According to birders around Leelanau and Grand Traverse Counties, the Dickcissels are back this year. Last year, there was quite an invasion, with Dickcissels being reported from numerous hayfields and grasslands in the area. Lots of people saw these sparrow-sized birds. Males have a yellow breast and black bib, a yellow eye stripe, and a tan back. They sing their loud, raspy dik-ciss-ciss-ciss from an elevated perch such as a post, bush, or a wire. The Audubon bird identification site describes them as “very erratic”.
With this information in hand, or on phone, I set out to some grassy areas on the SBBT to see if Dickcissels were frequenting those locations. My first stop was Thoreson Road, at 7:00 am. I drove to the crest of the hill south of the Thoreson Farm, and started scanning. A Brown Thrasher sang from the power line just to the south. Two male Bobolinks dueled and chased in the air, then broke into flight songs, their bubbly jumble of notes ringing across the field. The increasing-tempo songs of Field Sparrows added to the chorus. Their song has been compared to a ping pong ball being dropped on a table, as it bounces more frequently, but I like a friend’s comparison to an alien spaceship taking off.
As I cruised slowly with the window open, I heard bzzz-bzzz-bzzz. Clay-colored Sparrow! The last time I was here, I thought I heard one, but that mockingbird was making a bunch of different calls. This confirms it! After a short search, I found him singing from a utility pole.
At the north end of the farm, a dirt road runs west toward the lake. I followed it a hundred yards or so, and paused to listen and scan. A few European Starlings were going to and from one of the old apple trees, probably nesting in a cavity where a branch broke off in the past. An Eastern Kingbird perched on a post, watching for insects. A few minutes later, an Eastern Meadowlark occupied the same post.
No Dickcissels here so I headed for the fields along Port Oneida Road, a little way to the north.
There, I found one of the local Red-tailed Hawks along the edge of the woods, and the trumpeting calls of three pairs of Sandhill Cranes rang over the fields adjacent to Kelderhouse Swamp. Bobolinks sang from the wires, from posts, and from the air. Along one fencerow, an Eastern Meadowlark sat on one post, and a Bobolink sat on the next. A festival in yellow and black.
While there were no Dickcissels at these two spots, I did catch up with them where they had been seen by others, this year and last. Perhaps they are quite faithful to particular fields. Perhaps there is something about seeds, insects, and hayfields that Dickcissels understand and we don’t.