Thursday, February 4, 2016

Birds of Japan and Western Muskegon County

"Birds of Japan"
Myles McNally

Japan is an island nation comprised of over 430 inhabited islands extending over 1,300 miles from the northern island of Hokkaido to the Ryukyu Islands which end near Taiwan.  These widely-spread islands harbor many special and highly-sought-after bird species, including Okinawa Rail, Malayan Night Heron, Japanese Marsh Warbler, Amami Woodcock, and many others.

In the summer of 2015 Myles McNally traveled with his friend Jerry Ziarno on a comprehensive birding tour of Japan conducted by Birdquest.  In tonight's talk he will introduce birding in Japan and the many adventures he had with both the birds and the culture of Japan.

Myles McNally splits his time between being a Professor of Computer Science at Alma College and birding.  He is a former Board Chair of Whitefish Point Bird Observatory and has led a number of birding tours for WPBO and the Michigan Audubon Society.  While still primarily birding in Michigan, where he has a goal of seeing 100 different species in each of the state's 83 counties, he has increasingly birded outside of the United States, most recently in Columbia.

(See sidebar for times, location, etc.)

Pere Marquette Park, Muskegon Channel
and the DeWitt Property
Leader: Charlie DeWitt

Charlie DeWitt will lead this field trip. It will begin around 7:00 a.m. at the Cherokee Restaurant on W. Sherman Blvd. east of McCracken St. for breakfast and chatter.

Shortly after 8:00 we will drive to Pere Marquette Park and other Muskegon Channel areas to look at whatever birds are around.

Mid-morning Charlie will lead us to the DeWitt property near the Muskegon County Airport for some woodland birding.

The trip will end around noon.

Anyone is welcome.  Hope to see you there!

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

Friday, January 1, 2016

Ric's City of Muskegon CBC Report

Here are some numbers from our Dec. 19 City of Muskegon Christmas Bird Count:

NORTH ZONE (Muskegon State Park, Muskegon Channel north side, the Blockhouse and Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve): 4 people, 12 hours, 12 miles walked, 26 species, 269 birds.

CENTRAL ZONE (Cobb Plant, McGraft Park, etc.): 4 people, 3 hours, 2.5 miles walked, 19 species, 166 birds.

SOUTH ZONE (Mona Lake, Muskegon Lake, Ruddiman Creek, Pere Marquette Park, Muskegon Channel south side, etc.): 5 people, 5 hours, 5 miles walked, 29 miles driven, 35 species, 1,309 birds.

TOTALS: 13 People, 20 hours, 44 Species, 1,744 Birds.

- Ric Pedler

Sunday, December 20, 2015

City of Muskegon Christmas Bird Count

Three groups of our club members and others conducted the City of Muskegon Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015.  (See numbers above.)

These photos of the north group birding Muskegon State Park from Snug Harbor to the Channel to the Lake Michigan shoreline show the cold, dry, partly cloudy conditions.  Strong northwest winds kept most birds hunkered down and out of sight.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

November 21 Field Trip Report

Thirteen of us put up with snow covering the ground, filling the air, and melting on our binoculars at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve this morning.  Eight continued on to Snug Harbor.  We recorded a dozen bird species at each location and a total of 16 species for the day.

Notable at the preserve were 15 American Tree Sparrows, a Pied-billed Grebe, 3 Fox Sparrows and a first-year White-crowned Sparrow.  Snug Harbor provided another Pied-billed Grebe and an appropriate sixteenth species: Dark-eyed Junco (the "snow bird").

Saturday, October 17, 2015

October 17 Field Trip Report, Etc.

Seven birders recorded 27 bird species this morning on Charlie's field trip to Black Lake Park.

It snowed briefly as we walked along the ditch bordering the south side of the property and duck hunter shotguns occasionally blasted west of us by the lake.

Birds of note included Eastern Phoebe, White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Sandhill Crane (2 flying overhead), Hermit Thrush, Hairy Woodpecker (excavating a tall tree stump),

American Coot (200+ on the lake despite the hunters), Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Cooper's Hawk (flew over the meadow, then perched in a distant tree),

and this pair of curious Eastern Bluebirds:

The sun came out for our last half hour but it still remained cold!

- Ric

PS:  Thanks to Greg for conducting Thursday's meeting while Carol and I dealt with the aftermath of a branch falling on our garage roof.  No one hurt and not a lot of damage, but definitely memorable!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

September 19 Field Trip Report

The rain stopped before our monthly field trip began.  Seven of us walked the protected trails of the Kitchell-Lindquist Dunes Preserve and the windy north side of the Grand Haven Channel this morning recording 30 species of birds.

In the woods of the preserve we saw Swainson's Thrush, Blue-headed Vireo, a female Scarlet Tanager and some warblers including Yellow-rumped Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Harrier and Red-tailed Hawk migrated overhead.

The highlight was a sleeping Eastern Whip-Poor-Will brought to our attention by a mobbing group of chickadees and nuthatches that must have mistaken it for a raptor.

Merlin greeted us at the north pier parking lot and seven Sanderling fought the strong winds while foraging along the Lake Michigan shoreline north of the pier.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August 15 Field Trip Report

Twelve of us (not counting unexcused tardy individuals) birded the Wastewater properties this morning without seeing a single Tree Swallow!.

 Photo by Carol Cooper

We recorded 50 bird species (49 not including the pair of Egyptian Geese in Churning Lagoon #3, or 51 including the eight phalaropes in non-breeding plumage swimming too far out on the West Lagoon to I.D.) notably Blue-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, Sandhill Crane, White-rumped Sandpiper (SE corner of East Lagoon), Bank, Barn & Cliff Swallows, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwing, Dickcissel, Bobolink and a Common Raven flying from the landfill to a sprinkler unit east of Swanson where it "crawked".

 Great Blue Heron by Carol DeWitt

Without enough dry habitat in Churning Lagoon #2 shorebirds were confined to the small lagoon (#5) and the edges of the big lagoons.  We gave eBird 24 Killdeer, 9 Spotted Sandpiper, 1 Greater Yellowlegs, 12 Lesser Yellowlegs, 6 Least, 1 White-rumped, 1 Pectoral and 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper.  Sparrows were limited to 2 Chipping, 4 Field and 9 Song.

Bobolink by Charlie DeWitt

As always, lots of fun birding with a great group of people on a beautiful day!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 18 Allegan Field Trip Report

The original plan was to walk a one-mile loop on the Allegan State Game Area in the morning followed by lunch at the Crane's Orchard Restaurant.  Instead (thanks to an impressive and beautiful storm front), we headed up to Crane's as the rains came, then returned to the SGA for a partial walk at midday after the skies had cleared.

Led by Feller DeWitt, nine of us recorded 26 bird species including a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, a pair of Eastern Towhees, families of Tree Swallows and Eastern Kingbirds, 20 Sandhill Cranes, 3 Dickcissels, Barn Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings and plenty of sparrows (Field, Grasshopper, Chipping and Song).

Pardon the blurry images, but prior to the storm this Dickcissel sat for pictures, showing off his rubber-necked ability to preen.

Do not try this at home!