Blue Canary aka Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting by Kevin Povenz

Indigo Bunting by Kevin Povenz

Yesterday I saw a brilliant blue Indigo bunting on the bird feeder, so let’s talk about them! All About Birds shares that the all-blue male Indigo Bunting are sometimes nicknamed “blue canaries” and known for their bouncy songs. There’s all kinds of info including recordings of their songs and fun facts like:

Indigo Buntings migrate at night, using the stars for guidance. Researchers demonstrated this process in the late 1960s by studying captive Indigo Buntings in a planetarium and then under the natural night sky. The birds possess an internal clock that enables them to continually adjust their angle of orientation to a star—even as that star moves through the night sky.

Indigo Buntings learn their songs as youngsters, from nearby males but not from their fathers. Buntings a few hundred yards apart generally sing different songs, while those in the same “song neighborhood” share nearly identical songs. A local song may persist up to 20 years, gradually changing as new singers add novel variations.

Like all other blue birds, Indigo Buntings lack blue pigment. Their jewel-like color comes instead from microscopic structures in the feathers that refract and reflect blue light, much like the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue.

Kevin took this a decade ago at the Upper Macatawa Natural Area in Zeeland. See more in his Birds gallery on Flickr.

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Fresh Cut

Male Belted Kingfisher by cncphotos

Male Belted Kingfisher by Charlie Schwartz

A great shot of a male belted kingfisher from last week. Definitely gonna ask him who his barber is. 😉

See more in Charlie’s Birds gallery on Flickr.

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Birdhouse Beauty

Bird House by Charles Hildebrandt

Bird House by Charles Hildebrandt

Charles got this awesome shot of a birdhouse last week. Head over to “morning” on his Flickr for more including a sweet pic of a pair of birds hanging out on the roof!

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Construction Zone: Great Blue Heron Edition

Construction Zone by David Bowers

Construction Zone by David Bowers

The roads aren’t the only place you’ll find construction projects in Michigan these days!

David got this cool shot of a heron returning to the rookery with a stick for the nest a couple days ago. See more in his Great Blue Herons gallery on Flickr & check out more pics on his Facebook.

More Great Blue Herons, rookeries & nests on Michigan in Pictures.

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Timberdoodle, Labrador twister, Night partridge, or Bog sucker? The American Woodcock gets no respect

Woodcock by Bruce Bertz

Woodcock by Bruce Bertz

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Landowner Guide shares some great information about the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor):

Michigan serves as an important breeding ground for woodcock … Numbers in Michigan and other Midwestern states increased dramatically after many old growth forests were cut during the 100-year period from about 1830 to 1930. The last woodcock population peak occurred in the 1950’s. During the past 30 years, woodcock numbers have seen a steady decline. Since 1968, the number of singing males in spring has declined an average of 1.3 percent per year. Since 1985, the loss is even greater, an average of 2.8 percent per year. Hunting the birds seems to have little impact on overall numbers in the breeding population. Most experts agree that habitat loss and degradation are key reasons for the decline.

Although some people confuse woodcock with their close cousin, the snipe, the birds are separate species that belong to the sandpiper family. Unlike others in its family, woodcock prefer uplands. Woodcock are forest birds known for their erratic flight patterns and unusual spring displays by the males.

A Senecan myth says God made the woodcock from the leftover parts of other birds. Large eyes are located along the sides of the bird’s head, allowing it to see in all directions, including directly behind. A long, thin bill that averages nearly three inches in length permits woodcock to probe in soft earth for worms, slugs and other invertebrates. Nostrils lie high against the skull so the woodcock can feed and breathe at the same time. Its ears are located beneath the eyes. Woodcock stand about eight inches tall, appear to bob when they walk, and weigh about a half-pound each.

Woodcock need young-growth forests with openings for reproduction; especially in the upper Midwest where the forests are growing older. This process of natural succession is a key reason for habitat degradation, but prime cover is also lost to roads, houses, croplands, and other human developments.

Head over to the DNR to learn how interested landowners can help by creating or improving Woodcock habitat on their property & learn more about the woodcock and its derogatory names on All About Birds.

See more in Bruce’s Michigan Parks 2022 gallery on Flickr.

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Of rockets & plovers

Piping Plovers by JamesEyeViewPhotography

Piping Plovers by JamesEyeViewPhotography

“Musk is a very smart man. But he either was ignorant of the ecology out there or he felt his project was so much more important that it really didn’t matter what he did to the area.”
-Texas environmentalist Jim Chapman.

This article about the impact of Elon Musk’s Space X launchport on its neighbors spiked my blood pressure this morning. It’s bad enough hearing the dashed retirement dreams of Celia Johnson, a former Michigan social worker. The realization that it also impacts piping plovers, a beloved & endangered seasonal resident of the Great Lakes State, turned my anger up to 11:

The company’s presence, while welcomed by local politicians lured by the promise of taxable income and employment opportunities, has become a nightmare for many residents and wildlife conservationists attempting to protect the sensitive habitat surrounding the development.

Since SpaceX started construction in late 2015 and testing rockets in 2019, explosions have showered debris across previously unspoiled tidal flats and blown out residents’ windows, including Johnson’s. Rare species of birds like the piping plover and mammals have dwindled, and intense periods of construction and testing have closed off public access to the beach for more days than were authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has federal oversight of the development. The company has also installed bright floodlights to illuminate the road and construction site.

…“This is a very important area for migratory birds as it’s a huge stopover area,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, who submitted comments to the FAA questioning the legality of the SpaceX expansion. “Even a power plant would be concerning. But here you have giant rockets powered by methane that tend to explode, causing debris and noise impact, and we want to make sure the impacts are mitigated.”

Amid the constant construction noise, truck traffic, enormous floodlights over the site and debris from explosions, some species have already dwindled at an alarming rate, said David Newstead, director of the Coastal Bird Program for the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, a nonprofit group that works to protect the area’s bays and estuaries.

Newstead conducted a study of the local population of piping plovers, sparrow-sized shorebirds that nest and feed in coastal sand and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. He found that the population halved from 2018 to 2021, correlating closely with the intensity of SpaceX operations in the area.

Read more at NBC News & here’s hoping the tiny piping plover can weather the storm. Tou can read more about them in this piping plover article featuring another photo from James!

James took this photo back in the summer of 2018 in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the primary nesting areas for piping plovers. See more in his Summer gallery & for sure view and purchase his work including 2022 calendars on his website.

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Roseate Spoonbill in Michigan

Roseate Spoonbill in Michigan by Bill VanderMolen

Roseate Spoonbill in Michigan by Bill VanderMolen

The Detroit Free Press reports that bird-watchers are flocking to Saline in hopes of seeing this rare roseate spoonbill:

This is the first record of a roseate spoonbill in Michigan, said Molly Keenan, communications and marketing coordinator at Michigan Audubon in an email to the Free Press.

Michigan DNR biologists believe the bird either escaped from a local zoo or is very confused, according to a Facebook post from Saline police.

Roseate spoonbills are typically found on the Gulf Coast, in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, but they have been spotted in neighboring states, said Benjamin Winger, curator of birds at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology and an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

“It was really only a matter of time before one was documented in Michigan,” he said.

In the late summer, it’s normal for young water birds such as spoonbills, herons and storks to wander, Winger said.

“Sometimes, they wander a bit too far,” Winger said.

I’m not gonna definitively tell you to believe the zoologist over the DNR, but I am gonna look hard at the DNR & ask if they remember their decades of denial around cougars in Michigan.

Bill took this photo at Washtenaw County Wilderness Park. You can see another angle (with an egret) right here & see 211 more feathered finds in his Bird Life List gallery on Flickr.

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Signs of Spring: Red-winged Blackbirds

Red winged Blackbird by Reji TV

Red-winged Blackbird by Reji TV

One of my favorite signs of spring in Michigan is hearing the calls of red-winged blackbirds. I started hearing them last week in northern Michigan & just saw these pics today in our Absolute Michigan group on Flickr. The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology’s Animal Diversity Web listing for Agelaius phoeniceus (red-winged blackbird) tells us:

The range of red-winged blackbirds extends from southern Alaska at its northern most point, to the Yucatan peninsula in the south and covers the greater part of the continent reaching from the Pacific coast of California and Canada to the eastern seaboard. Winter ranges for red-winged blackbirds vary by geographic location. Northern populations migrate south to the southern United States and Central America beginning in September or October (or occasionally as early as August). Most western and middle American populations are non-migratory.

Red-winged blackbirds roost and breed in a variety of habitats, but tend to prefer wetlands. They have been known to live in fresh and saltwater marshes. On drier ground, red-winged blackbirds gravitate towards open fields (often in agricultural areas) and lightly wooded deciduous forests. In winter red-winged blackbirds are most often found in open fields and croplands.

…As migratory birds, red-winged blackbirds share many characteristics with related species. They are strong fliers that will often migrate in flocks of a thousand or more. Roosting is often communal, resulting in large, centralized populations. Red-winged blackbirds are largely diurnal, spending most of their day foraging. Males defend territories during the mating season. As the mating season progresses, both males and females will spend more time within their territory or the territory of their mate. Although fighting among red-winged blackbirds is not all that common, even among males, it is known to occur. Males chase females at top speed during breeding season. Because of their broad range and tendency to colonize large roosting areas, red-winged blackbirds are extremely common, and are easy to find in the mating season when singing and sexual displays make them more visible.

This great web resource includes many more photos and blackbird calls. Go there!

Reji TV took this photo near Auburn Hills. See more in their Birds gallery on Flickr.

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Snowy Owls are Back!

Snowy Owls are Back by Kevin Povenz

Snowy Owls are Back by Kevin Povenz

While these arctic owls are not found in the summer, the Michigan DNR shares that Snowy Owls & other winter visitors spend time in our state during the winter months:

Just because the leaves have fallen from the trees and there is a chill in the air is no reason to put away your binoculars. Winter offers unique viewing opportunities. Many of our summer resident birds migrate to warmer summer climates. Still, there are several species of birds that migrate from Canada and find Michigan the perfect winter temperature. Winter is the only time several of these species can be found in Michigan.

Two of the largest migrants are the snowy owl and the great gray owl. Snowy owls can be found moving into Michigan during winter when the food supply on the arctic tundra is in short supply. Snowy owls have been recorded as far south as Lansing, Michigan. Because they rarely see humans on their northern homes, they are not timid and can be easily viewed for long periods of time.

Kevin took this photo back in the winter of 2016, but he’s been hearing that they are back in Michigan now. See more in his Birds of Prey album on Flickr & be sure to follow Kevin Povenz Photos on Facebook.

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The Challenge

The Challenge by Charles Bonham

Charles took this shot of a heron trying to show a group of egrets who’s boss near Midland last weekend. Dive into his Flickr for more & be sure to check out his showcase!

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