Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Belles versus Drill Sergeants

Yesterday, here in Michigan, the weather was delightful. Unfortunately, I could not make it outside even though it was my day off. Some aches, some serious sniffles, and a general feeling of "Wow, I feel like hell" basically ruined my day. (You can add all the Swine Flu comments. later. I'm sure that wasn't it. I didn't grow a curly tail and I never "oinked".)

I also had today off, but opted to bird locally. Lake Erie Metropark was the place.

Prior to this morning, my park list stood at a solid 244 species. With that many birds on any given piece of property, adding new ones can be tough. It is like trying to increase your bowling average - the higher it is, the harder it is.

So this morning, camera and bins in hand, I casually went off down the trail. A few things here, a few things there. I even managed a photo of this handsome Yellow Warbler singing his guts out(shown at left). A Rose-breasted Grosbeak put on quite a show. Black-and-white Warblers were around, too. Ultimately, it was pretty slow.

Shortly, after taking the photo of the Yellow Warbler, I bumped into David and Kevin. It was obvious they were birding, too, so we stopped and exchanged info. (Birders, by the way, are generally great at the info exchange thing- no secret handshake and gang symbols required. One just needs a pair of binoculars.) We all agreed the morning was a bit slower than expected, but then they mentioned a bird that certainly put a spring into my step...

"We had a Louisiana Waterthrush by the Museum..."

"Are you absolutely sure?", I asked?

Louisiana Waterthrush is not a thrush, it is a warbler. As the name suggests, you would find them in the south. They can be found in Michigan, but knowing they don't breed here in great numbers, getting them in the Park is a challenge. In 14 years of birding Lake Erie Metropark, I have not recorded one, nor has anyone ever reported one to me. I know of only one person who saw one....once.....

Within minutes, the three us had staked out a position at the trailhead. Listening to a distant bird's song is hard when 30 kids on a field trip come trotting past. Besides, the bird sounded like it had moved north a bit, so we opted to head to another location on the trail. The distance was still pretty good, but if all was quiet, we should be able to hear the bird, right? Well, the House Wren 15 feet away never got that memo! It's song is here.

After an anxious minute or so, the House Wren moved on (I refused to take it's picture- perhaps it left because I insulted it) and the distant waterthrush was much closer. Take a minute and listen to the Louisiana Waterthrush vs. the Northern Waterthrush. The opening notes of the Louisiana are much more whistled and the notes downslurred. The Northern just chops right through 'em. That is all the key. Musical downslurs vs. staccato chops. A slower drawl from a southern belle vs. a harsh...I don't know....German drill sergeant? After a few more songs, we left to triple check the song on the CDs in the car. Dead on for a Louisiana. We, by the way, never saw the bird.

If you read this and say "Wow, you have a great ear for hearing that little difference!", I don't. Two things could have happened. A) The bird never sang when I was there. B) It DID sing and I wrote it off as the German.

In either case, all credit goes to Kevin and David. They found it. They told me about it. They deserve the credit. It's that simple. One of them (I don't recall who) mentioned he was home on break from Northern Michigan University. I am happy he mentioned that. When I first saw them, I honestly thought they were high schoolers! Perhaps my now traditional "A hat tip and a beer!" salute could be amended to "A hat tip and rain check!" - after all, I did not card them and I will not insult them with a "A hat tip and a Capri Sun!" Anybody who can pick out the Southern Belle versus the Drill Sergeant deserves a good old fashioned cold one!

With that, my Lake Erie Metropark checklist now stands at 245 species. My Wayne County checklist is now 271 species.

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