Days 171-174 – Grayling, the Upper Peninsula and many other stops in Michigan
Spring migration was not kind to me. The Warblers dribbled in to Florida at an agonizing pace. I chased a Kirtland’s Warbler that showed up in Miami for an entire day with nothing to show for it. Of course, it was refound 2 days later when I was already in Texas trying my luck there. I did well in Texas with shorebirds but was a little early for the Warblers. I also went to Ohio for The Biggest Week in American Birding and saw the fewest number of species that I had ever seen at Magee Marsh.
My trip to the Aleutian Islands took up a large portion of the rest of migration so here I was, mid-June, with some very big holes to fill. I had scheduled a trip to Michigan with my friend Brian Johnson with the primary goal of seeing my first Kirtland’s Warbler.
I met up with Brian and local birders Tom Smythe and his wife, Tanya. Some of his birding friends from Kentucky would also be joining us. Dave Svetich, Lisa Combs and John Barr would round out our group of 7.
Tom and Tanya had laid out our itinerary and made all of the travel arrangements. As soon as I met them, we hit it off. Tom is a lifetime birder and fellow “Attu survivor” so we had a lot to talk about. As the days went by, Tanya and I would realize that we had actually met in Florida last year “chasing” a Thick-billed Vireo but didn’t remember!
It’s not often you bird with 6 other people where the group chemistry works. Tom and Dave are veteran birders and I felt humbled by their knowledge, their ability to recognize birdsong and the birds they’ve seen! Of course, Brian had helped me in Arizona so I already knew his mad skills. Everyone in the group contributed.
June 20th we started the day on Shumsky Road in Grand Traverse County where we picked up a beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler and my lifer, Mourning Warbler. This spot was amazing! We had a ton of activity and birds singing everywhere. I could have stayed there all day but we had to move on to Grayling for our biggest target.
As we walked around in the stand of Jack Pines, it wasn’t long before we started hearing the loud song of Kirtland’s Warbler. We ended up seeing at least 4 with incredibly satisfying looks and pictures. Another lifer! At one point, a male flew in and landed about 3′ from Tom with a worm in his mouth. We really took the time to enjoy these birds. Then we had to do the tourist thing and buy souvenir hats!
A quick stop at Hartwick Pines SP produced a couple of breeding pairs of Evening Grosbeaks. Such beautiful birds and an unexpected surprise. We then headed for the UP and over the Mackinac Bridge. I love the architecture of bridges but have an irrational fear of them. Crossing this one felt a little queasy but I was quickly distracted by the beauty of the Upper Peninsula.
Once again, I was in a new part of the country for me and the weather was beautiful.
We spent the night in Sault Saint-Marie. After a good meal at a local Gastropub where I enjoyed a local brew and some Whitefish(of course) we planned a big day for Wednesday.
Our main target early in the morning was LeConte’s Sparrow at Munuscong Bay WMA. As soon as we got there, we started seeing many Upland Sandpipers. We parked and walked along Gray Rd. Here, a couple of local birders had already been hearing the LeConte’s. I struck up a conversation with them and they wanted to know what other targets I needed. I said Black-billed Cuckoo and they responded with “don’t think you’re going to get that here.” 5 minutes later, we heard one! Before long, we would see not one, but 4!! Every time I mentioned a bird, it seemed to appear.
It was really birdy so we walked along Gray Rd for a few more hours and ended up with almost 40 species. This was another great spot not only for birds but for butterflies.. The LeConte’s Sparrows were not cooperating for pictures though. A group of us took the risk of walking in the tall grass so we could flush them. We got good looks and a couple people got decent shots. Unfortunately, the ticks were happy to climb aboard. They especially liked Brian.
Our next stop was Whitefish Point. You’re always hearing about some great bird that shows up here. I was finally going to see it for myself. Eurasian Tree Sparrows had been frequently reported at the feeders. I had already seen this bird in Duluth, MN so I wasn’t willing to endure the mosquito onslaught at the feeder benches. I had no idea the mosquitoes would be as bad as they are in Everglades NP. Our group would end up using repellent like cologne.
We braved the skeeters to see a nesting Piping Plover. I have these birds in my county in Florida but they’re just so darn cute, I can’t resist them.
We decided to go to dinner first and then go birding late to find Yellow Rail-a nocturnal bird. We went to Camp 33 for dinner and the food was great. Best fish dip I’ve ever put in my mouth! There’s a lot of good beers up here too.
It gets dark pretty late. Dave had picked out some good spots for us to try for Yellow Rail and off we went. These boggy spots were so beautiful with a setting sun! Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were lethal. Dave was determined to get us on a Rail but my enthusiasm waned after the first ten bites. I have a bad history with insect bites and didn’t want to end up in the ER, even if Dave was a doctor! We abandoned the Yellow Rail chase.
Day 3 we targeted Black-backed Woodpecker and Conneticut Warbler. So far, we’d had a string of good luck. I always feel that when things are that good, be prepared for a day that the birds aren’t bitin’. This was it. I didn’t need BBWO but Brian and Lisa needed it as a life bird. We would never see one even though we combed the Red Pines of Hiawatha National Forest.
During our search, we saw 3 Ruffed Grouse fledglings. Distracted, I lost my phone in the dense ferns while taking pictures. Why am I always losing my electronics? Well, we had to go back and look for it.
As a joke, we started pretending that we were “chasing” my Iphone.
Tom asked me what my ringtone was and Brian replied “Baby’s got Back”, how many ringtones do you think we’re gonna hear out in these woods???
LOL. The banter went back and forth between us like this all day long. What a fun group!
We never did get Conneticut Warbler either. We tried the same spot 3 different times. Oh well, heading to Minnesota for that one.
The time came for the group to part ways. It was a sad goodbye as I truly enjoyed hanging out with these guys and birding this area. Brian and I headed to Allegan to see Cerulean Warblers and the rest of the group stayed way UP north.
I was heading home to Naples and my own bed.