May 5, 2018 was the Global Big Day in the world of birding. Organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it was a day to see how many species of birds were out there, around the world. (Read more here.) A couple teams put forth an effort in areas of the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail. These are some highlights from one of the teams.
Little Glen Park (a.k.a. the Mill Pond), 5:45 am:
From the moment I opened the car door, I knew this was a good place to start a Big Day. My ears were greeted by the bugling of Sandhill Cranes, the pumping sound of an American Bittern, and the descending whinny of a Sora. A Barred Owl sounded off from the woods north of the Dune Climb. The songs and calls of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds filled in the spaces. My daughter and I walked across the road to the edge of the pond as the sky brightened and the sand of the Dune Climb began to glow with reflected light.
The pond played host to a resident pair of Trumpeter Swans, a few pairs of Ring-necked Ducks and several Mallards. While we watched, a Wood Duck and a Blue-winged Teal flew in. Groups of Double-crested Cormorants streamed overhead, coming from Lake Michigan and headed toward Big Glen Lake. After several minutes of watching and listening to Swamp and Song Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Ring-billed Gulls, we walked slowly north to the wetland area just opposite the Park driveway. A Northern Waterthrush sang from the dense shrubs, and Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers made themselves visible in the tops of willows near the road.
As we looked over the low vegetation, I heard a chattery call from close by. Sedge Wren! We sought a look for several minutes, but this little sprite stuck to the dense grassy cover. In a dramatic finale, the Trumpeter Swans, who had been calling from the pond, took off and flew directly overhead at less than tree-top height. If only I had been able to get my phone out of my pocket for a picture!
Glen Haven, 7:10 am:
Lake Michigan was calm. To the west I could see that the beach at Sleeping Bear Point was closed to protect the nesting Piping Plovers. I was glad we didn’t invest time in going there, but none of the Plovers were within sight. We set up the spotting scope on the platform overlooking the bay and began to search from west to east. Red-necked Grebes, thirty-eight in all, chattered, courted and dove in small groups. Common Loons, and Red-breasted and Common Mergansers floated and fed. In the middle of all this, a pair of Long-tailed Ducks stood out from the crowd because of their, well, long tails. Nice surprise!
Thoreson Road, 9:15 am:
From M-22, Thoreson road leads through mature forest, uphill, but we didn’t linger. We were here for the grassland ahead. As we broke into the open, I admired the view over a place I had never birded before. Mowed fields spread out before us, and South Manitou Island floated in the haze over the lake.
As we pulled onto the side of the road, a cacophony of calls greeted our ears. We could pick out a couple sparrows, Northern Cardinal, Brown Thrasher, and bits and pieces of others. We climbed the hill beside the road and tried to sort out the noise. In a tall tree just to the south, a Brown Thrasher sang, but I kept hearing phrases repeated more than twice, the typical thrasher style. What was going on? That sounds like a Northern Mockingbird! After a minute or so, we spotted a thin gray bird with a long tail in the tree close to the thrasher. A mockingbird! Now all the noise made sense. As we watched, the mockingbird flew from the tree to a nearby utility pole, sowing the black and white pattern in its wings and tail very clearly.
With that sorted out, we turned out attention to the field west of the road: Eastern Bluebird, Field Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlark and Chipping Sparrows all sang. A Sandhill Crane flew over. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak sang from the edge of the woods. Farther up the road, past the Thoreson Farm, we rounded a bend and found five Turkey Vultures sunning on the roof of a barn, warming themselves for a day of foraging. It’s always amazing to study these birds closely while they’re perched.
Port Oneida Road, 10:05 am:
This was meant to be a quick stop, cruising the road slowly to pick up any missed open-country or wetland species. The large wetland complex of Kelderhouse Swamp comes right up to the back of some mowed fields, creating a handy mix of habitats. Notably absent were the pair of Red-tailed Hawks that hang out along M-22, and American Kestrels, which often perch on the wires along the road. Perhaps the late cold spell in April had something to do with that.
As we came to the area where the wetlands are closest to the road, we stopped to investigate another cacophony, this time created by blackbirds. Amid the Red-wings and grackles were several blackbirds with “normal-size” tails (not grackle-size) and yellow eyes: Rusty Blackbirds. A few foraged in the flooded grass at the edge of the field, but the din of squeaky-hinge calls spoke of several more just out of sight in the swamp. Near the Rusties was a drake and hen Wood Duck, showing their colorful and muted plumages.
We stopped at several other places along M-22 and nearby. As the morning wore on, predictably, bird activity calmed down. Our day’s total ended up at 90 species. For a look at our complete checklists, visit eBird here and look for checklists by Kirk Waterstripe. Big days are always intense, tiring, and always lots of fun. Rest assured we’ll be out there again next Global Big Day!