cestma

Birding in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

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I am still on cloud nine after a fantastic Michigan Audubon Society field trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula this past week-end. We could not have had a better time--weather-wise, group-&-leader-wise, and especially bird-wise!

After my 384-mile drive up Friday, arriving in Sault Ste Marie ("the Soo") in a blustery below-zero snow-storm, Saturday dawned clear, mostly still, and sunny! (Albeit frigid.) What are the odds?! The weather held through Sunday, the final day of the trip, reverting to wind-whipping overcast again on Monday.

Skye Haas, our intrepid guide, could not have been any more capable, congenial, or brilliant. When you think about it, guides are under a lot of pressure to perform, squiring around all these fanatics who've come great distances with even greater expectations; but if we didn't already have the term laid-back, we'd have to invent it for Skye.

I don't know where to start with this report, so will fall back mostly on chronological order. Sorry for the wordiness thus far and yet to come; I get a little OCD about things...You can probably tell I don't do this kind of thing often. :rolleyes:

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DAY 1

Dawn, apparently, is when to look for grouse; but we struck out the first day, though not for lack of trying. From that effort we segued into a sure thing...

Turns out feeding stations are hugely fruitful up in the frozen north. The first one we hit teemed with Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls, with a few Hoaries mixed in. (The latter, ID'd by Skye, I saw through my bins, but did not get great shots of. I do have one or two others I'll be posting to the ID forum, though...) A few shots--the sun was still low, and a lot of these birds were in shadow.

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This one looks better if you click on it:

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Other species I recorded there were White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Hairy, Downy, and (one) Pileated Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Tree Sparrows and Goldfinches.

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Subsequently, on the road, we observed two Rough-legged hawks in a field, possibly enjoying a meal. They took off as we passed--one light- and one dark-morph.

Then came my first lifer; Northern Shrike. This one was a fairly distant sighting, but there were a number of excellent scopes amongst our tribe, affording excellent looks. A shot from my superzoom point-and-shoot; and the same cropped:

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Spoiler alert: Owls, many owls

:)

Then followed another fruitless search of an area where Skye expected to find a Northern Hawk Owl. But as we left, a clued-in group member noticed an email alert for a Great Gray Owl just a few miles away! Speed limits were broken. Unnecessarily, as it turned out. This was the most accomodating owl ever. The following image is not even cropped.

(Try clicking on all these for full effect)

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These are:

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We spent a good 40 minutes or so in awe of this magnificent specimen; what it thought of us is another question. Whatever, it did not seem at all alarmed by our presence. After maybe 25 minutes it flew to a slightly farther perch, still well within camera range (and even in sunlight!), affording us views from new angles:

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And a short vid of that classic owl head-swiveling. Apologies for the bumpyness--hand-held camera at long-zoom in sub-zero temps!

http://vimeo.com/59974184

Had we seen nothing else the entire trip, that one bird would have made the whole endeavor worthwhile. And then some!

(To be continued. :) )

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Thanks, Kat!

That was all before lunch. :) Next, on to another feeding station.

Hairy that's been dragging its tail (well, don't they always? ;) ):

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"One of these things is not like the others:"

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Finally, one bird posed in the sun!:

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Also seen: lots more Pine Grosbeaks and Redpolls; B-c Chickadees, ravens, goldfinches, eagles soaring overhead...and...I'm afraid notes here are incomplete. :(

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After that we went off to look for Snowy Owls . . . in transit we saw another shrike, on a wire . . .but on our way we got word of a Northern Hawk Owl. Once again it was reverse engines, full steam ahead.

When we got there, we had to "wait in line" as it were, behind another group. While we were further back on the road, I snapped these shots (significantly cropped):

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Then--disaster!! Somehow my frozen, be-gloved fingers managed to mis-set my camera's image size setting to "Small: 640 x 480 pixels." WHY do they even have that capability when it's so easy to resize other ways??!! Sob, gnash teeth, sob! The rest of the day, my pics looked like this (whatever you do, don't zoom in!):

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ARRGGGH!

(EDIT: That was taken from a much closer position, so should have been a lot sharper. <_< )

Well, here's another vid, at least. You can see the wind was definitely picking up; and also that Hawk Owls are quite the head swivelers.

https://vimeo.com/60019844

(More tomorrow--or later. I'm pulling these images off my camera card--want to do most of the culling there before transferring everything to my computer; but have tons of shots to go through, and the battery needs charging...)

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After a good long time with the Hawk Owl, we resumed the quest for Snowies. Just for good measure, we found four of them. :D

Snowy Owl # 1, sitting on top of a spruce:

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Snowy Owl # 2, on the rafter of a collapsed barn:

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Snowy Owl # 3 was sitting on top of a telephone pole, but apparently hadn’t gotten the memo about cooperating. We all saw him, but he took flight just as we were disembarking. I doubt if anyone was quick enough to get pictures.

Snowy Owl #4 was perched near the top of a bare tree in the front yard of a farmhouse, some distance off the road. Here’s a shot of where we were standing, with an arrow indicating where the owl is:

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And a couple of shots of the owl:

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It was now after 5:00 pm, the sun was lowering, and we’d been birding for nearly 10 hours straight in the arctic, or so it felt. So we called it a day.

A very productive day!

Fortunately I looked at my pictures that night and got my cam back in order for the next day’s adventures...

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Day 2 began with us setting out just before dawn on the grouse quest again. On the way the presence of another female dark-morph Rough-legged hawk was announced over the two-way radio. By this time, we were not stopping, just driving slowly by them—we’d seen maybe a half-dozen Rough-leggeds by then. In the UP, almost all seemed to be dark morphs, while the ones I’ve seen down here in the Lower Peninsula have been mostly light morphs...

Then came an announcement of a flock of Snow Buntings in a tree to our left. I must have been the only one in the group for whom this bird was a lifer, as we only stopped briefly, and no one got out of the car or even stopped their engines. (Actually, I’d added this bird just the day before, when we’d seen about 4 in a distant horse pasture, partly obscured by snow drifts—so no good pictures.)

Thus I was thrilled to get this shot, taken through what I hoped was a large enough hole in the frost covering the window of the idling van I was sitting in.

Snow Buntings at dawn:

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This morning when we reached a reputed hot spot for Sharp-tailed Grouse, we all piled out to scan the expansive landscape in front of us with our bins. Someone luckily caught a glimpse of a distant UFO and followed it into the crown of a spruce. BINGO!

Wide angle shot of area we were searching—see dawn shadows of a car, a spotting scope, and a human:

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Zoomed in to approximately what the actual distance was—the grouse are sitting in the tallest spruce, middle of the picture:

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A shot at full zoom—you can see at least 6 grouse, I believe:

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And crops of that shot and another one:

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EDIT: And some even closer crops—maybe they show a bit of detail, however blurry?

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I can't even begin to express my jealousy. I've always wanted to go on a proper briding trip but never got a chance. You'll have to let me know how to get into one. I'm near Detriot so it's not the best birding area. I'm luckly going to the UP this summer but, I'm not sure I'll get to see all the great birds you saw. You mentioned 8 lifers I could add to my list! :blink:

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Almost makes me want to endure the weather and go there:) Sounds like a fabulous trip, and congrats on the great finds! SOOOOOOOO jealous of all the owls:)

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I can't even begin to express my jealousy. I've always wanted to go on a proper briding trip but never got a chance. You'll have to let me know how to get into one. I'm near Detriot so it's not the best birding area. I'm luckly going to the UP this summer but, I'm not sure I'll get to see all the great birds you saw. You mentioned 8 lifers I could add to my list! :blink:

VirtualEgret, it's funny, I've seldom done anything like this either...I actually made myself tell some people I was going so I'd be less likely to chicken out at the last minute.

Recently I happened to join the Michigan Audubon Society, and late last year they sent an email advertising two UP field trips and included a list of potential species that made me salivate. But--I'm no spring chicken; and when I'm not out birding I'm pretty much of a couch potato. So I figured--what makes more sense than the the UP in the dead of winter, right? <_<

So I didn't sign up at first; but then I got another email listing all the drool-worthy results of the JAN trip, and mentioning there were still a few openings for FEB and...I closed my eyes and jumped.

There was at least one other group up there the same week-end--a Traverse Audubon bunch--and it sounds like there are birding trips just about every week-end by some group or another. I suggest you sign up with any local Audubon chapter you can find, and the state one as well. I'd sure recommend making some advance contacts before your summer trip--it really helps to know where to look!

Almost makes me want to endure the weather and go there:) Sounds like a fabulous trip, and congrats on the great finds! SOOOOOOOO jealous of all the owls:)

Thanks for looking, Cany! I'm still having dreams about the owls myself. If you'd been along, trust me, you'd have been too distracted too notice the weather.

Almost. <_<:D

======

Still have a few more pics to go through, a few more posts to add... :rolleyes:

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Nice job cestma! I stayed at Brevort Lake in the UP back in September of 1986, in one of my rare ventures out of California. I couldn't even find a Barred Owl, let alone a Hawk Owl! <_<

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Nice job cestma! I stayed at Brevort Lake in the UP back in September of 1986, in one of my rare ventures out of California. I couldn't even find a Barred Owl, let alone a Hawk Owl! <_<

Thank you, Creeker!

Hmmm--trying to think what we'd have to hunt that you couldn't find a lot closer... ;)

Snow! :(

I know; when I lived in Texas for a couple of years, I really missed the northern winters.

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From there we drove back to Sault Ste Marie and a brief stop at Waterfront Park, where we observed five Bald Eagles on the iced-over channel, one in a tree on the Canadian side, and also 3 pairs of Common Goldeneye swimming in the small patch of power plant outflow water.

After a brief rest stop it was off to another feeding station. Here we are just getting out of our cars at the house, binoculars immediately aloft:

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The residents here stock a mindboggling array of feeders. Here’s just one little area—notice how it’s kept shoveled out, with one of at least two heated water baths in their yard:

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Here we again savored gorgeous Pine Grosbeaks, along with Common Redpolls, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Blue Jays, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Hairy Woodpecker, a crow, ravens, and just a handful of starlings.

Highlights included the only Evening Grosbeak of the trip (and this was the only view of her we got!):

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...and a couple of Rusty Blackbirds, which tour leader Skye Haas said he was more impressed with, for being in the Soo in winter, than the owls we’d racked up. Though at the time I thought I was just getting typical small black silhouettes with my camera, I was happy to find there were some recognizable Rusty markings visible when I cropped and lightened a few shots:

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After that stop we went to a bog some ways west of the Soo to look for Boreal Chickadees. The Traverse group was just leaving when we arrived, having been successful in finding them. We tried for half an hour, to no avail. :(

And thus ended the guided trip; we disbanded mid-afternoon, after some seven hours of birding, to accommodate those who had a long Sunday night drive ahead of them.

Being a woman of leisure--;)—and really, too exhausted to contemplate an immediate 380 drive, I decided to stay over a night and work my way back home more slowly on Monday.

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After a short reconnoitering I set out again Sunday afternoon. I headed to the spot where we’d first searched in vain for a hawk owl, driving up and down the road, scanning for anything of interest. Still, I nearly didn’t stop for a tiny spot in the distance.

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But when I did, and zoomed in—w00h00!! Danged if it weren’t the little guy in question!

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He even flew to a more photogenic perch, where he stayed. :) (All these shots were taken from the same place, sitting in my car.)

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Some croppier crops... ;)

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When we were watching the other owl on Saturday, a few group members had mentioned how its markings made it almost seem as if he had eye spots on the back of his head. This shot sort of shows that impression:

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Could be mere coincidence, but I wonder if it could be adaptive? These guys are actually pretty small, though like a lot of owls they give the impression of being a lot bigger, with those relatively huge heads and stocky builds. At the previous sighting someone had asked Skye if he thought the owl was making the few ravens in the area nervous; and Skye replied that if anything, he’d think just the opposite was true!

According to Sibley, Ravens average 24” in length, Hawk Owls 16”. Perhaps if you’re a little diurnal bird given to sitting right out in the open, it’s beneficial to look like you have eyes in the back of your head. :)

I guess you can tell I was pretty thrilled with this guy or gal! It’s great to be guided to some fantastic birds, but nothing compares to the thrill of finding one by yourself.

A little (44 seconds) vid—for anyone who’s been contemplating a superzoom... ;)

https://vimeo.com/60131005

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I was feeling sorry for all you birders back east, with all the snow. I was thinking "That stinks, months of snow and no decent birds!" And then I see THIS! Hawk Owls, Great Gray Owls, etc. And here I am like some kind of chump, sifting through countless Red-tailed Hawks and Kestrels. Sheesh! Maybe time to move. I'm sure I could get used to snow after 50+ years of mild weather. :huh:

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One word......

JEALOUS!

:D

Hee hee! It's great to be on the opposite side of that equation for once! :)

I was feeling sorry for all you birders back east, with all the snow. I was thinking "That stinks, months of snow and no decent birds!" And then I see THIS! Hawk Owls, Great Gray Owls, etc. And here I am like some kind of chump, sifting through countless Red-tailed Hawks and Kestrels. Sheesh! Maybe time to move. I'm sure I could get used to snow after 50+ years of mild weather. :huh:

Yeah...and let me tell you how many lifers I could pick up in California... :rolleyes:

At least I'm begining to take more advantage of my own area, though. This whole boreal and further north biome* is pretty cool! No pun intended. :D

*Is there a word for those spp that actually winter in MI and breed up in the arctic/subarctic? Started to say nearctic, but looked it up and that's way wrong...

Still have another hawk owl to post about--and that'll be it. I love those guys! :)

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