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American Robin fledgling
American Robin fledgling - Michigan's State Bird
July 12 was my Dad’s 90th birthday – Happy Birthday, Dad! For the occasion, my family gathered in Michigan to celebrate as well as to spend some time together. Over the course of 10 days, we spent time in Adrian where I grew up and where my Dad still lives, in Pinckney where one of my sisters lives, in Detroit, and “up north” near Traverse City. I also had the pleasure of being an honorary Motor City Kossack at a lunchtime meet up organized by peregrine kate (stay tuned for a diary about this event, including a few photos). I had a wonderful vacation - I'm still trying to catch up on my sleep!

While the focus of this trip was not birding, I did have some opportunities to use my binocs and camera to check out the local birds. (The binocs also came in handy for a Detroit Tigers baseball game and a Jimmy Buffett/Jackson Browne concert, both at Comerica Park, only a few blocks from Cobo Center, the venue for Netroots Nation 2014.)

Ring-billed Gulls are, apparently, big fans of the Great Lake State - we saw them just about every where we went. They especially enjoyed hanging out at the beach, looking for any opportunity to snag a dropped potato chip or just wheeling through the sky for the heck of it. They also enjoy baseball games and concerts.

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull flying over the beach.

Ring-billed Gull - subadult
Sub-adult Ring-billed Gull

My Dad feeds birds at his house - mostly mixed seeds which mostly attracts the local House Sparrows and Starlings with a few Mourning Doves in the mix. Fortunately, he also has quite a lot of shrubbery that provides cover for other birds. This year, there's a family a House Wrens in the bushes in the far corner of the yard. I could hear the young ones making a racket so I went to check it out. They were really good at lurking deep in the bushes but I managed to get one of the fledglings to hop up on a branch by pishing a little bit. The adults were much more cagey - I only got a look at them when they perched on the neighbors garage or wood pile, too far away to get a decent photo.
House Wren fledgling
House Wren fledgling
My sister and brother-in-law live on about 10 acres so they get a wider variety of birds (and other wildlife) than my Dad. They have lots of Barn Swallows nesting in the rafters of their barn, Chipping and Field Sparrows join in the Dawn Chorus, and Sandhill Cranes hanging out in nearby cornfields. We got to see a pair of cranes with a colt when we went for a bike ride - so cute to see the little one! No photo, unfortunately. They also have Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Indigo Buntings, and Eastern Phoebes.
Eastern Phoebe on blind
Eastern Phoebe hanging out on a hunting blind

Eastern Phoebe extreme crop
Extreme crop of the above photo

The weather during the middle 4 or 5 days of my visit was extremely hot - mid-90s and humid. Fortunately, we spent the hottest days "up north" at a condo adjacent to Boyne Mountain (not far from Traverse City), with a pool and hot tub for lounging. I did get out early in the morning and late evening to bird a little - even got three life birds out of the effort - Scarlet Tanager, Vesper Sparrow, and Red-eyed Vireo. I had a bird call that I tentatively identified as a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher but I'm not confident enough of my ID to take credit, especially because they are very few records of this species in July for the lower peninsula (they breed in the upper peninsula).

We spotted a Blue Jay taking advantage of the water fountains on display at a roadside fruit/plant nursery/souvenir place we stopped for some goodies. Cherry jam made with Michigan cherries, for one - yum. There are lots of Blue Jays in Michigan but they tend to be shy about getting too close to people so they are heard more than they are seen.

Blue Jay
Blue Jay
On our return trip from Boyne back to my sister's house, we stopped for a visit with cousins in Roscommon. And we also took a little side excursion, where we saw this gorgeous Rose-breasted Grosbeak, hanging out in a Jack Pine.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak perched in a Jack Pine
I mention the Jack Pines specifically because Kirtland's Warblers, the very rare and endangered warbler species, are found in stands of Jack Pines during their summer breeding season. Their summer range is limited to a fairly small region in the central part of the lower peninsula of Michigan (though there are some records of this species breeding in the UP and Wisconsin). Even more specifically, they are only found where the Jack Pines are under 20 feet tall! I researches to find the location of the most recent records and there was a spot that was only about 20 minutes from my cousins' house. We spent ~1.5 hours tracking down the elusive little bird. We did hear at least two birds singing - they have a very distinctive sound - but did not see either of them. Ah, well. There's always next year.

I'm hoping to get a little help identifying this snake that was sitting on a stone fence in Boyne. It was no more than a foot long. It doesn't look like any of the snakes in my Audubon guide for North America. Could it be an exotic that someone released? Or a young snake that looks different than its mature form?

Mystery snake Juvenile Eastern Milk Snake (h/t mikidee)
Looking forward - a few thoughts about birding opportunities at Netroots Nation 2014. I am planning to attend NN14 and I hope to meet up with at least a few Dawn Choristers there. I've been starting to think about the birding opportunities that may be available.

As with San Jose, there is an established Peregrine Falcon nest within walking distance of Cobo Center, on the (currently) abandoned Book Tower. I found this information on a Facebook page dedicated to the Peregrine Falcons of Southeast Michigan, which has a link to this video on youtube of the Peregrine Falcons defending their territory against human intruders.

Cobo Center is located on the Detroit River, with tree-lined walks nearby. If Peregrine Falcons are breeding nearby, there must be plenty of small birds around. I'm hoping that we'll be able to find more than House Sparrows and Starlings around. I haven't done very much research so far but there's almost a year to figure it out.

Kirtland's Warbler habitat is within a couple of hours drive of Detroit so making a trip to see them would be a fun thing to do on an extra day before or after the conference. My trip will likely be extended on one end or the other to see family.

On a non-birding note, one evening during NN14 I’m hoping to get a few folks together to go to the Cadieux Café for a little feather bowling and beers! If you’ve never heard of feather (OK – sort of birding related…) bowling, it’s a Belgian past time and the Cadieux Café is the only venue in the country where it's still played. Check it out.

Originally posted to tgypsy on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 06:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching and Motor City Kossacks.

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