Wildflowers and Turtles

Thankfully, today started out cooler than expected so Eric and I decided on the spur of the moment to make a quick trip to Hawk Woods for some birding. We arrived at noon to find lots of bird activity when we hit the trails near the pond. We were quickly led to Eastern Kingbirds and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak by their songs and calls. Of course there were the always plentiful Red-winged Blackbirds calling all around the pond as we skirted the eastern edge heading into the woods. (When we came back around the pond towards the end of our walk, we were scolded by several female Red-winged Blackbirds who apparently had nests nearby. We quickly moved on so as not to disturb them any more than we had already.)

This is either Daisy Fleabane or Bushy Aster….

The woods are filled with wildflowers now, and the fragrance of wild roses mingled with other pleasant floral scents to mask the chemical smell of my very necessary mosquito repellent. I hate putting that stuff on my skin but I get eaten alive by insects if I don’t. C’est la vie, I suppose.

Common Yellowthroat (click to enlarge)

I won’t list all the relatively common birds we saw in the woods and marsh, but I have to mention that we found another beautiful Great Crested Flycatcher. A few days ago we had one in a tree right beside our deck, and I had his loud call still fresh in my head. That one has been heard in our yard for the past three days. So when I heard the same call at Hawk Woods today, I started trying to track him down. I’m proud of myself whenever I recognize a bird by its song, and since I’ve only been hearing these beautiful birds at home for a few days, I was pretty excited to find one in the woods. Eric and I both got really good views of him in our binocs, but no pictures because I had purposely left my camera at home to force myself to watch the birds more closely instead of taking pictures. (The last time I went birding without my camera I spent several minutes getting wonderful close-up views of a low-flying Turkey Vulture.) This whole idea of birding without the camera has its merits, but I always wish I’d had it for the inevitable one or two great birds who seem to sit in the open just begging to have their photos taken. Today, in addition to that flycatcher, we had really great views of two Common Yellowthroats that would have made wonderful pictures. Instead, I’m showing you a Common Yellowthroat pic I snapped a few weeks ago on the south shore of Lake Erie — I had to crop it a lot, but you can still see what a striking little warbler he is.

These are about 6 inches tall and I can’t find them in any of my wildflower books…anyone know what they are?

The most exciting bird we saw today was a male Northern Harrier, flying very high on a thermal. When I first noticed him so very high up over the marsh (the same place we saw the Yellowthroats), I immediately thought “Turkey Vulture.” But  as I watched him come lower I saw that he seemed to be almost all white or (light-colored) below, with obvious black wingtips (just the primary wing feathers). I watched him for a couple more minutes, making sure to take notes on flight style and field marks. The black wingtips and bent-elbow wing shape reminded me of so many gulls, but this bird was much larger than a gull, and I don’t think gulls soar without flapping for as long as this bird did. I checked several field guides when we got home and am convinced that this bird was a male Northern Harrier, even though there aren’t many other eBird reports for our county right now (Oakland County, Michigan). By the way, if anyone who reads this has an opinion or wants to teach me something about raptor ID, please comment below. (UPDATE: After putting this question to the Michigan Birders list, I’m halfway convinced it was an Osprey instead. Even though I didn’t see the barring that should be on the flight feathers and tail of an Osprey. We may never know for sure, but either way, it was a beautiful sight to see.)

Snapping Turtle, snapped with my cell phone camera

We also came across two turtles on the grassy path around the pond. First a Midland Painted Turtle (who quickly pulled his head inside and peed when we walked by, oops, sorry little guy), then about 20 feet further on, this small but brave Snapping Turtle with pond vegetation still clinging to his shell.

Our walk lasted just under two hours and was quite satisfying, especially when we’d thought we’d be staying indoors on a day that was predicted to be in the 90s.  I always love it when the weather turns out to be less warm than the weatherman says. And even better is the loud thunderstorm that just passed through as I’m writing this just before dinnertime. Now to go coax the cat out from under the bed….

I’m putting together a bunch of pictures from yesterday’s visit to our local Heritage Days festival for my next post. (Hint: Those of you who wonder if I ever take pictures of people instead of birds will have an answer to that question.)

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