Monday, November 23, 2009

A Rarity on Lake Michigan

Since a very rare bird had been seen for the past week in Berrien County, Michigan, Eric and I decided to make the three and a half hour drive to look for the bird. We got up at 4:30am and were out the door heading towards Lake Michigan. We arrived at Tiscornia Park at 8:20am and met up with Roger Hedge, another birder from central Indiana, and quickly headed out to the end of the pier. When we were about halfway to the end, we stopped to scan through a group of gulls and Eric promptly picked out a Little Gull amongst the flock. This was a lifer for both Eric and I.

Looking back towards the beach.

As we got out to the end of the pier, there was already a large group of birders gathered there scanning for the rare bird. Our friend Alison, a birder from Berrien County, was there and had not seen the bird yet that morning but told us that it had not been seen until 12:30pm the day before. As we stood on the pier and scanned the lake, a Little Gull approached very closely and allowed me to get the following picture.

Little Gull

A little while later, a birder yelled out JAEGER! The juvenile Parasitic Jaeger flew about 20 feet over our heads giving everyone present amazing looks. While we continued to wait for the rarity to show up, we enjoyed watching a Red-necked Grebe only 20-50 yards offshore. We were told that this was a very good bird in Berrien County.

Birders scanning the Lake from the end of the North Pier

Finally after about three hours, our patience paid off. The Ancient Murrelet appeared from the north and started feeding about 150 yards off shore where the river water and lake water merged together. It was diving frequently and spent more time underwater feeding than on the surface. As we watched, it moved in to about 75 yards and delighted the 40 or 50 birders that were present. It slowly moved back to the north and then disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. It was a lifer for many of the birders that were present, including Eric. I had seen this amazing bird during my cruise to Alaska this past May, and it was even more impressive here than it was in Alaska!

Ancient Murrelet

We left the pier around noon and birded around the county with Alison and three young birders from the Chicago area. We hit many spots and had many awesome birds, with the best being an adult male Long-tailed Duck and a Lesser Black-backed Gull. It was an amazing day with lots of great birds. We will definitely be back to bird in Berrien County again!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To Live's to Fly

This past weekend after attending the Ohio Young Birders Conference (more about this later), I was able to go on a Lake Erie pelagic trip along with many other birders. Usually at this time of year, a boat trip onto Lake Erie is a very cold experience, but we lucked out with some mild temperatures. The boat left from Cleveland and traveled east before cruising out into the lake then heading back west and inland to dock.

Juvenile Herring Gull

After cruising out of the channel and into Lake Erie, we followed a very long breakwall where we were able to watch a cooperative Peregrine Falcon. Knowing that a Purple Sandpiper was probably somewhere along this breakwall, I scanned with binoculars for about 15 or 20 minutes. Soon after, I got lazy and stopped scanning - and then somebody spotted one. I'm just lucky there were people on the boat that were not as lazy me. We were able to go back to the area it was spotted, and everyone got good looks. While still cruising east along the shore, we were able to spot a White-winged Scoter to go along with 4 Black Scoters we had seen while birding before getting to the boat.

Adult Herring Gull

For most of the time the boat was on the water, we chummed for gulls with very modest results. The numbers of gulls was impressive but the diversity was low with only four species seen. While heading north on the lake, we were able to spot a Pomarine Jaeger resting on the water. It didn't stick around long and took off flying past the boat. Not everybody was able to get good looks, but luckily I was able to see it well in flight.

When heading back in to dock we learned that there was a problem - a drawbridge over the channel that we needed to pass under to get back to the dock was stuck and the boat would not be able to get under it. So we docked somewhere else and had people taxied back over to where all the cars were. There positive side of this was spotting a Merlin. This was one of the most cooperative Merlins I have ever seen, and it stayed sitting on a pole in a parking lot while many birders stood below watching it.

It was a great trip and if you are ever able to go on one of these pelagics, don't miss the opportunity.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ohio Young Birders Conference and Lake Erie Pelagic

This weekend Eric and I will be heading up to northern Ohio with our friend Chad and his son to attend the Ohio Young Birders Conference on Saturday. Since we have been working on putting together an Indiana Young Birders Club, this should be a very interesting and educational experience for all of us.

The Ohio Young Birders Club was started a few years ago by young birders in northern Ohio under the leadership of Kim Kaufman and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. It has grown exponentially in its first few years of existence and is the most well-known club in the county. It has also become the model for many new Young Birders clubs in other states, including our own. The Indiana Audubon Society is the primary sponsor the Indiana Young Birders Club, and we hope that someday it will be as beneficial to young birders in Indiana as the OYBC is to young birders in Ohio.

While this is only the second conference that the OYBC has hosted, they have managed to get an amazing young birder to give the keynote speech. Malkolm Boothroyd is a 17 year-old from Canada that did a Big Year by bicycle. He and his parents travelled 13,000 miles and raised $25,000 for conservation. I am sure he has many exciting stories to tell about his experiences.

It just so happens that BSBO is also sponsoring a pelagic trip on Lake Erie on Sunday. The trip leaves from Cleveland and cruises along some of the most well-known birding areas in the region. The best part is that instead of standing on the shore and scanning with a spotting scope, we will be out there on the lake with the birds! In addition to many common ducks and gulls, we are hoping to find a few rarities. You really never know what you can find out on one of the Great Lakes.

Hope you all enjoy your birding adventures this weekend! If anyone else is attending either the Ohio Young Birders Conference or the pelagic trip on Lake Erie sponsored by BSBO, please let us know!


A Storm Brewing in the Black Hills - SkyWatch Friday

This photo was taken in the Black Hills of South Dakota shortly before a summer storm last year.

- Rob

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Clingmans Dome - Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Skywatch Friday

This photo was taken from Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in April 2009. It is the hightest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Definitely worth the climb!