Posts Tagged ‘Michigan’

Yard List Hits 100!


Thursday, May 24th, 2012
Nashville Warbler Birds

Nashville Warbler by Josh Haas

After expanding our property last year with the acquisition of more land I could hardly wait for spring 2012 to come so we could hit our trail and target the new areas that would likely bring more yard birds to check off the list. At the end of last year we were at 94. Within the last three weeks, we’ve added six birds. Amazing! Also with those six birds came 100.

So what is a yard list? Well for any enthusiast into birds, mammals, reptiles, etc. a yard list is a running tally to keep track of any of those things you see from or in your yard. You can create multiple lists and have your own rules because they are your lists. For instance, the rule we have for our yard bird list is that we have to physically be on our property when we see or hear the bird. The bird can for instance be flying or perched outside our property lines but as long as we are on the property and the bird can be unmistakably identified, it counts. This is a fun way to keep track of the different things seen on your property and also makes time at home more fun. The last few birds that made our list were great migrants like the Prothonotary Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Hooded Merganser. A great feature in the Audubon app is listing. I keep our yard list up to date in the app on my iPhone and then Sync my content to my FREE account on the website.

What bird made our 100? Our 100th bird was the Nashville Warbler. I’ve been walking our trail for the past few weeks as migration has really turned on hoping for mornings or evenings where birds have fallen in. The funny thing about the Nashville Warbler yesterday was that I wasn’t even out of the house yet. I awoke to him calling right outside our window! It’s always a good morning when I awake to nature instead of the Marimba on my iPhone. =) I love how the 100th bird came but a part of me was hoping it’d be on the trail with my family. Having said that, maybe during our family walk tonight, 101 will be added to the list! I wonder what it will be…

To hear the sound of a Nashville Warbler, click HERE

The 17.5 Mile Journey


Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

With spring upon us, migration is in full swing. Reports of new arriving birds every day bring hope that the breeding season is just around the corner. For some, it’s already started. When it comes to Raptor Migration, traps for good viewing are mostly determined by geographic funnels or specific ridge paths the birds take year after year. One of these geographic funnel points is Whitefish Pt. in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Lillian on the Hawk Deck with Mom by Josh Haas

A short, 6 hour drive from home and we make the trek to Whitefish Pt. each spring to enjoy the splendor. Counting in the fall for the Detroit River Hawkwatch, this yearly weekend is my way of getting my Hawkwatch fix after being away from it for months. This would be the first year for baby Lillian and also her first real trip. She was an angel and even found herself on the deck one day, although she was asleep! The weekend was oddly warm in the UP and completely void of clouds, which makes Hawk-watching tough. Many birds are almost stratospheric and stream by undetected but for the ones at lower altitudes, making the 17.5-mile journey across to Canada from the point is no easy feat. While many migrating songbirds will cross huge spans of water, Raptors don’t prefer it. As long as the winds are right and the birds have some guts, they’ll go for it. For some, however, this takes some time.

Juvenile, Red-Shouldered Hawk by Josh Haas

While watching the movement of Raptors, it’s especially important to look for distinguishing characteristics in individuals to keep track of them. Many of the birds (especially juveniles) will start the trip across only to turn around and return to the point. This can go on all day, which begs the question: “How do counters keep from counting these birds multiple times?” Every Hawkwatch has a counting protocol specific to the site. The protocol takes into account such activities to keep the data consistent from year to year. For Whitefish Pt., one example of protocol is with Buteos (ex. Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, etc.) They are tallied at the end of the day as the greatest number seen in a given hour. For more information on possible Hawkwatch sites near you, check out

Dark Morph, Red-tailed Hawk by Josh Haas

Preparing for the Return


Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Osprey Nest Platform by Josh Haas

Last year, our local area was lucky enough to have an Osprey pair take residence atop a power pole along the Kalamazoo River. For those not familiar with the Kalamazoo River, in 2010 we had a major oil spill in the river that is obviously still grabbing attention all over the area. To have Osprey continue nesting along the river even after that horrible situation is pretty inspiring and can also attest to the clean-up efforts thus far.

Ospreys have definitely made their comeback along with Bald Eagles, but they tend to be a bit more picky when it comes to nesting. A few weeks back a friend of mine approached me to help him do some video work for an up-coming documentary he’s working on (When Hope Hatches, This documentary will tell the story of the Osprey pair and also bring awareness to viewers of the importance the Kalamazoo River plays on local ecosystems. A major step in the process of this film was to document the erection of a new platform as the old power pole was being taken down. This would be all about preparing for the return.

Osprey by Josh Haas

The process began with capturing the current pole being torn down. This had us a bit worried given the unknown of whether returning Osprey would use the new platform or not. Knowing the current pole had to come down, there was nowhere to go but forward. A couple hundred yards away was a prime location, however, for the new platform. Constructed of cedar, this platform would be roughly 15 feet high with an excellent view of the river and surrounding area. Partnering with the Kalamazoo Nature Center and local volunteers, the platform was pre-built which made erecting it much easier. Once in place, sticks were added and it would then be time to wait.

Osprey by Josh Haas

On April 4th, the wait was finally over as the cellular nest camera started sending photos that included Osprey on the platform. While it’s still early, we are all extremely excited about the outlook. Not only does it look like the Osprey may indeed use this platform, it looks good for the documentary to continue moving forward. I will continue to share blogs regarding how the Osprey are doing as well as links to view photos/videos throughout the season. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in donating to make the documentary happen, feel free to contact Matt Clysdale (

Bringing Nature Indoors


Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Trees Foliage Nature

Fall in Michigan by Josh Haas

We all have amazing stories creating by simply being outside. For some it’s the family trips each summer, for others it’s seeing their first Pileated Woodpecker on a bird hike. Regardless of our different connections, having reminders every day of these connections can often relieve daily stresses and bring us back to times that have helped shape our existence.

One way to bring these memories inside is to hang imagery on walls either at home or the office that offer constant reminders of the connections that really make us happy. Most of our readers probably know that for me, the connections are “bird” heavy and many of the images in my offices are my bird photographs. It’s not just pictures of birds; however, the stories behind the images are what come to mind every day. In Michigan, a popular family destination is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The numbers of folks that come in our Michigan Art Show booths each year consistently connect with our Sleeping Bear imagery and those that take pieces home are sure to be reminded of those family trips for years to come.

Bald Eagle Trees

Bald Eagle by Josh Haas

Think back to some of the hikes and trips you’ve been on and look back at some of the photography you’ve taken on hikes and trips. Maybe it’s time to get some of those images printed and put on the walls to remind you of your journeys taken throughout the years. One tip when printing and framing is to first think about the frame and/or mat you might put with the image. Always make sure to size your prints right to fit in a specific frame. Matting and framing is like anything else, the sky is the limit. It can get quite expensive but a trip to your local frame shop may be worthwhile. Many stores also offer standard frames that include mats. Many times, these kits are user friendly so don’t be afraid to try them. The goal is to get some work on the walls you see every day to continue connecting with nature, even indoors.

With New Weather, Comes New Clothing


Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Tree with Shadow by Josh Haas

Living in the state of Michigan, I get to hear a lot of negative opinions when winter comes around the corner. I’ve never quite understood this. I look at winter as just another environment to try new things, but I think it’s because I have so many hobbies that allow me to enjoy winter as well as all the other seasons. Even still, most Michiganders would probably tell you they love our 4 seasons; even though it’s typically followed by the comment that winter is the exception.

Josh Playing in the Snow

For me, I truly love our 4 seasons; especially winter! Winter gives us the joy of getting our cross-country skis out or dusting off the snowshoes for an easy hike through the snow. Winter in our family also means birding for specialties such as Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, Rough-legged Hawks and the rare Snowy Owl (although not so rare this season!) Regardless of the activity you enjoy, one thing remains in reference to winter: Proper clothing! If you find yourself staying inside through winter because of the cold, it’s time to invest in some new clothing. Layers are the key. It doesn’t have to turn into a binge of buying the best gear at top prices. It may be as simple as layering in clothing materials you already have or adding a few key layer materials to your existing collection. Materials like wool and fleece are great for layering. Cold feet always hinder our willingness to go outside in the low temperatures but many times, this is due to socks that aren’t meant for the weather. Again, wool socks or synthetics that wick moisture/sweat away will keep your toes toasty meaning winter becomes that much more enjoyable.

Josh Playing in the Snow

Think of some of the amazing things you may miss this winter if you’re stuck inside. This white season brings to light all sorts of possible outdoor activities. Look through some of that old clothing in the basement. You may have some great layers that will make winter fun. The more fun you have in winter, the faster it will go by and as I always say: There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!!!

My Year in Nature Part 2: Bugs and Plant Edition


Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
Racket-tailed Emeralds

Racket-tailed Emeralds by Julie Craves

In my quest to have a more pleasant look back at 2011 than I was receiving from the news, I reviewed the surprise discoveries I made in the natural world this year. Since I am an ornithologist, many high points have to do with birds. But like anybody who spends a lot of time in the field, I find other taxa are often in the spotlight.

For instance, for the last decade my husband and I have been compiling a list of county dragonflies and damselflies for our urban southeastern Michigan home county. In the past year, we decided we had likely discovered all the species likely to regularly occur here, having added nearly 50 species to the list. I started writing up a paper. Yet right at summer’s start, we stumbled upon a thriving population of Racket-tailed Emeralds (Dorocordulia libera), many busy working on the next generation, like the pair in the photo. This is a species previously represented in the county only by a literature record from the 1870s. A month later, we were amazed to find a Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus), a new county record and the largest dragonfly in the U.S. – not easily overlooked. Both of these species were in places we had searched many times over the years.


Dragonhunter © Sidney W. Dunkle

A bit more prosaic was my discovery of a population of Florida Lettuce (Lactuca floridana) along the trails at work on my urban university campus. This is a state-threatened plant in Michigan. I have walked by the plants I found thousands of times before. Although similar to other Lactucas and sort of non-descript (okay, ugly) when not in bloom, woodland lettuce is tall and easy to see. Was this a very recently established population, or had I somehow missed them on my countless walks?

Florida Lettuce

Florida Lettuce © Jessie M. Harris

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis) reaches its northern range limit in southern Michigan. Over the years they’d occasionally been seen locally and seemed to be becoming more common, but my searches had been fruitless. Happily, 2011 was my year to add this species to my state butterfly list with one in a neighboring county. Shortly thereafter, I got to add it to my home county list…and hometown list…and yard list. I walked outside with my morning cup of coffee to find one right in the front garden.

Common Checkered-skipper

Common Checkered-skipper, Female © Rick Cech

My 2012 bring us all the excellent experience of new discoveries in familiar places!

My Year in Nature Part 1: Bird Edition


Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Barred Owl © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Year-end wrap-ups are often filled with dreadful news events, odes to the recent dead, and other things you’d just as soon not have to be reminded of. I decided to take a look back and focus on some of my favorite moments of natural history discovery in 2011. I’ll start with my top bird surprises.

I have been a bird bander for over 20 years. Mostly it involves the routine, though important banding of many individuals of common species. One of these is the American Goldfinch; I’ve banded over 5,000 of them. In May I received a report that a goldfinch I’d banded here in southeast Michigan in October 2010 was captured and released by another bander in a rural area in Ontario, about 175 miles northeast of here. That itself was quite interesting. What was more astonishing, though, was in 2008, this same bander at the same place had captured a Blue Jay I had banded here a few months previously! What are the odds of that?

Earlier in the season, my surprise banded bird was, in contrast, a very rare species banded by someone else. In March, a Ross’s Goose was located in a local retention pond, the first record of this species for my town of Dearborn, Michigan and only about the sixth county record. That was cool. Better yet, the goose was banded. I reported the band number to the Bird Banding Lab of the U.S. Geological Survey and discovered this goose had been banded in 2006 north of the Arctic Circle at McTavish Point, Nunavut – 1900 miles from Dearborn. Most goose reports are of birds shot by hunters, making this sighting even more unique.

A final surprise was a call I received this fall from a church adjacent to our university natural area, where my study site is located. They told me a large owl had fallen through a vent and was trapped in their basement. That seemed unlikely to me, and while I can’t possibly respond to all the rescue calls I receive from the public, this time I decided to head over to the church. Indeed, the unfortunate bird was an owl – a Barred Owl, the first record for Dearborn since a single sighting in 1976! The young owl was in good health, and I was able to band and release it within the hour.

Years ago I might have written about my amazing experiences with new birds in Nicaragua and Honduras, two places I visited this year. There’s no denying I loved seeing many remarkable species. These days, however, it seems I appreciate discoveries closer to home even more.

Cranes Cranes Cranes


Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Sandhill Cranes

Fall in the Midwest brings from the north the majestic, yet prehistoric, Sandhill Crane. It’s not too hard to go out for a country drive and see these awesome birds but there are a few spots in the Midwest where one can not only see hundreds, but thousands.

Many birders are quick to think of the Platte River in Nebraska when thinking of Sandhill Cranes. This place is nothing short of phenomenal but it’s also a long drive from most of the Midwest. It’s also important to realize that even though the birds look the same, they are actually the slightly smaller subspecies, the Lesser Sandhill Crane while the Cranes coming through the Midwest are that of the Greater Sandhill Crane. Some spots closer to home in the Midwest that are pretty hot include Haehnle Sanctuary in Jackson, MI as well as Baker Sanctuary in Bellevue, MI. The crème de la crème, however, would be Jasper Pulaski just south of Michigan City, IN. This place is simply awesome and gets upwards of over 10,000 Sandhills during the peak of their season. During a recent visit to the area, we decided to head over to Jasper Pulaski around 5pm (a couple hours before sunset) knowing that the “end of day” spectacle would surely happen.

Sure enough, at around 6:30pm it was like someone turned on the switch and huge lines of Sandhill Cranes were flying into the fields of Jasper Pulaski from all directions. Hearing the ohhhhs and ahhhhs from the crowd was great as this event would surely convert some people to the wonderful world of birding. Big groups were landing way out in the distance but others were landing quite close as well. Whoever set this viewing area up was smart in that there is a sizable viewing platform as well as space at ground level where Photographers can get that view from the birds’ level.

If you’re ever traveling through the area in fall, it’s well worth the stop. Less than 30 miles south of Highway 80/90 makes it very convenient and the many small farm towns offer good hot meals after being out in the cold fall evenings.

That’s Mitey Interesting!


Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

A couple of years ago, my husband and I set out to see how many species of wasps and bees we could document with photos in our small urban yard. We’re up to nearly 90, which covers all the conspicuous and easy-to-ID stuff. One of the challenges has been to differentiate among all the black and yellow wasps. The yellowjackets and other hornets aren’t too bad, but there are many species of potter and mason wasps in the family Eumeninae that are very similar except for the number or arrangement of yellow spots or stripes on a black body.

A series of good photos from multiple angles often cinches the ID. Occasionally we have to resort to netting an individual, chilling it, and looking at some features under a microscope while consulting detailed keys.

That is how I discovered a remarkable structure found on some bees and wasps, especially the Eumeninae: the acarinarium.

Acarinaria are special structures on the body of bees and wasps that function exclusively to harbor mites. They may be a hollow chamber, a hairless area that is easy for mites to cling to, or a series of pits along the edge of an abdominal segment. In my photo of the potter wasp above, the mites are carried on the thorax.

The mites on the wasp are benign – they are in a non-feeding phase while on board. If the mites are on a male wasp, they transfer to the female when the wasps mate. Potter and mason wasps are not social wasps; each female constructs a separate nest made of mud, in the ground, in wood, or some other cavity. As the female provisions her nest, the mites disembark. There they continue to develop, and once the immature wasp pupates, the adult mites feed on the young wasp. Amazingly, this apparently does not harm the wasp. A new generation of mites hitches a ride out of the nest on the wasp when it emerges.

Evolving modified body parts to accommodate mites makes sense so long as the mites are beneficial. It’s presumed that the mites perform a service in the nest prior to them feeding on the wasp, such as combating fungi, predators, or parasites that might damage wasp eggs or young. Each genus of wasp is associated with a particular genus of mite, so this relationship is very specialized. Yet the precise mechanism of this mutualism is still poorly understood.

Now, do we start a mite list for the yard?

I’m Hungry Dad!


Thursday, July 21st, 2011

An icon of the northern Midwest, as well as the Northern reaches of North America; the Common Loon has many traits to be desired among even non-birders. Lake owners and lovers of this beautiful species are somewhat fanatic and extremely protective of these birds. Their echoing sounds early in the morning and late in the evening make many hearts sputter as their song reminds us of the many memories of traveling north each summer.

On a recent trip to Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula, I was fortunate to kayak around a family of Common Loons. Having done this for years in our region, one wouldn’t think it’d be that out of the ordinary but I couldn’t help but notice the accuracy and consistency at which the adults could catch tiny minnows. They were at or near a 100% success rate. It seemed as if every trip down and back up to the surface, they would have a minnow to feed the tiny one riding the back of Mom. Fish aren’t slow by any means so it brought back memories of the many unsuccessful fishing trips when I was a kid. It seemed so hard to catch fish and yet at this moment, I found myself jealous in the presence of a swimming bird that could pick them out of the water as if it was effortless. While not the best day for minnows, it is one of their jobs within the circle. And let’s not forget that Loons can fall prey to predators themselves.

Nature never gets old. While sometimes tough and relentless, this was a sign of nature that was all about life and the growing of a species. The interplay between parents, the care and never-ending attention towards their offspring and the protection they give was a strong sight to take in. With any luck, next year this once tiny fluff ball will be a vibrant adult Loon wooing the many camping families getting away from the hustle and bustle to soak in all that nature has to give.