Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Two Steps Closer

With today off, I was originally planning on heading down to Ohio for some birding and photography. Hardly unusual in May, right?   

Before bedtime, a bird report had shown up that got me thinkin'.  A Painted Bunting in Bay County, Michigan. It was coming to a feeder!

As you can see, a Painted Bunting looks like a food-poisoned child puking Fruit Loops on a bird. The colors are just so mind-blowing!  Blues, red, and funked-out greens. What a stunner, right?  Despite their southern breeding range, they have made it to Michigan about 20 times.  I have never seen them in Michigan, but I have seen them in Florida, Texas, and New Mexico.  Should I drive to Bay City in the morning?

By the time I went to bed, I was still not sure what I wanted to do.

After getting up at 5:30am and checking my email, you might imagine my shock when I saw that a Mew Gull was found. Can you guess where? Bay City.  TWO miles from the Painted Bunting. 

Mew Gull?  No, you can't see them in a Taco Bell parking lot. At least not in the midwest!  The closet known breeding locations would be in west-central Canada, a short 1,500 miles away! You would have to put a bag over your head to miss this bird in Alaska, but with only 6 previous Michigan records, this day was suddenly a no-brainer!  A course was plotted for Bay City.

By 9:00am, I was on the beach. Hundreds of yards up the way, tucked in the debris (plants and logs and such) sat my 347th Michigan bird! Too far for me to photograph, the pic below is from my buddy Robert; he secured photos after I left and the bird moved.   He let me post it here.

The bill structure, lack of bill markings, dark eye, and the deeper gray to the back and wings make it pretty clear.  You might note, too, that the right wing feathers appear to be "up" in a peculiar sort of a way. That is not an artifact of the photo. It is injured.  I suspect the only thing that sucks worse than being 1,500 miles (or more!) from home is being so far from home and having a bad wing. There is no telling what this bird's future is, but I think it might be around for at least a few days!

From there, the feeder visiting, Fruit Look-colored Painted Bunting was my next stop.  State bird #348 arrived after about 15 minutes.  It was too far for me to get a good shot really.  I never even got my camera out of the bag.

The final part of my day was just awesome.  Buddies, teamwork, and relaxation.  That is how it should be!

On my final leg home, I got call from Don.  He could not join me (and no, I did not wake him up when I texted him at 6:00am!).  He was in Taylor staring at a Golden-winged Warbler.  Sure, I keep a list of birds for Wayne County but I simply could not remember if I had one.  I knew I did NOT have one at Lake Erie Metropark, so I figured I had better get this bird in case it was needed. The location was, after all, on the way home.

Despite the 60-minute drive that still lay ahead of me, Don agreed to stick around and help me find the bird.  He certainly did not have to do that, but he did.

Oh, but he did not just stick around and help me.  No.  He watched the bird's every move for one hour.  Every branch. Every shrub.  Every tree.  That bird did not budge without him knowing it.  When I arrived it was as simple has him saying "It's right there..."  I was half-waiting for him to say "It ate "x" number of insects and pooped "y" times here, here, and here..." He was watching it that closely!

Good directions would have been cool. He could have drawn a mark in the dirt marking its last known location.  All would have been good. Instead, he stood in the warm, spring sun (leaning towards "hot") and watched this bird for over an hour.

Above and beyond the call of duty if you ask me! Thanks Don!

As fate would have it, it was not a county bird for me.  Many years ago, a few years after college, I found one in Oakwoods Metropark.  At the time, I was a birding novice.  I kept bumping into my college instructor and we started birding together and have been birding together ever since.  Can you guess his name?  It rhymes with "Ron".

After we left the warbler (who was getting the snot knocked out of him by a Yellow Warbler), I made my way back to Oakwoods Metropark.  Was there a Golden-winged Warbler there again?  No, but there were plenty of Palm Warblers.  No pictures. No chasing. No driving. Just watching 'em feed from only a few feet away. 

A nice change of pace given the hectic feel of the morning....

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