Breakfast on Thursday would have been like any other breakfast in Paradise, Michigan (cheap, artery clogging, and damned good!) if my phone did not go off. As we were ready to leave for the bog, a text message came in from Don, the Kentucky birder we had met yesterday, that a Yellow-billed Loon was at the Soo Power Plant.
Stop the presses, folks.
That would be a Yellow-billed Loon - as in a first state record. But, it would not be a life bird for me, though. On June 27, 2004, while standing on the shores of the Chuckchi Sea in Barrow, Alaska, a Yellow-billed Loon in breeding plumage, zipped by. Life bird #562.
So what did we do? We did what any rational person would have done. We went to go find Gray Jays! We were only a few minutes out. Get the Jays, and head out to the Soo. A solid plan and it worked.
Upon arriving at the Hulbert Bog, we saw a suet bag hanging in tree. That basically marked the location. We dumped some seed, played the Gray Jay audio loop on my fancy-shmancy iPhone and within a few minutes, the 'ole Camp Robber sallied into the view. Beautiful bird, huh?
With that, for the second time in as many days, we were off to the Soo Power Plant. En route, we actually crossed paths with Don and company. After a quick pow-wow on the shoulder of M-28, we saw the pics. Yup, the real deal. But, by that point, the identity had already been confirmed by others. Don had taken a picture of the LCD screen on his camera with his phone and sent it out to a buddy of mine. The pics were posted on a blog. That sent birders into chase mode. We were already en route. 45 minutes to the waterfront.
After a quick search of the water from the east side of the power plant, we moved over to the west side (per Don's suggestion). Within a few minutes, we were looking at Michigan's first Yellow-billed Loon. Diving. Swimming. Preening. Basically, everything expect flying and copulating. At one point, a freighter came by when it was beyond the middle of the river and displaced the bird well into Ontario waters. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww...now I have to count the bird for my Ontario list, too. Sad, huh?
Sure, I took some pics, but they honk. The bird was just too far out (1/4mile +) for my gear. You would do yourself a favor by checking out Don's site here. They had the bird within a few yards of the shoreline. Literally. Notice the yellow bill, beautiful brown tones, scalloping on the back, white throat and breast, and that weirdo bump on his noggin. Oh, and it is a huge bird - over three feet long. Go ahead and put a yard stick on your desk. It ain't no Mallard duck, people!
We opted to stay for a while and keep an eye on it. Admittedly, we got impatient. As we were packing our gear, another birder arrived. He was the first of many...
Interestingly, it is totally possible the bird was there the day before. We were there but the fog was too thick, remember? It would have been so easy to miss..............
After a quick bagel, it was back to the fields. Oh, a Great Gray Owl would have been sooooo nice, but it was not to be. We did manage a somewhat cooperative Rough-legged Hawk. The snow was blowing a bit again making the lighting a bit rough, but you can get the idea, I think. Such a beautiful bird. Such a mediocre-to-poor picture.
I was interested in getting some good pics of the Hawk Owl from the day before, but he was not cooperating. At one point, I was on the phone with a birder. Guess where the owl was? Yeah, on a pole a few feet out. I get off the phone and what happens? Yeah, he tears off to the distant woodlot. Go figure.
Oh, but I got my shots. After driving further down the road, a second Hawk Owl shot in front of us and landed on the wire. What a cooperative bird. For all intents and purposes, we did not exist to him. He looked this way and that and preened a bit. We easily spent 15-20 minutes looking and shooting pics.
Unfortunately, all good trips must come to an end. With the GPS set for home, off we went. As we approached the Mackinac Bridge, I recalled a story from a buddy of mine. He had seen a Gyrfalcon sitting on the railing during one of his many winter crossings. Recognizing anything can happen, we kept our eyes peeled as we started to cross the bridge. My window was not even up after paying the toll booth attendant when we realized that "funny gull" on the first light post was a Snowy Owl! How cool is that?
A few hours later, we opted to check the non-smoking section of the Big Buck Brewery in Gaylord for Boreal Owls. No such luck. I did not find the place all that great, really. First, it was that generic "up north" feel. What do I need to feel "up north" for when I'm up north? I never understood that. Second, it was too bright. Yeah, the antler chandeliers where okay (overrated, but okay) but there is something simple here - a dimmer switch. I can install 'em. I'll do it. Dim the lights. Really. Oh, and get rid of the sky blue walls. Sky blue? Barf. Earth tones, people, earth tones! The slatted chairs have to go, too. Think about it. When your dinner arrives, don't you slide your bum forward across the chair to get ready to eat? Yeah, well the slats (slats?! Yeah, that's comfortable!) are perpendicular to your butt so you can't slide forward. Firewood anybody?
I did, however, knock off a new beer. #690, the Festivus Ale, was spectacularly gross. It looked like a Coke. Yeah, fine. It was a bit light bodied. Yeah, fine. The orange zest, cardamom, and ginger they talked about in the menu collided on the palate and basically tasted like...well, anything bad. I finished it, sure, but it was not a good beer. A solid 2 in my book. If I can't finish it, I give it a 1.
By 11: 20, I was home. By 11: 21 I was asleep. No, I did not stay up to watch Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year'e Eve. First, Dick, bless his heart, died in 1979 and the network simply brings him back via computers and holograms. Second, Jennifer Lopez doesn't rock. But hey, whatever....
All in all, it was a successful trip. I can't complain. Some lists now stand as follows:
Chippewa County, Michigan - 107
State of Michigan - 340
Province of Ontario -247
Lower 48 States - 600
Canadian Provinces - 263