey counts remain below their peak from the mid-2000s. Depressingly, Ruffed Grouse, common across Muskegon County three decades ago, seem to have all but disappeared locally
Not surprisingly, numbers of irruptive finches were abysmal, though a single Purple Finch was encountered at MSGA. As was the case at the Muskegon Lake banding station this fall, goldfinches were likewise scarce. On the other hand, one Northern Shrike, one Common Raven, and eight Yellow-rumped Warblers (at MSGA) were welcome finds. An Eastern Meadowlark (at MWS) represented the first for the Wastewater CBC.

Of the species recorded this year, 27 exhibited totals below previous historical means, whereas 22 exceeded those averages. Six species set or matched record high counts. The four most abundant species (Shoveler, Herring Gull, Canada Goose, Mallard, and Starling), comprised 74% of all birds seen. Two new species* recorded on the 2015 CBC raised our cumulative total to 111.
Despite the relatively few landbirds and sub-optimal weather conditions, unusually warm temperatures, a pleasant lunch, and several nice birds provided yet another enjoyable CBC.

Breakdowns of all the birds encountered this year are presented as follows:

Canada Goose - 1443; historical average 2872
Gadwall - 123; average 81; highest count since 2008
American Black Duck - 64; average 133
Mallard - 690; average 515; highest count since 2010
Northern Shoveler - 2447; average 1214; fifth highest count
Lesser Scaup - 15; second highest count
Bufflehead - 153; new high count (previous high 30)
Hooded Merganser - 72; new high count (previous high 2)
Ruddy Duck - 397; new high count (previous high 330)
Wild Turkey - 18; average 112; third lowest count
*Eared Grebe - 1; new species
Great Blue Heron - 1; present 13 of 16 years
Bald Eagle - 7; average 6
Northern Harrier - 3; ties second-highest count
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 2; present 8 of 16 years
Red-tailed Hawk - 11; average 16
American Kestrel - 3; average 7
Peregrine Falcon - 1; third CBC record
Ring-billed Gull - 106; average 120
Herring Gull - 2366; average 2452
Rock Pigeon - 194; average 144
Mourning Dove - 41; average 282; second lowest count
Snowy Owl - 2; present 10 of 16 years
Belted Kingfisher - 1; present 10 of 16 years
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 6; average 16; second lowest count
Downy Woodpecker - 13; average 29; third lowest count
Hairy Woodpecker - 10; average 10
Northern Flicker - 2; average 7
Pileated Woodpecker - 5; average 4
Northern Shrike - 1; present 12 of 16 years
Blue Jay - 72; average 74
American Crow - 166; average 193
Common Raven - 1; third CBC record
Black-capped Chickadee - 69; average 114
Tufted Titmouse - 15; average 30
White-breasted Nuthatch - 11; average 23
Brown Creeper - 3; average 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 10; average 3
Eastern Bluebird - 2; average 18; third lowest count
European Starling - 1103; average 1215
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 8; present 10 of 16 years
American Tree Sparrow - 40; average 166; second lowest count
Dark-eyed Junco - 89; average 161; fourth lowest count
Northern Cardinal - 21; average 62; third lowest count
*Eastern Meadowlark - 1; new species
House Finch - 14; average 60; lowest ever count
Purple Finch - 1; present 5 of 16 years
American Goldfinch - 25; average 165; second lowest count
House Sparrow - 19; average 155; second lowest count

Results from the Muskegon Wastewater and the approximately 2,400 other Christmas Bird Counts are submitted to the National Audubon Society, where they can be accessed online ( Many thanks to those who participated this year, and we encourage all interested birders to join us next December.

- Brian Johnson