Thursday, July 11, 2013

Basnau Road near Hulbert Bog and then Seney NWR, July 8

I got an early start to the morning, but not quite as early as I expected.  I wanted to be on Basnau Road by 5:30 am.  The owners of Tahquamenon Hotel in Hulbert, the Dewitts, were very helpful to get me an early start.  They offered breakfast at 8:00 am, but of course, birders are out and gone by then.  They provided me a box of cereal, Cheerios, my usual at home, and a glass of milk to be stored in the refrigerator in my room, a bowl and spoon.  Also, they set up the coffee maker so that all I had to do was pour in water and fresh coffee was brewed in the morning.  I took advantage of these kind offers, but made it on Basnau Road somewhat later than desired to look for early morning grouse by about 6:30 to 7:00 am.

Shortly after I arrived to start birding, a crew of county highway workers arrived to replace an under road drain.  I moved out of their way to continue looking for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and grouse.  I was unsuccessful for the flycatcher.  There was more bird activity in the morning than yesterday in the afternoon and evening.  I heard a distant Canada Warbler singing in the direction of the bog (at least what I thought was the bog), as well as singing Magnolia Warblers, Nashville Warblers,  Blackburnian Warblers, American Redstart, Winter Wrens and Hermit and Swainson's Thrushes.   Black-capped Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets were very active.  I parked my car at intervals along the road and walked ahead and behind where my car was parked to look and listen for birds.  I briefly, looked back toward the road workers and there was a grouse sitting in the middle of the road!  My heart started beating faster--maybe a Spruce Grouse!  I walked back toward the bird as rapidly as possible without scaring the bird.  However, I saw some young grouse fly and skitter across the road following the adult as it disappeared into the thick alders and conifers on the right hand side of the road.  I walked to the spot.  There was still a chick along the left side of the road across from where the adult and chicks had disappeared into the thick alders and conifers.  This chick was an exact small replica of a Ruffed Grouse including a crest.  I could hear the adult grouse calling to the chicks.  Another Ruffed Grouse and not a desired Spruce Grouse.  Oh well, Ruffed Grouse are fun to see, especially given how rare they are in Ohio!

Clouds had moved in overnight, and it started to rain.  I continued birding from the car with open windows, but did not find the desired Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  My next stop is Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  Maybe the rain would stop by the time I got there.  Seney NWR was about 20-25 miles west of Basnau Road.   Sure enough, the rain stopped and the weather started to clear as I approached the refuge entrance.  I stopped at the Visitor Center to see if there was a recent bird list of reports and to ask directions to the best spots for Le Conte's Sparrow and Sharp-tailed Grouse as well as Yellow Rail.  A ranger, a young lady, showed me on a map where the best spots are for Le Conte's Sparrow and Sharp-tailed Grouse.  She said that a spring census for Yellow Rail was not successful this year, because the water levels were too high at the normal places to find Yellow Rail.  Therefore, she could not tell me where to try for this elusive species.  She marked on a map the locations for Sharp-tailed Grouse and Le-Conte's Sparrow, and they were in the same location along the C-3 pool.  There was a three mile hike to the end of the C-3 pool.  Before  going there, I first drove the Marshland Wildlife Drive.  I was surprised by the large numbers of breeding Trumpeter Swans that have been introduced to Michigan.   I did not expect to see so many.  The breeding Common Loons were great fun to watch as the adults gently offered small fish to their young.  The adult loons are very much larger than the half-grown young, and the adult loons look so powerful in comparison to the chicks.  However, the adults seem to be very gentile in dealings with the young loons.

In the late afternoon, starting at about 4:30 pm, I walked along the gravel road along the C-3 pool.  I found two small ammodramus sparrows that flushed from the grass close to the water and behaved much like Le Conte's Sparrows, by flying for a short distance and then dropping down quickly after a short flight into the grass again.  It was very difficult to get a good look at these two birds, because they stayed low on the ground and flew only when I got close.  Once one of the birds landed on a small tree, and I got a brief bare eye look at the orange face with a gray ear patch before I could get the bird in a binocular view as it dropped quickly down into the thick grasses and vegetation, behaving just like the Le Conte's Sparrows that I have seen during fall migration in Ohio.  The two birds did not sing, but gave the thin "tsip" call note of Le Conte's Sparrow.  The head shape of these birds was distinctively dainty, more rounded and with a smaller bill than the somewhat similar relative the Grasshopper Sparrow, which has a larger, flatter head and relatively large bill.  These two Le Conte's Sparrows were lighter in color overall than the close relative Nelson's Sparrow, which has darker streaks on the back and a somewhat darker gray ear patch on the face.  These views of the Le Conte's Sparrows were not life-look quality but good enough along with behavior, call notes and in the right habitat to count as a new species for the year.  Neither Grasshopper Sparrow or Nelson's Sparrow are on the official list of birds for Seney NWR.  The habitat is not correct for Grasshopper Sparrow, and Nelson's Sparrow is found further west and north of Seney NWR during breeding season.  I walked close to two miles down the gravel road along the C-3 pool and back, almost four miles to see this bird.  Then I drove back to the Marshland Wildlife Drive to check out a location where I thought that I heard Sedge Wren calls on my earlier visit, hoping that Sedge Wren will be more active and singing in the evening.  I returned to the spot on the Fishing Loop near a wooden fishing pier, and the Sedge Wren did not disappoint.  First I heard the sharp introductory notes, "tick-tick" followed by the rapid chatter.  Then I found the Sedge Wren sitting up on a very low bush, either a small alder or a blueberry bush and watched as it threw its head back singing.  The song arrived to my ears slightly delayed from seeing the bird singing.  As I continued on the Fishing Loop of the Marshland Wildlife Drive, I heard another Sedge Wren singing.

I am correcting an error made in a recent post.  The UP birder that I met was Warren Whaley not Wallace as stated.  Sorry, Warren.  If I do not write down a name immediately, sometimes I forget the name.  Thanks again to Warren for telling me about the spot for Mourning Warbler near Grayling.
Le Conte's Sparrow and Sedge Wren raise the total to 534 for the year.

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