Sunday, May 30, 2010


A cracking morning with loads of passerines on the move; sometime mid-count Chris radioed to say he'd found a Mockingbird so me and Jason thought we'd go look for it; Phil said he'd hold the fort. Then Chris and Nova said they'd found a Bay Breasted Warbler near the mist nets so we went for that instead. While looking around the area it was obvious there was a pocket of bird activity near a small pond, including a Yellow Bellied Flycatcher giving great views. While waiting quietly in some pines by the pond a close warbler passed through some willows about 15 feet away, about 5 feet off the ground. In my bins i could see that it had a plain dark grey head with no hint of a supercilium at all, but a very strikingly bold white eyering. I quickly scanned the plumage for distinguishing features and noted yellow underparts, fairly plain concolourous dark upperparts across the head, mantle and wings with strong black streaks on the upper mantle; in the brief view i wasn't struck by any bold wingbars. The breast was unpatterned but there were black streaks on the rear flanks. It quickly moved on and I was immediately thinking Kirtlands but wanted to check a field guide for confusion species. Luckily Geoff had one nearby, and i was able to eliminate a first spring female Magnolia due to their contrasting wings and mantle, lack of dark streaks on the upper mantle; paler head and mantle and usually, presence of either fairly obvious wingbars, a hint of a post-ocular supercilium or some patterning on the upper breast. I staked out the spot for about 2 hours but it seems the bird was just passing through, though i did find Least and Alder Flycatchers, Wilsons, female Mourning and probable female Tennessee Warbler and interestingly a female Magnolia which Geoff had reported, this being noticeably different to the bird i saw. I'm really pleased to have found a good Point bird which i've been hoping to do since i started here, though it's tinged with disappointment that it didn't stay around for others to enjoy; i can understand why some people have shown some scepticism, as i've been on the other side of the fence many times myself! However as i've said to a couple of folks whilst i've been here, i never claim a bird unless i'm at least 110% certain of the ID. I was lucky enough to find another life bird too, a Great Crested Flycatcher behind the shack, though unfortunately only NTVs were obtained of the Olive Sided Flycatcher in the same area as it flew back south, though it had been calling loudly and frequently.
Canada Geese continue to go through, with 366. Still some White Winged Scoter and R B Merganser too with 27 and 33 respectively. 42 Common Loons was more than in recent days, while 19 D C Cormorant included a flock of 16. Shorebirds were noticeable with 9 S P Plover and 16 Sanderling.
Here's an evening view from the beach to help you get an idea of the scenery:

5/28/10 cont. Peregrine... err... hang on...

A bit of excitement during the count too. A sighting of a Peregrine came over the radio, i was busy counting so didn't immediately turn around. When i did i saw the bird flying away from us with some Broad Wings and remarked on its unusual, slow, stiff flight action, but was told that they sometimes fly like that here (!), though it seemed odd for it to be mixing so closely with the low flock of slow-moving Buteos. A minute or so later "Mississippi Kite" came over the radio; we couldn't see the bird but later found out that there was no Peregrine and it was in fact the Mississippi Kite! Hearty congrats to the 2 independant finders, but for me unfortunately, not UTB (Under The Belt) or OML (On My List) but "NTVs" (= Non-Tickable Views).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

5/28/10 - Jolly Japes

An interesting and educational day today, if a little frustrating at times. There was a passage of terns on and off the whole day in small groups which totalled 47, but due to the conditions both myself and Phil felt it was not possible to say with 100% certainty what species any of them were! The sky was cloudless, and looking into the sun the whole day meant that birds were generally silhouettes, and even structural details became hard to discern in the glare. Add to this heat shimmer and some tripod shake when not in the lee of the shack and you have a recipe for some challenging bird ID! Indeed at times the birds seemed to show features of different and dissimilar species at the same time. Yet another reminder, not that i need one, of just how hard seabirding really is.
A lone tern flew through towards the end of the count and we agreed it was a good candidate for either Sandwich or Gull-Billed; i see the former pretty regularly between late March and late September. So ironically we may have had a 2nd State record, we just don't know which species! I think it's fair to say that there was a consensus that at least some of the other terns were Arctics. It makes me wonder how many go by un-ID'd. If a supporting cast for this High Arctic bird were needed it was provided by a respectable count of 12 Red Throated Loons, which nests the furthest north of all the loon species, getting almost as far north as there is land and small pools of open water. Additionally i had a Parasitic Jaeger during the evening flight which probably nests the furthest north of the jaegers. It is generally the case that the birds which breed the furthest north migrate the latest.

Canada Geese continued to go through with almost 200 and there was a good high count of Ring Billed Gulls with 168 - they really were "all over the gaff", as they say in Sheffield.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


A Laughing Gull flew over this morning, chuckling away which helped us to pick it up as it headed SE into the bay - unfortunately it just kept on going. This could be the same bird which Phil had 2 days ago, or could be a new bird. Canada Geese kept on going through, with a whopping 673 birds today. Loons made a slight comeback with 53, including 9 Red Throated. Five Swan sp looked large, heavy and long necked and were probably either Mute or Trumpeter but were too distant to ID. Black Bellied Plover put in a good showing with 34. And don't forget, there's still time to send in your pledges for the WPBO Bird-a-thon!

26/5/10 - O Canada!

The Canada Goose migration is well and truly underway, 437 on Wednesday and 283 the day before. There is a somewhat smaller passage early in the Spring, but as i understand it, no one is completely sure where these new birds are coming from, going to, or why. The most likely explanation seems to be that it is some kind of moult migration, perhaps of failed or non-breeders from further south, seeking fresh grazing to the north. In the UK where Canada Goose is an introduced non-native, a small moult migration has developed up into Scotland from further south. Certainly a lot of the birds we are currently seeing look pretty shabby and in need of some new feathers! Conversely, seaduck (scoters and Longtails) have come to a very abrupt halt. A Prairie Warbler was spotted by Jack in the pine just behind the shack and sang for a while before heading back south.
I had a couple of days off and Ken kindly drove us to the Keweenaw for an overnight visit. We spent quite a lot of time with Max up on Brockway Mountain and had stunning views of some raptors, despite the 90 degree wind coming all the way from Texas. One of the highlights was seeing a wolf by the side of the road! In the meantime Phil kindly held the fort back at the shack and had 2 Parasitic Jaegers and a Laughing Gull - good stuff.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Not much more to say really. Fog. Lots of it. More fog than birds certainly. A walk round the tip before the count produced 8 Black Bellied Plover, and while stumbling around behind the shack i had a flock of about 10 birds go over which looked and sounded like waxwings. Mid-afternoon they again flew over me, and i again failed to nail the I.D. Third time lucky, as i was walking out to the point for the evening flight they went over once more; this time i got my bins on them before they quickly disappeared and could see a yellow tail band - Cedar Waxwing fully trousered! Back of the net! And there were nearer to 20 this time. Hope they stick around. Another warm welcome to an even newer member of the team, Libby who will be volunteering here for a couple of months, supporting the team, providing guided walks and so forth. Do come along and support our programs if you can.


...sorry, shorebirds were starting to appear today - a walk round the point before the start of the count produced superb close views of 6 Dunlin, 1 Sanderling, 2 Piping Plover and 1 Spotted Sandpiper. 4 Whimbrel flew through mid-count. A shorebird flew over giving an unusual, quick 4 note wi-wi-wi-wi call; this is a close match for the description of Upland Sandpiper, though of course we'll never know what it was!
A warm welcome to the team again for Phil Chu; i know he needs no introduction to many of our visitors and was greeting old acquaintances as soon as he arrived. Phil will be helping out with the waterbird count for the next couple of weeks as usual. And he got off to a nice start by spotting a Black Tern, a great point bird and just totally stunning! Conditions were cloudier today and there were fewer duck; whether the two are somehow related i have no idea.

5/21/10 - Best day for Long Tails...

... with 501. Also 193 White Winged Scoters. Back home we call them "Velvet Scoters" - i wonder why? 4 Surf Scoters were nice to see. A light passage of gulls was again evident, and another tern was seen mid-range; darkish tones in the plumage suggest Common, as do the short tail streamers. 2 Piping Plovers were again present, though no sign of any nest scraping as yet. Two pairs have been located at Vermilion Point according to the guys there. Nice to see 2 male and 1 female Bobolink over the shack first thing, plus Magnolia Warbler in the nearest tree and male Scarlet Tanager shooting through, thanks to another "heads up" on the walkie-talkie!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A good count of Red Throated Loons today with 41. One Osprey and one Great Blue Heron, and another afternoon gull passage involved 8 Bonapartes, and about 90 each of Herring and Ring Billed.
The forecast is for the winds to turn much more to the south for the next few days. This could really open the floodgates... Interestingly i narrowly missed a Yellow Headed Blackbird in with the Blue Jay flock whilst i was trying to relocate a reported Henslows Sparrow, potentially a first for the Point. I wonder if things are starting to hot up.

Tern tern tern

The clear skies and calm conditions continue unabated. Over 230 each of L T Duck and W W Scoter flew by, 140 R B Merganser, and 20 R T Loon. Towards the end of the count a steady passage of approx 50 Herring and Ring Billed Gulls was evident. One Piping plover was present. Highlight was about 3 groups of terns going through mid-distance first thing totalling 38. I am familiar with Common and Arctic which breed in N Wales where i live. They were silhouetted against the light so plumage features could not be discerned but they had tail streamers the length of Arctics. This is a pelagic species which tends to migrate up the east and west coasts; the other species with long tail streamers is Forsters which is a scarce but regular migrant, usually in small numbers. Interestingly i had a lone tern three days ago with long tail streamers; i noted at the time that its' call was "unlike Common".
One Red Necked Grebe was the first for many days.

Pileated Woody

White Winged Scoter and Long Tailed Duck continue in good numbers, with 134 and 316 respectively. Bonapartes Gull numbered 42, loons 202 inc 23 Red Throated. A Piping Plover was again present and a Pileated Woodpecker was seen over the pines behind the shack.
One of the nice things of the last few days has been the continual presence of migrating birds. If the waterbirds ever stop moving, passerines are continually present overhead, inc an impressive flock of approx 1000 Blue Jays. Bluebirds, Kingbirds, pipits, Horned Larks, sparrows and warblers are also continually on the move.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Shorebirds picking up

The last 2 or 3 days have seen a definite increase in shorebirds. Highlight today was a group of 35 Short Billed Dowitchers (luckily they were calling) which we picked up flying over the trees behind the shack just as Chris radio'ed to say he'd seen them from near the car park. The other highlight was cracking views of a 2nd calendar-year Goshawk which flew right over our heads and out over the lake, before being mobbed by a Herring Gull and heading back in over the harbour. Wasn't able to get on the Swainsons Hawk seen from the hawk count unfortunately!

Other birds:
W W Scoter 113
L T Duck 241
Merganser 250
R T Loon 30
Common Loon 199
Sanderling 1
Bonapartes Gull 122
Piping Plover 1

5/16/10 - Long Tailed Ducks...

... 371 of them. Much better weather than yesterday and a good waterbird passage for the first 4 hours or so. In fact it was completely clear skies and no wind at all. Other birds:

W W Scoter 31
G Scaup 4
Merganser 219
Bonapartes Gull 49
Least Sand 1
Piping Plover 2

Highlight of the day was a Red Bellied Woodpecker which showed really well on the Merlin Pole. After the count, there was a concentration of birds down Memory Lane (at the end of the car park) and cracking views were obtained of Chestnut Sided, Parula, Orange Crowned and Yellow Warblers, Hairy Woodpecker and Rose Breasted Grosbeak among several others.
Dan and Ken then very kindly took me to look for Black Backed Woodpecker, and we got great views of a female. And a few days ago Jason took me to a good area near the Soo where we flushed a Sharp Tailed Grouse, and heard Le Contes Sparrow and Bittern. So doing quite well with some of those more difficult species!

SEO saves the day

A Short Eared Owl salvaged a relatively quiet day on Saturday, this is quite a scarce bird at the Point i believe. It was seen flying in off the lake before disappearing low towards the harbour. I'm lucky in that i get to see them on the coast in the winter near where i live, and sometimes up on the moors in the summer too. The count was quiet due mainly to fog for about half the day. Luckily i was kept company by Ken and Dan for most of it which helped me keep me sanity...well almost.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lark Sparrow at the shack

Looks like the southerly winds did the business last night, combining with a bit of rain to bring down the birds. The walk to the shack was agonising this morning, as it was obvious from the large number of birds calling that lots of birds had arrived overnight. However, i'm a pro, so i soldiered on to the shack, nonetheless trousering Philadelphia Vireo, Least Flycatcher and Cape May Warbler on the way without breaking stride! Goodness knows what got missed this morning.
Clementine was again on the case, picking out a Piping Plover which was swiftly reported to myself. On having a look at the bird through the scope, it appeared to have no bands. 3 shorebird spp were also reported. A few hours later, a couple of lads from the PP Project base at Vermilion Point called in to say hi. We directed them towards the PP, and lo! there was another one with 2 Least Sandpipers. This bird was banded. Local birder Ken got some shots to read the bands and also photographed a Ruddy Turnstone, as well as a couple of new warbler spp.
The waterbird flight was fairly quiet, with about one third of the birds being uncountable due to the fact that they were flying the wrong way. I am more and more convinced that loons just like a headwind to provide some lift. Rather like swans, they're heavy but powerful birds and need a headwind to fly into. Their powerful pectoral muscles can provide the forward thrust no problem. The 747s of the bird world!
Our best day for Long Tailed Ducks this spring was on Wed when no less than 585 flew past the Point. That was also our best day for Surf Scoter with 19. Bonapartes Gulls have also started to pick up the last few days. Today was our best day for Red Throated Loons for a while with 27, although Commons were quite few. But best of all was a Lark Sparrow which spent most of the afternoon with a White Crowned and a Savannah feeding on Nyjer seed scattered about 20 yards from the shack. I understand this is less than annual at the Point, so is surely the same bird which had been present at the HQ until a few days ago?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Phew what a scorcher!

Mergansers continue to go through in good numbers, 260 today. L T Duck are continuing to pick up with 79, likewise Scoters, with 36 White Winged plus 4 Surf which were spotted by Jason while doing the Hawk Count, who radioed us then Chris picked them up. Go team! Conversely, loons and R N Grebes staged a no-show, with only 48 and 7 respectively the whole day. Gulls are beginning to go through now, around 80 each of Herring, Ring Billed and Bonapartes. I spent some time after the count looking for passerines and got extremely excited when a B T Blue Warbler passed through the scrub - as we say in Britain, "Phew What A Scorcher!" This was followed by Nashville, Black and White and B T Green - another gem with its' glowing yellow cheek patch.
Don't forget to send in your pledges for our Bird-a-thon, all proceeds go to support the research work here at WPBO.
Finally it's worth mentioning that the Owls Roost Gift Shop will be open from midday tomorrow, and 10 am on Thursday.
Tata for now.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Here's the photo - what a cracking little bird.

Click to zoom in.
Thanks to David at MTU for the shot.

Piping Plover back...

... but apparently a different bird again. A banded bird was found by local earlybirder Clementine and successfully twitched by a keen group of student ornithologists and their tutor from Houghton. The bands were studied through scopes and camera from a respectful distance and the combination was something like:
R leg: orange over red
L leg: blue pink blue pink
Hopefully photos will emerge giving greater detail, but in the meantime that may be enough to establish its' life history which would be fascinating to me.

Waterbird passage was virtually non-existent today, though a female Snow Bunting found by the Ornithology Class showed down to a few feet and may be another bird that has come temporarily south on these northerlies. Unfortunately it appeared to have a slightly injured wing and may have had a close shave with the male Merlin that spent most of the day out on the point. Hope he doesn't take to eating plovers...

Otherwise, still waiting for the migrant flood. Any day now...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Where have all the birds gone?

Well we're having a spot of weather up here at the moment. Even seasoned UPers tell me that it's exceptional. Strong northerlies and snow have put paid to migration; Common Loons are the benchmark species, and were very few today; yesterday "just" a hundred or so. As you may have read last night, i saw 3 Piping Plovers in the same scope view on the beach yesterday, what looked like a pair and a single. I've reloaded that post as i was hoping to add a nice photo which Jason's promised to let me use - if we can figure out the technology! One bird appeared to be display flighting at one point. However today there was no sign, although in the arctic conditions i'm really not surprised. I'm sure they're just a little further south on a slightly less exposed section of beach, feeding away and waiting for the winds to change again. Hopefully they'll return in the next couple of days. Can i politely ask all folks to keep a good distance from these nationally endangered birds and allow them to raise a family, thanks. I've been a bit unwell the last couple of days and have appreciated having Jason and Chris to step in where necessary, though i don't appear to have missed a great deal. Apart from the Glaucous Gull i mentioned last night which i saw landing at the tip (a 2nd winter/summer - "blotchy" plumage and pale eye - according to a young chap from SW Michigan who got nice and close to it), 3 Bonaparte's were attempting to ride out the storm in the slightly calmer waters in the lee of the point. Of note was the good number of Red Breasted Mergansers again two days ago - 236, this being my highest count so far.
Apparently my birding friends back home are having exactly the same experience as us - north winds and zero migration. The weather forecast for here is looking similar for the next couple of days before winds swing round to the east, hopefully releasing the floodgates and allowing a tidal wave of migrants to pour through.
That's the theory anyway....

5/7/10 - Piping Plover!

And not just one, but three! One of which was banded.... I'll do a bit of research when i get a chance and get back to you, and with a full roundup of the last couple of days too - today and yesterday were quite quiet but there were a few interesting things, such as the Glaucous Gull, plus the Merganser flight is finally starting to pick up. For those statistically minded, tune in tomorrow!
Nighty night.


Well the loons just kept on coming... no sooner had this seasons record been set than it was smashed. No fewer than 490 loons migrated through today, comprising 324 Commons; a fantastic 54 Red Throated, and 112 un ID'd. And it was really nice to see the Red Breasted Mergansers finally getting going with 159 of those. Red Necked Grebes had a better day than the recent average with 84, likewise the White Winged Scoters with 25. And still plenty of time for all those species to keep on flying by.
Just goes to show what a southerly wind can do!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It was a bit bonkers today as far as loons were concerned - 435 in total (273 Common, 43 Red Throated and 119 un ID'd) being by far the biggest count of the Spring so far. Interestingly, the loons were still going strong when i had to call it a day after my 8 hours were up - darn! Wish i coulda stayed til dark... The other interesting sighting was 4 first summer swans which flew by. I got a good look at one side-on through my scope and it was a definite Trumpeter, even better views than the one a couple of weeks ago that had Tom "Big Sit" Bartlett cursing that he hadn't got a shot. In comparison to the Tundra Swan which i saw near the start of the count, this was much larger, heavier and had the jizz of a Mute Swan with which i'm very familiar, but had a large all-black bill lacking any orange or yellow. The head was also large and triangular and reminded me of a Whooper. I was kept company today by a flock of 46 American Pipits, another bird whose call i'm trying to commit to memory for that Fall encounter on my side of the pond! 124 Red Necked Grebes were nice to see too, though unfortunately no sign of the reported Le Contes Sparrow this morning which was apparently seen yesterday evening near the path to the shack. I did however connect with the Lark Sparrow which Chris found in our back garden - another first for me.
A big thank you to our newest member of the team, resident volunteer Jason who stood in for me on what turned out to be quite a quiet day yesterday - a particular thanks for not seeing anything too rare! That would really have spoilt my day off! It was nice to get my fix of Buffalo down at the Yukon and a couple of brewskis.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Another good loon day, with a total of 143 including 12 Red Throated. One was actually on the water for a change, but as soon as i found it in my scope it dived! These things can swim a long way under water, and by the time i relocated it, it was calling before it then flew onward - only the second time i've heard one call, the last one being in Scotland many years ago. The supporting cast included a distant Caspian Tern over the harbour, 1 W W Scoter, 8 LT Duck, 11 D C Cormorant and 7 Killdeer. A stunning Nashville warbler was singing behind the feeders at first light, what a gorgeous bird!
Yesterday was foggy for most of the count and it was impossible to count any birds until it cleared. Loons could be heard calling, but i didn't know if it was one loon calling ten times or ten loons calling once! I stayed at the shack nonetheless, though the calls of songbirds in the nearby pines were like the songs of sirens trying to tempt me away.
After a long while the fog started to clear from over the trees and while checking for loons taking the "short cut" across the point behind the shack I noticed a distant Buteo without a red uppertail. Zooming in revealed a different pattern on the underside of the body and in particular two pale crescents near the ends of the upperwing. A quick look in my new Peterson (thanx Jim!) and i was extremely excited to discover it was a Red Shouldered Hawk! My first ever. I grilled the next folks to arrive and they reported that one had been seen earlier from the hawk watch.
One Wilsons Snipe was flushed from the path through the dunes just before the shack at first light. Interestingly, its' call was noticeably different from that of Common Snipe, with which it was lumped until recently. These days, splits are often based on DNA and vocalisations, and this one certainly sounded more "squelchy"! I'll be listening out for one on my local marshes next fall, though getting a description like that past the local rarities committee could be difficult!