The first day of our big year and it started with an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) alerting me that it was time to wake up and get started. I quickly got up and checked the feeders and was greeted with Tufted titmice (Baeolophus bicolor), Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), Blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata), Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) (singing), American tree sparrow (Spizella arborea), Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), and Hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus). The plan for the day was to visit the Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery (Van Buren County) and Bishop’s Bog trail (Kalamazoo County).
One the way to the hatchery, Emma quickly spotted a Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) near the on-ramp to 1-31 and Centre Ave. in Portage. We arrived at the fish hatchery just after 11am and were greeted with brisk temperatures and sunny skies. The retention ponds to the north were filled with numerous species of ducks, including Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Gadwall (Anas strepera), Green-winged teal (Anas crecca) (male), American wigeon (Anas americana) (male), Northern pintail (Anas acuta) (male), Common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), and Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola). We also found 200+ Canada geese (Branta canadensis), several Mute (Cygnus olor) and Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator), and a single Pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) in the largest pond. Many of the ponds are iced over, but the two to the north remain open, concentrating all waterfowl. Most of the ducks species were located in the smaller pond to the northeast, with most of the geese and swans congregating in the largest pond. We did find a single Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) located in the cattails along one of the frozen ponds near the center of the property.
We didn’t find many birds walking around the wooded areas surrounding the ponds. The day before we came across a Brown creeper (Certhia americana) working the wood-line at the west end of the property, but we could not relocate it today. The only species we located along this wood-line was a single Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus). Walking within a fenced area on the southeast corner of the property, we came across what looked to be owl wing prints in the snow. Some small mammal likely met his end here earlier in the day or the night before. This field looks to be a fairly good hunting field for owls and should be monitored in the future. Almost immediately after this we came across an opossum (Didelphis virginiana) walking directly towards us. It didn’t seem to mind us getting a close look, as it just froze in place until we snapped a few pictures and moved on. We finally came across several bird species at the north end of this field that included American goldfinch (Spinus tristus), House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus), American tree sparrow, Black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), and a Bluejay imitating a Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) (exciting for a moment!).
Our next destination was Schrier Park and Bishop’s Bog in Portage. Neither of us have been to this location and were excited to see Bishop’s bog. As we walked along the trail in the woods, Emma commented on how great it would be if we could spot an owl and then asked how often I see owls during a normal year. Not 15 seconds after this conversation, I spotted a Barred owl (Strix varia) only 25ft from the trail starring right at us. The bird sat there for another 20 seconds then flew west about 20 yards. We watched the bird for a few minutes before moving on. I quickly edited my previous answer and stated that I average about an owl/day this year. For those who wish to locate the bird, it was found about 200 yards north down the trail from the parking lot. Once we reached the bridge crossing the canal near the bog, I heard distinct call notes of winter finches and we quickly found a feeding flock of about 20 Common redpolls (Acanthis flammea). We did not locate many birds as we continued along the trail to the softball fields, but did manage one more Common redpoll and three Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura); however, the light snow falling on the bog made for beautiful scenery. It should be noted that the large field to the north of the blog looks like good winter habitat for Northern shrike (Lanius exubitor) and Long-eared owl (Asio otus).
On the drive home, Emma commented that she saw gulls flying high near the corner of Oakland and Shaver Rds. As we were making the turn, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a Red-shouldered hawk sitting 6ft off the ground hunting. I quickly wheeled the truck around to put us in good position to view this gorgeous bird. The bird was actively scanning the ground for rodents and barely noticed us. We stayed for a couple of minutes before driving home. Before we got home, Emma spotted European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), House sparrows (Passer domesticus), and Rock pigeons (Columba livia). Finally, the day ended with a Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) banging away at the suet feeder, prepping for the cold night ahead.
Other notables of the day included the first hints of bird song of the year. We had a male Northern cardinal singing heartily near Western Michigan University, along with a Tufted titmouse delivering it’s classic ‘Peter, Peter, Peter’ song. Just a reminder that the daylight is slowly increasing and spring is creeping closer with each passing day.
Finally, I close with a brief write up about a delicious beer we enjoyed after our long day in the field. Brooklyn Brewery isn’t normally a brewery that I turn to, but we couldn’t resist trying their Black chocolate stout. This beer is 10% abv, so it certainly made its presence felt. Emma commented that she could feel the alcohol as it coated her throat. The chocolate flavor is not that noticeable and it instead finishes with a slightly bitter coffee taste. The texture of this beer is rather silky, which made it quite enjoyable to drink. I would not recommend drinking several of these beers in one sitting, but if you are looking to enjoy one or two at the end of a day, this one is a treat, especially if you love stouts!
I hope this post finds you all well on this first day of the new year and I look forward to your comments, suggestions for future birding sites, and insight into local rarities!
Big Year Tally–34
Life birds–Emma: (5)–Northern pintail, Green-winged teal, Pied-billed grebe, Common redpoll, and Barred owl Jacob: (0)