Birding Closer to Home

The other day I got to go birding in two semi-local parks I’d never visited before. The first one was Beaudette Park in Pontiac, where my friend Dr. Bob showed me his favorite spots. We got there at 11:00 and quickly found Baltimore Orioles and a Belted Kingfisher, as well as Mute Swans with a nest right out in the open on the edge of a pond. One swan was on the nest and the other was floating on the water a few yards away. I can’t imagine how adorable those babies will be, so I may have to go back over there to try to see them soon.

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler

Magnolia Warbler cropped

Magnolia Warbler, easy to confuse with the Canada Warbler if you only look at the breast markings (click the pic for larger view)

Aside from those early birds, it seemed the warblers didn’t want to show themselves at first. I was starting to think we’d be disappointed, but just then we heard a Common Yellowthroat calling from the shrubs beside the water. While we were trying to locate him, Bob got a fleeting glimpse of a tiny shorebird walking in the mud on the edge of the water. But as soon as he saw it and started to pull up his binoculars, it took off flying to the other side of the pond. We were both surprised to find that bird there (probably a peep, one of the smallest sandpipers), because the habitat didn’t seem all that favorable. But there it was, all the same.

American Redstart male, taken at Magee Marsh

American Redstart male

We then walked back to some very large trees and immediately the warblers started showing: Nashville, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped, Magnolia, Palm, and American Redstart, one after the other. We were having a blast trying to locate them in our binoculars and then trying to photograph them. I found a Wilson’s Warbler too, which turned out to be a lifer for Bob. I love being with someone when they get a life bird that I’ve already seen, because I can enjoy their excitement and remember my own when I first saw that same bird.  The only other time I’ve had that opportunity was when I found a Northern Saw-whet Owl this past winter and shared it with another friend who was extremely excited about it.

Bob's lifer Wilson's Warbler -- I wish I'd gotten a better picture!

Bob’s lifer Wilson’s Warbler — I wish I’d gotten a better picture!

After we finished at Beaudette, I went to Drayton Plains Nature Center in Waterford, another place I’d heard of but never visited. My primary reason for going there was to try to find the very elusive Connecticut Warbler that had been found there a few days earlier by a very observant and patient young birder named Brendan. I’ll end the suspense right now: I did not find the Connecticut. But I was very pleasantly surprised at Drayton Plains. You have to drive through winding residential streets to get to it, but then you come to a small parking lot next to a grouping of buildings and a pretty gazebo. There’s a log cabin, a nature center, a pavilion, and probably more I didn’t notice (I was there for the birds only this time). The habitat consists of 138 acres of  ponds, marshes, woods, and grassy areas, a really nice mix to find lots of bird species.

I walked past the two main hatchery ponds and entered the wooded path behind them and quickly found Canada and Magnolia Warblers, then Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and then American Redstarts. Palm, Nashville, and Common Yellowthroats. It was a warbler bonanza, with most of the same species I’d just seen at Beaudette.

I was treated to the entertaining chatter of this Gray Catbird:

Gray Catbird watching me watching him.

Gray Catbird watching me watching him.

A bit later I got another special treat: I was walking on a grassy path between two marsh ponds lined with small trees when I heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing very nearby. So close it felt like I could reach out and touch it. I could tell it was coming from a small tree beside me, so I slowly walked back and forth scanning every part of the tree, but I could not find that bird. And all this time it continued to sing, making me even more intent on figuring out where it was. After almost two minutes I suddenly found it and was stunned: it was sitting on a nest! It was a beautiful male grosbeak with his “bleeding heart” red breast marking, taking his turn incubating the eggs while his mate was off nearby feeding.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak  (not the one from this story)

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
(not the one from this story)

As soon as we made eye contact he stopped singing, and of course I backed off immediately so I wouldn’t scare him off the nest. But I walked away with a huge smile, filing that memory away with all the other magical moments I’ve gathered while watching birds. I wish I could experience that moment over again….first, hearing that clear melody bursting  from inside a tree, then realizing that I knew what type of bird was singing it, and then actually seeing him looking at me from inside the nest….that was so special!

And speaking of birds on nests, I’ve seen some others recently too. At Magee Marsh during the Biggest Week I photographed this Mourning Dove with her baby peeking out from below her.

Mourning Dove with baby

Mourning Dove with baby

And on International Migratory Bird Day I found a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher working on a nest, another surprising sighting.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on nest

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on nest

I even saw two Grackles exchange shifts on their nest at Magee Marsh, although I couldn’t get a decent photo of that. I’m sure more-experienced birders (and even nonbirders who spend more time in the woods than me) have seen plenty of nesting birds, but for me this is fascinating. I’ve mentioned before that I consider my solo birding times to be a form of ecotherapy, and something about seeing birds on their nests adds to the therapeutic benefits for me. There’s something so peaceful and life-affirming about seeing a bird sitting still and quiet, shrouded in the leaves of a tree. No matter what’s going on out there in the concrete jungle of the human world, little feathered creatures are building nests (an amazing feat in itself), laying eggs, and raising young right in our midst, without us even noticing them most of the time.

I’m reminded once again of how much richer my life has become since I fell in love with birds. I never realized how nature-deprived I was in my adult life until I got out and started exploring the natural world. I’m learning about more than birds too, because when you’re out looking for birds, you naturally see other things: wildflowers, butterflies, turtles, frogs, beavers, muskrats, raccoons, deer, and even a fox pup. I’m also more tuned in to how weather patterns affect wildlife, especially during migration. And of course, I’m breathing fresh air and exercising my body, and getting plenty of Vitamin D so I’m always happy. Occasionally I feel some regret for all the years I wasted indoors, but I’m determined to focus on the future and not the past. Every time I go to the woods I feel like a kid in a candy store — there’s just SO much to discover out there.

And the biggest surprise of all for me….well, that’s my next post. 🙂

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5 Responses to Birding Closer to Home

  1. Kenn Kaufman says:

    Kim, I love your descriptions of the birds – and of your reactions to them, which are just as important. And I continue to be impressed by the wonderful quality of your photos!

  2. Littlesundog says:

    Wow Kim!! I’m learning so much about birds I have never seen before. We have a lot of mourning, inca, and collared doves around here. Doves are some of my favorites!

    • Kim says:

      I didn’t know this until after his death, but Mourning Doves were a favorite bird of my sister’s husband, Ron. Ever since I found that out I’ve had a soft spot for them.

  3. wandena clair says:

    I like the one with the red throat-So pretty!

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