My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Archive for March, 2013

Grand Haven, Michigan, urban birding

On Saturday March 30, with the promise of some beautiful weather, I made a trip to Grand Haven, Michigan to spend the day birding. Grand Haven is the largest of three municipalities on the banks of the Grand River where it eventually empties into Lake Michigan. The other two are Ferrysburg on the north bank, and Spring Lake to the east.

I didn’t carry my GPS unit with me, as I was in town 100% of the time, so I don’t have a map of my walking that day, but I did take a photo of a map that shows the majority of the ground that I covered.

Map of Grand Haven, Michigan

Map of Grand Haven, Michigan

You can click on the photo for a larger photo with more details. You can see an extensive system of walking/bicycle trails, many right along the Grand River or its offshoots.

It’s been years since I visited Grand Haven, it used to be a place that I went very often, as the Grand River bayous are well-known for good bass fishing. It also serves as a good port to access Lake Michigan for salmon and steelhead fishing on the big lake.

I began the day on Harbor Island, part of which is shown on the map above. I don’t know if it was a real island, or if it was turned into one by dredging a channel through a marshy area to create more mooring slips for pleasure boats. You’ll get a better idea as I post more photos of the area. Since this post is about birding in the Grand Haven area, most of the photos will be of birds, but I’ll throw in a few of the other things to see and do as well.

I had just parked and gotten out of my vehicle, and I could see a few waterfowl in the south channel that makes Harbor Island an island.

Bufflehead ducks

Bufflehead ducks

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Common Mergansers

I was standing on top of a railroad trestle for those, and the pilings from an earlier bridge caught my eye.

Bridge pilings

Bridge pilings

I walked most of the circumference of Harbor Island, it is a very marshy area, and I was hoping to catch a few early wading birds, but other than a few killdeer, none where to be found.

Killdeer

Killdeer

With the water level of Lake Michigan near an all time low, the ribs of an old boat that had been beached and left to rot have been exposed.

An old boat left to rot

An old boat left to rot

And since the next day was Easter, I thought this to be a fitting shot.

Cross and flag

Cross and flag

The flag and cross are atop a dune that rises above one of Grand Haven’s claim to fame, the world’s largest musical fountain. It’s quite impressive when they do their evening shows, but that’s all I have to say about it here.

I did spot a few more ducks as I walked the shoreline of Harbor Island.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Red head ducks

Red head ducks

There were other things to photograph as well, the tugs used to push barges of sand and gravel from a mining operation…

Tugboats moored together

Tugboats moored together

Tugboat

Tugboat

….another old boat left in the mud…

Old boat wreckage

Old boat wreckage

…and the old railroad swing bridge, which is still in operation.

Railroad swing bridge

Railroad swing bridge

Railroad swing bridge

Railroad swing bridge

It was a beautiful day, with birds singing everywhere…

Song sparrow living up to its name

Song sparrow living up to its name

Male northern cardinal in full song

Male northern cardinal in full song

…but I didn’t try very hard for better photos, I didn’t want to spook the birds and lose the music they were providing me. It’s been months since I’ve heard their songs, it was a day to enjoy them. Adding to the songbirds’ music was the warbling croaks of huge flocks of sandhill cranes headed north.

Sandhill cranes headed north

Sandhill cranes headed north

And the chattering of a pair of kingfishers who kindly made sure I got good photos of them by flying past me repeatedly.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher in flight

Having made it all around Harbor Island, I drove to downtown Grand Haven to walk the breakwater there.

The south breakwater in Grand Haven

The south breakwater in Grand Haven

I began at the Coast Guard Station in town.

Coast Guard plaque

Coast Guard plaque

It was there that the red-throated loon made my day by flying past me for a great photo-op! I saw the loon, but it was really too far away for good photos. If as it knew my predicament, it launched itself into flight and flew past me at about the optimal height and distance for some very good photos, if I do say so myself. There was a couple standing near me, and after the loon had flown past, they asked if it had been a loon. My reply was yes, and it had made my day, for things were not going the best as far as getting good close-ups of birds. That didn’t change a lot, other than the loon.

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Some people would say that it was much more likely that the loon took flight because the Coast Guard boat pulling out of its slip disturbed the loon…

Coast Guard boat

Coast Guard boat

…but I’d like to think that the loon was being nice, since it was the reason I went to Grand Haven in the first place. ūüėČ

I walked all the way to the end of the breakwater.

Grand Haven lighthouse

Grand Haven lighthouse

On my way, a small raptor flew past me at speed, landing in a tree on the other side of the channel. I’m not 100% positive, and my photo isn’t very good, but I think that it was a peregrine falcon, which make their home in Grand Haven.

Peregrine falcon?

Peregrine falcon?

I wasn’t quick enough to catch it in flight, and that shot is cropped severely to show the bird. I should have brought my binoculars, but they were sitting in my Subaru, a great place for them while trying to ID birds.

After walking the breakwater, I headed over to the Pere Marquette Railroad display.

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

As always, there were plenty of gulls around who were willing to pose.

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

If you notice, the bottom of that last photo is darker than it should be, I think that my Nikon is dying. ¬†About halfway through the day, the shutter began making odd sounds when I was shooting, by the end of the day the camera was giving me error messages that I really didn’t want to see.

The turkey vultures must have sensed the imminent death of my Nikon, for a few of them began circling ominously close.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Thinking that I should give the camera a rest, and escape the vultures, I headed up to Mona Lake, and Lake Harbor Park to shoot a few photos of red breasted mergansers in flight.

Red breasted mergansers in flight

Red breasted mergansers in flight

Male red breasted merganser in flight

Male red breasted merganser in flight

Female red breasted merganser taking off

Female red breasted merganser taking off

Other than the mergansers and a sky full of gulls, there wasn’t a lot to see there, so I went on to the Muskegon Channel to see what I could find. Nothing really special at first.

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Long-tailed duck

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White winged scoters in flight

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Greater scaup

I kind of like the effect of my shutter going bad made to this photo of some ducks too far away to ID.

DSC_9688

Distant ducks on ice

I sat on a bench to take a break and soak up some very rare sunshine when a male mute swan decided to declare war on younger male who was some distance away, and minding his own business. The older male came at the younger one like a freight train!

DSC_9693

Swan wars

The older swan had a head of steam behind it, I got the feeling that all the younger one wanted to do was to escape and be left alone, but that didn’t happen. It wasn’t much of a war, the older one was beating and biting the younger one, who was doing all it could to get away.

DSC_9694

Swan wars

DSC_9695

Swan wars

DSC_9696

Swan wars

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Swan wars

DSC_9699

Swan wars

DSC_9700

Swan wars

DSC_9701

Swan wars

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Swan wars

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Swan wars

Swan wars, the victor swims off

Swan wars, the victor swims off as the loser sulks

That’s all the photos for this one, but I do have a few more words to add about Grand Haven. It is a very popular summer destination for thousands of people, from both Michigan and surrounding states all week long, but especially on weekends. There will be a steady stream of boats going up and down the channel, and people will be shoulder to shoulder on the breakwater in town. It is not a place will you will find peace and quiet if that’s what you’re seeking, nor many waterfowl during the summer. That’s not a knock, but I think that you should know that it is a typical beach town, sleepy in the winter with many businesses closed, and a bustling city in the summer. You can see yacht from all around the world moored at the many marinas along the Grand River during the summer months.

Even on this early spring day, there were enough fishing boats going in and out of the channel to keep the waterfowl population at bay. If you’re thinking of birding in the summer, there are probably better places to go, but over the winter months, with the migratory waterfowl using the open water of the river as a rest stop, it can be a very good place to go.

One last thing, for most of the day I was wishing I had brought my kayak to get around rather than walking. I probably should have, it would have been a great day for it, although I’m sure that the water was still mighty cold! I’m thinking of going back there at least once during the early spring so that I can get back into the bayous of the Grand River. I picked up the crossbars that fit my Subaru when I had it in for its service, so I’m all set for kayaking this summer!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Red-throated Loon, Gavia stellata

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Red-throated Loon, Gavia stellata

This is another species that I will probably never be able to post photos of in their breeding plumage. They are loons that breed primarily in the Arctic. In breeding plumage, the adult has a dark grey head and neck (with narrow black and white stripes on the back of the neck), a triangular red throat patch, white underparts and a dark grey-brown mantle. It is the only loon with an all-dark back in breeding plumage. The non-breeding plumage is more drab with the chin, neck and much of the face white, the top of the head and back of the neck grey, and considerable white speckling on the dark mantle.

The Red-throated Loon is a migratory aquatic bird found in the northern hemisphere. It breeds primarily in Arctic regions, and winters in northern coastal waters. It is the most widely distributed member of the loon or diver family. Ranging from 55‚Äď67 centimeters (22‚Äď26 in) in length, the Red-throated Loon is the smallest and lightest of the world’s loons. In winter, it is a nondescript bird, greyish above fading to white below. During the breeding season, it acquires the distinctive reddish throat patch which is the basis for its common name. Fish form the bulk of its diet, though amphibians, invertebrates and plant material are sometimes eaten as well. A monogamous species, the Red-throated Loon forms long-term pair bonds. Both members of the pair help to build the nest, incubate the eggs (generally two per clutch) and feed the hatched young.

The Red-throated Loon has a large global population and a significant global range, though some populations are declining. Oil spills, habitat degradation, pollution and fishing nets are among the major threats this species faces. Natural predators‚ÄĒincluding various gull species, and both Red and Arctic Foxes, will take eggs and young.

Like the other members of its genus, the Red-throated Loon is well-adapted to its aquatic environment: its dense bones help it to submerge, its legs, in their set-back position, provide excellent propulsion and its body is long and streamlined. Even its sharply pointed bill may help its underwater streamlining. Its feet are large, its front three toes are fully webbed, and its tarsus is flattened, which reduces drag and allows the leg to move easily through the water.

Because its feet are located so far back on its body, the Red-throated Loon is quite clumsy walking on land; however, it can use its feet to shove itself forward on its breast. Young use this method of covering ground when moving from their breeding pools to larger bodies of water, including rivers and the sea. It is the only species of loon able to take off directly from land. If frightened, it may submerge until only its head or bill shows above the surface of the water.

Like all members of its family, the Red-throated Loon is primarily a fish-eater, though it sometimes feeds on molluscs, crustaceans, frogs, aquatic invertebrates, insects, fish spawn or even plant material. It seizes rather than spears its prey, which is generally captured underwater. Though it normally dives and swims using only its feet for propulsion, it may use its wings as well if it needs to turn or accelerate quickly. Pursuit dives range from 2‚Äď9 m (6.6‚Äď30 ft) in depth, with an average underwater time of about a minute.

The Red-throated Loon is a monogamous species which forms long-term pair bonds. Both sexes build the nest, which is a shallow scrape (or occasionally a platform of mud and vegetation) lined with vegetation and sometimes a few feathers, and placed within a half-meter (18 in) of the edge of a small pond. The female lays two eggs (though clutches of 1‚Äď3 have been recorded); they are incubated for 24‚Äď29 days, primarily by the female. The eggs, which are greenish or olive-brownish spotted with black. Incubation is begun as soon as the first egg is laid, so they hatch asynchronously. If a clutch is lost (to predation or flooding, for example) before the young hatch, the Red-throated Loon usually lays a second clutch, generally in a new nest. The young birds are precocial upon hatching: downy and mobile with open eyes. Both parents feed them small aquatic invertebrates initially, then small fish for 38‚Äď48 days. Parents will perform distraction displays to lure predators away from the nest and young. Ornithologists disagree as to whether adults carry young on their backs while swimming with some maintaining that they do and others the opposite.

On to my photos:

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon taking off

Red-throated Loon taking off

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

This is number 72 in my photo life list, only 278 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus

The¬†Red-winged Blackbird¬†¬†is a¬†passerine¬†bird¬†of the family¬†Icteridae¬†found in most of¬†North¬†and much of¬†Central America. It breeds from¬†Alaska¬†and¬†Newfoundland¬†south to¬†Florida, the¬†Gulf of Mexico,¬†Mexico, and¬†Guatemala, with isolated populations in western¬†El Salvador, northwestern¬†Honduras, and northwestern¬†Costa Rica. It may winter as far north ¬†and¬†British Columbia, but northern populations are generally¬†migratory, moving south to Mexico and the southern¬†United States. Claims have been made that it is the most abundant and best studied living bird in¬†North America.¬†The Red-winged Blackbird is¬†sexually dimorphic,¬†the male is all black with a red shoulder and yellow wing bar, while the female is a nondescript dark brown. Seeds and insects make up the bulk of the Red-winged Blackbird’s diet.

Virtually all of North America’s¬†raptors¬†take adult or young Red-winged Blackbirds, even¬†Barn Owls, which usually only take small mammals, and¬†Northern Saw-whet Owls, which are scarcely larger than a male Red-winged.¬†Accipiter¬†hawks are among their most prolific predators and, locally, they are one of the preferred prey species of¬†Short-tailed Hawks.¬†Crows,¬†ravens,¬†magpies¬†and¬†herons¬†are occasionally predators of blackbird nests. Additional predators of blackbirds of all ages and their eggs include¬†raccoons,¬†mink,¬†foxes¬†and¬†snakes, especially the¬†rat snake.¬†Marsh Wrens¬†destroy the eggs, at least sometimes drinking from them, and peck the nestlings to death.

The Red-winged Blackbird aggressively defends its territory from other animals. It will attack much larger birds.¬†Males have been known to swoop at humans who encroach upon their nesting territory during breeding season. I have a couple of photos of them defending their territory which I’ll add in the photo section.

On to my photos:

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

 

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird

And two showing males attacking other birds who ventured too close to their mates nest.

Red-winged blackbird attacking a killdeer

Red-winged blackbird attacking a killdeer

Red-winged blackbird attacking a gull

Red-winged blackbird attacking a gull

This is number 71 in my photo life list, only 279 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized hawk. Its breeding range spans eastern North America and along the coast of California and northern to northeastern-central Mexico. Red-shouldered Hawks are permanent residents throughout most of their range, though northern birds do migrate, mostly to central Mexico.

While in forested areas, these birds typically wait on a perch and swoop down on prey. When in clearings, they sometimes fly low to surprise prey. Red-shouldered Hawks, like most raptors, have very sharp vision and reasonably good hearing, with talons capable of killing animals at least equal to their own size. Small mammals are typically the most important prey, especially rodents. Voles, gophers, mice, moles and chipmunks may locally be favored based on abundance. Slightly larger mammals, such as rabbits and tree squirrels, are also occasionally predated. Other prey can include amphibians, reptiles (especially small snakes), small birds, and large insects. They will attack birds as large as pigeons. Blue jays, a potential prey species, sometimes habitually imitate the call of the Red-shouldered Hawk and are known to be difficult to distinguish on voice alone. During winters, Red-shouldered Hawks sometimes habituate to preying on birds commonly found at bird feeders. In some areas where they are common, crayfish can be important prey for this species. Unusual food items recorded for the species have included nocturnal animals such as Eastern Screech Owls and flying squirrels and road-killed deer.

The breeding habitats of the Red-shouldered Hawk are deciduous and mixed wooded areas, often near water. Like almost all raptors, the Red-shouldered Hawk is monogamous and territorial. While courting or defending territories, the distinctive, screaming kee-aah call (usually repeated three to four times) of this bird is heard. Courtship displays occur on the breeding grounds, and involve soaring together in broad circles while calling, or soaring and diving toward one another. Males may also perform the “sky-dance” by soaring high in the air, and then making a series of steep dives, each followed by a wide spiral and rapid ascent. These courtship flights usually occur in late morning and early afternoon.

Red-shouldered Hawks’ mating season is between April and July, with activity usually peaking between April and mid-June. The breeding pair builds a stick nest (also sometimes including shredded bark, leaves and green sprigs) in a major fork of a large tree. They often use the same nest year after year, refurbishing it annually with sticks in the spring. The clutch size is typically three to four eggs.

In Florida, Red-shouldered Hawks sometimes collaborate and peaceably coexist with American Crows (usually an enemy to all other birds because of their egg-hunting habits) so they cooperatively mob mutual predators, mainly Great Horned Owls and Red-tailed Hawks.

On to my photos:

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

This is number 70 in my photo life list, only 280 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula

Goldeneye¬†and¬†Whistler, are common names for a species of small tree-hole nesting¬†northern hemisphere¬†sea ducks¬†belonging to the¬†genus¬†Bucephala. The plumage is black and white. Goldeneyes eat¬†fish,¬†crustaceans¬†and other marine life. The “Whistler” name comes from the noise their beating wings make in flight.

On to my photos:

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye ducks in flight

Common Goldeneye ducks in flight

Common Goldeneye ducks in flight

Common Goldeneye ducks in flight

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneye

Male Common Goldeneyes

Male Common Goldeneyes

Male Common Goldeneyes in flight

Male Common Goldeneyes in flight

Updated, January 16, 2014.

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

This is number 69 in my photo life list, only 281 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis

The¬†Lesser Scaup¬†is a small¬†North American¬†diving duck¬†that migrates south as far as¬†Central America¬†in winter. It is colloquially known as the¬†Little Bluebill¬†or¬†Broadbill¬†because of its distinctive blue bill. The origin of the name scaup may stem from the bird’s preference for feeding on scalp – the Scottish word for clams, oysters, and mussels; however, some credit it to the female’s discordant scaup call as the name’s source.¬†It is apparently a very close relative of the¬†Greater Scaup¬†or “bluebill” (A. marila), with which it forms a¬†super species.

Lesser Scaup are often hard to distinguish from the Greater Scaup when direct comparison is not possible, but in North America a large scaup flock will often have both species present. Females, juveniles and drakes in eclipse plumage are hard to identify; there is considerable overlap in length between the two species, but Greater Scaup are usually noticeably more bulky. Lesser Scaup females and immatures tend to have less white around the bill, but this too varies considerably between individual birds.

Their breeding habitat is inland lakes and marsh ponds in tundra from Alaska through western Canada to western Montana; few breed east of James Bay and the Great Lakes. Notable breeding concentrations, with more than half a million birds at the height of the season, can be found in Alaska, in the woodlands of the McKenzie River valley and on  Crow Flats. These birds migrate south (mostly via the Central and Mississippi Flyways) when the young are fledged and return in early spring, usually arriving on the breeding ground in May. Lesser Scaup typically travel in flocks of 25-50 birds and winter mainly on lakes, rivers and sheltered coastal lagoons and bays between the US-Canadian border and northern Colombia, including Central America, the West Indies and Bermuda. Wintering Lesser Scaup are typically found in freshwater or slightly brackish habitat and unlike Greater Scaup rarely are seen offshore when unfrozen freshwater habitat is available.

Lesser Scaup forage mainly by sifting through the bottom mud, usually after diving and swimming underwater, occasionally by dabbling without diving. They mainly eat¬†mollusks¬†such as¬†mussels¬†and¬†clams, as well as seeds and other parts of aquatic plants like sedges and bulrushes, “pondweeds”,¬†Widgeon-grass, wild celery¬†or¬†wild rice. In winter, but less so in summer, other¬†aquatic¬†animals ‚Ästcrustacean,¬†insect¬†and their¬†larvae¬†and small¬†fishes¬†‚Äď form an important part of their diet. It has been reported that both the Lesser and the Greater Scaup have shifted their traditional migration routes to take advantage of the presence of the¬†Zebra Mussel¬†in¬†Lake Erie, which was accidentally introduced in the 1980s and has multiplied enormously. This may pose a risk to these birds because zebra mussels are efficient¬†filter feeders¬†and so accumulate environmental contaminants rapidly.

They nest in a sheltered location on the ground near water, usually among thick vegetation such as sedges and bulrushes, sometimes in small loose groups and not rarely next to colonies of gulls or terns; several females may deposit eggs in a single nest. The drakes court the hens in the winter quarters; pairs form shortly before and during the spring migration. When nesting starts, the males aggregate while they molt into eclipse plumage, leaving the task of incubation and raising the young to the females alone.

The nest is a shallow depression scraped in the ground and lined with plants and some¬†down feathers. Breeding begins in May, but most birds nest only in June, later than usual for North American¬†waterfowl. The¬†clutch¬†numbers about 9-11 eggs on average; up to 26 eggs have been found in a single nest, but such high numbers are from more than one female. Incubation is by the female only and lasts around 3 weeks. The young¬†fledge¬†some 45‚Äď50 days after hatching and soon thereafter the birds migrate to winter quarters already. Lesser Scaup become sexually mature in their first or second summer. The oldest known individual reached an age of over 18 years.

On to my photos, and I’m doing something a little different for this post. There are very few differences between Lesser and Greater Scaup, other than their size. So I am posting a couple of a¬†male Lesser Scaup by itself, then a few of a¬†male Lesser Scaup in a flock of Greater Scaup so that you can see the size difference. The Lesser Scaup is about 25% smaller in size that the Greater Scaup. Other than the slight bump on the back of a Lesser Scaup’s head, that the most reliable way of identifying between the two.

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

A Male lesser scaup in the foreground , with two greater scaup behind

A Male lesser scaup in the foreground , with two greater scaup behind

A Male lesser scaup, third from right, in a flock of greater scaup

A Male lesser scaup, third from right, in a flock of greater scaup

This is number 68 in my photo life list, only 282 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Horned Grebe, Podiceps auritus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Horned Grebe, Podiceps auritus

The Horned Grebe is a member of the grebe family of water birds. It is also known as the Slavonian Grebe. It is an excellent swimmer and diver, and pursues its fish prey underwater.

The Horned Grebe is a small grebe at 31‚Äď38 centimeters (12‚Äď15¬†in) long with a 46‚Äď55 centimeters (18‚Äď22¬†in) wingspan. Unmistakable in summer, the plumage of both male and female includes a black head with brown puffy ear like tufts along the sides of its face. It shows a deep red neck, scarlet eyes, and a small, straight black bill tipped with white. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I will ever see one in its summer plumage, as they breed far to the north of Michigan. They do winter here, and during this time, this small grebe is mainly white with a sharply defined black cap.

Horned Grebes breed in vegetated areas of freshwater lakes across Europe and Asia. It also breeds in remote inland parts of the United States and much of Canada. Most birds migrate in winter to the coast.

Like all grebes, it builds a¬†nest¬†on the water’s edge, since its legs are set very far back and it cannot walk well. Usually two¬†eggs¬†are laid, and the striped young are sometimes carried on the adult’s back.

On to my photos:

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

This is number 67 in my photo life list, only 283 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris (I)

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris (I)

This is an introduced, invasive species of bird, and not one of my favorites. In fact, at one time I said that I would never post a photo of one here on my blog, but they are on my list, so to complete my project, I have to do this.

The only information I am going to post on these all too common birds is the story of how and why they were introduced to North America.

After two failed attempts,¬†about 60 Common Starlings were released in 1890 into¬†New York’s¬†Central Park¬†by¬†Eugene Schieffelin. He was president of the¬†American Acclimatization Society¬†which tried to introduce every bird species mentioned in the works of¬†William Shakespeare¬†into North America.¬†About the same date, the Portland Song Bird Club released 35 pairs of Common Starlings in Portland, Oregon. These birds became established but disappeared around 1902. Common Starlings reappeared in the Pacific Northwest in the mid 1940s and these birds were probably descendants of the 1890 Central Park introduction.¬†The original 60 birds have since swelled in number to 150 million, occupying an area extending from southern Canada and Alaska to Central America.

On to my photos:

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European starling

European starling

This is number 66 in my photo life list, only 284 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia

The Song Sparrow  is a medium-sized American sparrow. Among the native sparrows in North America, it is easily one of the most abundant, variable and adaptable species and one of my favorites because of its song.

Although they are a habitat generalist, their favorite habitat is brushy areas and marshes, including salt marshes, across most of Canada and the United States. They also thrive in human areas, such as in suburbs, along edges in agricultural areas, and along roadsides. In southern locations, they are permanent residents. Northern birds migrate to the southern United States or Mexico, where there is also a local population resident all year round.

These birds forage on the ground, in shrubs or in very shallow water. They mainly eat insects and seeds. Birds in salt marshes may also eat small crustaceans. They nest either in a sheltered location on the ground or in trees or shrubs.

The male of this species uses its melodious and fairly complex song to declare ownership of its territory and to attract females.

The Song Sparrow’s song consists of a combination of repeated notes, quickly passing isolated notes, and trills. The songs are very crisp, clear, and precise, making them easily distinguishable by human ears. A particular song is determined not only by pitch and rhythm but also by the timbre of the trills. Although one bird will know many songs, as many as 20 different tunes with as many as 1000 improvised variations on the basic theme,¬†unlike¬†thrushes, the Song Sparrow usually repeats the same song many times before switching to a different song.

Song Sparrows typically learn their songs from a handful of other birds that have neighboring territories. They are most likely to learn songs that are shared in common between these neighbors. Ultimately, they will choose a territory close to or replacing the birds that they have learned from. This allows the Song Sparrows to address their neighbors with songs shared in common with those neighbors. It has been demonstrated that Song Sparrows are able to distinguish neighbors from strangers on the basis of song, and also that females are able to distinguish (and prefer) their mate’s songs from those of other neighboring birds, and they prefer songs of neighboring birds to those of strangers.

On to my photos:

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Male song sparrow belting out a tune

Male song sparrow belting out a tune

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

This is number 65 in my photo life list, only 285 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Long-billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Long-billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus

The Long-billed Dowitcher is a medium-sized shorebird.

Adults have yellowish legs and a long straight dark bill. The body is dark brown on top and reddish underneath with spotted throat and breast, bars on flanks. The tail has a black and white barred pattern. The winter plumage is largely grey.

Their breeding habitat is wet tundra in the far north of North America and eastern Siberia. They nest on the ground, usually near water.

They migrate to the southern United States and as far south as Central America. Long-billed Dowitcher is a rare but regular visitor to western Europe, with some individuals staying for long periods.

These birds forage by probing in shallow water or on wet mud. They mainly eat insects, mollusks, crustaceans and marine worms, but also eat some plant material.

On to my photos:

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

This is number 64 in my photo life list, only 286 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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