Sunday, January 7, 2018

Harlequin Duck! - 06 Jan 2018

Scott Jennex reported a Harlequin Duck at Wyandotte Municipal Boat Launch yesterday afternoon. This on the heals of Andy Dettling reporting a pair of Long-tailed Ducks nearby had me out the door at 4 pm. I arrived just as Scott was getting ready to leave. He and Matthew Gasperoni were looking for the male Harlequin that had just moved south of the boat launch.

We drove over to Perry Pl and Scott found the Harlequin Duck among a group of female Common Mergansers that I was scoping. I was able to get a couple videos of the duck as it swam and bathed in the frigid temperatures (9F, windchill near 0F).

A bonus bird was this Glaucous Gull that took off among a flock of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls on the ice flowing past us.

Out in the middle of the river ~2000 Canvasback / Redhead were crowded into a tight raft in open water near Mud Island. Groups of 20-50 birds were flying past in the low light and afforded a few flight pics.


Common Merganser, female
Seaway Boat Club, Wyandotte, Wayne, Michigan, US
Jan 6, 2018 4:15 PM - 4:50 PM
Protocol: Stationary
Comments:     Scott Jennex and me.
9 species

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  2
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  4
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)  1000     mixed flock w/ Redhead. Estimate is conservative
Redhead (Aythya americana)  1000     mixed flock w/ Canvasbacks just in open water of ice-filled Detroit River. Estimate is considered conservative.
Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)  1     Male. First reported by Scott Jennex at the Wyandotte Municipal Boat Ramp. Digiscoped video taken of male duck swimming among female mergansers just north of Perry Pl. St.
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  20
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  30
Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperborean)  1     All-white gull in flight w/ large bill.
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)  8

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Deep-freeze Waterfowling - 05 Jan 2018

I've been having autofocus issues with my Nikon D500 lately. I first noticed it up north in Rudyard when I blew two dozen shots of Sharp-tailed Grouse from inside the car, and couldn't get clean photos of Snowy Owls at Pt. Mouillee. I began to suspect that it might the Group AF function that I have set on the camera. Group AF is great because it uses the middle banks of the focus sensors to help lock focus on a moving subject. The problem is that it always focuses on the nearest-focus object, so if you're photographing a bird in flight it might lose focus on the eye and focus on the wing that is closer to your lens.

When photographing from the car during cold weather, focus can get messed up big time as convection currents can affect focus lock on the subject. That, and even the slightest bit of snowfall can cause Group AF to lock on snowflakes passing in front of the subject, thus messing up focus. I suspect this to be true since the camera works tack sharp when I shoot indoors, or at objects through the window outdoors. So, I switched the camera back to Dynamic Autofocus with 25 points (d25) and gave it a workout the past few days on the Detroit River in Wyandotte.

The bitter cold weather that has gripped Michigan and the rest of the nation was frozen lakes and rivers, thus bringing waterfowl a bit closer to shore. The Detroit River along Wyandotte has been frozen in the middle, and partially open along the near shoreline at the foot of Ecorse Rd. and at the Wyandotte Municipal Boat Launch at St. Johns St.

Day 1 (4 Jan) was a disaster. I couldn't focus on near-swimming ducks with the camera set on Group AF. Canvasbacks and Redheads in flight were all out of focus when I tried to lock on them during light flurries. Attempts to focus on Mute Swans produced OOF captures that were very disappointing.

With the camera set to "d25" things cleaned up nicely. Suddenly, I was getting sharp captures again. This was welcome given the bitterly-cold, sub-zero windchills I was experiencing as I ran along the shoreline at John Dingel Park in Ecorse.  Mallards are used to being fed, so they tend to swim to where I'm at, while everything else swims away.

I spotted a drake Common Goldeneye at the boat launch swimming close to shore. I waited until it dove before jumping out of the car, and sprinting through the snow to a point where I could stop and wait for it to resurface. Then, trying to control my shaking from panting and shivering, I fired away as it now began to swim away.

Over at John Dingell Park I found better luck photographing fly-by flocks of Canvasbacks and Redhead. Even the white Herring Gulls seemed to be focusing better. As were the Mute Swans.

I spotted another goldeneye near the break wall diving for minnows, so I sprinted over to where it dove and spent some time photographing it when it resurfaced. This one did not seem to mind my presence and dove a few more times before wandering off toward open water.

I then drove over to Bishop Park and made a quick run to the shoreline where a few Redhead were swimming far off in the distance. A Common Merganser flew in toward me so I attempted to get a pic or two as it flew directly past me at close range.

Tundra Swan

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year, New Moon? - 01 Jan 2018

I awoke to 2018 and prepared myself for the Detroit River Christmas Bird Count. At 5:30 am I decided to run outside to see if I could call in a Screech Owl for the first bird of 2018. A full moon was high in the west so I decided to make it my first photo of 2018. Which begged the question, "Is a full moon a new moon?". According to astronomists a new moon is the dark moon, but Jewish scholars believe that the full moon is the new moon. So, the decision appears to be NO and YES.

I spent a few minutes playing a Saw-whet Owl call, but got no replies. I then played the Eastern Screech Owl call and got an immediate reply. I then looked up and saw the owl fly directly overhead and land on the vent pipe of my roof. I turned to photograph it using 3 flashlights attached to my 300/2.8 VRII but it flew off before I could raise the camera. It flew back toward the woods and landed in a tree and was viewable with the flashlights. Unfortunately, it was too far away to get an exposure fast enough to not blur the ~720mm focal length.

At 6 am I took off for Belle Isle to meet Allen Chartier and David Boon for the morning survey of the island as part of the Detroit River CBC. It was 5F on the island, and from what I could gather the Detroit River looked completely frozen! I drove around to the old zoo and started playing some Saw-whet Owl calls at 6:30 am but got no responses.

I caught up with Allen and David and found that they had no luck with owls, either. We hit a couple more spots in the woods but still got no replies. But, just before sun-up we heard a Screech Owl. I then saw it fly over my head and land in the trees just above us. I was able to get a couple of fair images before it flew off. The flashlights allowed me to focus on it, but shutter speeds were too low to get a sharp image.

We then headed for the river and proceeded to F.R.E.E.Z.E. our a**es off just trying to count the 100's of Common Goldeneyes and 1000's of Common Mergansers on the Detroit River (Canadian side).  This black squirrel seemed to me mocking us as it sat in the tree eating ice in the sub-zero temperatures...

We stopped by the Nature Center to check the feeders. Besides the usual House Sparrows, Northern Cardinals , Blue Jays and Mourning Doves there were Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and a few White-throated and Song Sparrows. An Eastern Towhee was seen yesterday by Frank McDonald, but hadn't shown this morning. Everything scattered when a Cooper's Hawk flew in looking for a meal (it failed).

A hike through the woods at the north end of the island yielded only a few Downy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Another stop at the feeders yielded no new birds, so we called it a day. Time to go home and warm up.

Happy 2018!

Belle Isle Park, Detroit US-MI (42.3458,-82.9720), Wayne, Michigan, US
Jan 1, 2018 7:38 AM - 12:38 PM
Protocol: Traveling
4.9 mile(s)
29 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  155
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  20
Redhead (Aythya americana)  2
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)  375
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)  2
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  3500     Canadian side of Detroit River.
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)  1
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  150
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  20
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)  6
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  30
Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  4
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  6
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  18
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  1
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  2
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)  1
Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis)  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)  1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  2
American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  30
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)  3
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  9
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  2
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  75

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Do You Remember Your 1st Rare Bird Sighting? - 30 Dec 2017

Worm-eating Warbler from Magee Marsh, May 2013
I don't. Not at all. But, apparently, I have a record of it, and it appears to be valid!

Back at the end of October I received a call from our receptionist at work that a visitor from Germany was here to meet with a colleague. "Had I seen him?" was the question, and my answer was "No". Since the person was from Germany I felt it necessary to meet him and let him know that my colleague was out of the office today. It turned out that he was a fellow microscopist and lab leader from the Physics Labs in Ludwigshafen so I was happy to meet him and give him a tour of our labs.

During my discussions with Dr. Bernd Hindrichson the topic of birds came up (he had seen some of my bird photos in the lab here at work). Turns out that he had just created a new bird-listing app called SENED BirdWorld and would I be interested in checking it out? Absolutely! So, I downloaded a copy of the app from the App Store and gave it a once-over.

In terms of a listing app, it is very basic, and cannot really compete with apps like Birder's Diary or even eBird. But, what I like about it is that it lists every species of the current IOC List 6.1 (10,600 spp) and each species is linked to both Wikipedia and BirdLife International websites, so species status is available (least concern - near threatened - ... critically endangered), along with high-resolution photos that makes this a nice reference app for world-listers. At $9.95 you can download North American checklists for each state and province. For additional $9.95 prices you can download European and Asian checklists so you have access to checklists for specific regions. For ~$45 you can download checklists for every region of the world that makes "ticking" easy.

If you're into gaming the app has a feature that gives you points for each sighting based on the specie's rare-ness. So, each time you tick a sighting you get additional points. Consider it a basic Pokeman-Go type app.

Where the app fails is that sightings can only be entered once, and is based on your present location, so a historical sighting of a Reed Bunting from Europe could show as being entered from North America if you waited until you were home to enter the sighting. But, as I mentioned earlier, I like the app for its Reference Value - having a photographic database of every bird species is kind of neat!

While reviewing the app I was somewhat obligated to see what else is out there in terms of listing software. Now I'm doing searches to compare different software packages like Avisys (no longer available), Birder's Diary, eBird, Swift, Bird Journal, etc. Luckily, I found an article by Surfbirds that has a nice comparison of the different packages and compares them. The Test Garden also has a nice article and review of each package.

Which led me to spending some time yesterday viewing Birder's Diary videos on YouTube. It's an impressive package, especially new Version 5.0. Birder's Diary is now what I've always wanted in a record-keeping package. When I first started keeping notebooks online, I wanted something that would allow me to store images, as well as observations. That's how I ultimately got into blogging. I have no plans to stop blogging, but with pressures from eBird to start logging sightings, I thought it might be time to pull out the old files and start building a life list. 'Till now I have no idea where my life list stands.

I was all excited about Birder's Diary until I saw the price. Up to $150 to get access to the world lists, which I'd need since my trips to Kenya, Mexico,  and Europe would be needed to record sightings. Suddenly, Birder's Diary seemed like an expensive effort. So, I opted to check out eBird.

I've been aware of the power of eBird for some time now, and fully endorse it as the ultimate listing / citizen science effort. But until yesterday I didn't know that it could be used as a World-listing Software package (eBird uses Clement's / AOU lists while other packages may use IOC lists). Since it's free, I decided to start uploading some of my old sightings for fun.

With apologies to eBird reviewers, I started entering some sightings from my earliest notebook dating back to 1986 - 1988. Entries were were more journal notes, with sightings of birds, but not necessarily efforts and numbers. So now I'm trying to decide between Historical vs. Incidental vs. Traveling vs. Stationary sightings, and how to put numbers to sightings when all I mention are Great Blue Heron(s), Cattle Egret(s), etc. And, how do I document those birds considered rare? I've decided to muddle through and hope the eBird gods will forgive my indiscretions regarding entries.

This morning, while lying in bed trying to wake up, I remembered I had a file on my computer named LifeList.doc. It was a Word document that I created back in ~1988 as a first project with my brand new Zeos x486 PC. I typed out the current North America list of birds, including species names, and entered my first sightings of species seen during my undergraduate days at UM-Dearborn (1981 - 1984). Back then I was taking a Field Biology class with Dr. Orin Gelderloos, and part of that class was identifying flora/fauna in the Natural Area at UM-D, and having to learn everything possible about those sightings. Those field notebooks were the source of my life list that was started in 1988.

So, I thought I'd sort the sightings by date in order to enter my life list into eBird. I spent the better part of the morning retyping dates into a format that would allow me to sort sightings and I was then able to generate a chronological listing of bird sightings starting as far back as 04 May 1981.

I was therefore surprised when my first eBird entry (of historical sightings) included a Worm-eating Warbler! eBird flagged the species as RARE for the UM-Dearborn area, so I was forced to determine if the sighting was real or not. You see, I was a brand new student to birding, and this was my first day in the field with a pair of binoculars. Like everyone else in the class I was having to write down observations of birds that were mostly being pointed out by Dr. Gelderloos. I would then have to research and learn what I could about those plants/birds that were suddenly being assigned to us for the next day's quiz. 30 years later I'm looking at a tick mark next to Worm-eating Warbler, and am now wondering if I made the obvious misidentification mistake of a new birder.

But, it had to be correct. Why else would that sighting be in my field notebook, only later to be entered into this life list? Unfortunately, my field notebooks were lost after loaning them out to a certain baby sister who's name I won't mention (let's call her Shell) - she took the same class with Dr. G. ten years later. The notebooks subsequently were passed on to someone else or were lost or destroyed.

I was about to scratch the sighting from eBird when I remembered that I had a copy of Julie Crave's Birds of Dearborn-An Annotated Checklist. I pulled up the entries for Worm-eating Warbler, and found that a bird had been banded on 06 May 1981, just two days after this sighting! Therefore, we (the class) must have seen it, and can then claim the sighting to be valid. Cool!

As of 04 May 1981 my official life list is now at 6.

With eternal gratitude to Orin Gelderloos, who sparked my lifelong passion into birding and bird photography, and to Julie Craves for helping me validate a first rare bird sighting, I can now continue entering old records into eBird to see what kind of lister I've become.

UM Dearborn--Rouge River Bird Observatory, Wayne, Michigan, US
May 4, 1981 7:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Comments:     This is my first official bird list as an undergrad student at UM-Dearborn. Day 1 of Field Biology class under Dr. Orin Gelderloos, this is the list I compiled of birds seen during our bird/plant study, and the first day of a soon-to-be lifelong passion into birding and bird photography. I started a life list that I compiled back in 1988 using pages from my field notebook (long lost), but I found the original word document with my sightings. Classes were 4 hours long and consisted of walks along the trails at UM-D Natural Area.
7 species

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)  1
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1
Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)  1
Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum)  1     I don't remember this bird being any different from any other, but was part of the class list and field notebook entry, so the sighting must've been true! This is a historical entry from a life list spreadsheet based on Field Biology notebook entries under Dr. Orin Gelderloos.
Nashville Warbler (Oreothlypis ruficapilla)  1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)  1

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Willow Run Airport Snowy Owls - 28 Dec 2017

Despite -8F temps I drove over to Willow Run Airport to look for Snowy Owls. I spotted a presumed male owl next to the fence along the south end of the service drive. It was on the hill of the landfill along the south side of the airport. It flew off as soon as I slowed down the car and disappeared over the top of the burn. It appeared to have something furry in its talons. I managed a few photos before it disappeared.

I spotted a second Snowy Owl out in the airport near the Tower.

A large flock of Snow Buntings appeared over the landfill to my left, and were joined by 6 Lapland Longspurs that flew across the front of the car as I turned around to leave.

A stop by Grace Lake (Visteon) yielded only 100 Ring-billed Gulls on the ice. No white-winged gulls were seen, or dark mantled gulls.

Blog Archive