• Todd

Birds of a Feather

WARNING! Picture heavy blog!!

Lots to share! It's been a long time since I have sat at the computer to write. Seems I spend more time on the pc ordering PPE or groceries online than I do writing or catching up on photographs. Covid-19 has effected us all in one way or another. Hopefully this will take your mind off it for a little while.

The start of the "Stay at Home" order in Michigan had me looking for a new routine. I've always been an early riser and not having anywhere to go would drive me crazy, so I quickly got into a routine of grabbing a coffee and heading out to get the mail, then taking the mail to the garage to read and drink coffee. When I finished with the mail, I'd refill the bird feeders. One morning as I sat sipping coffee, I heard a familiar sound - the squeal of a drake Wood Duck. I stepped out of the garage and looked to the neighbors huge maple tree. Sure enough, there he was! Now if I lived in the country, I would understand. If the nearest lake was closer than a mile and a half, I'd get it, but we are in the middle of the city. Wood Ducks, to my knowledge, do not prefer the city. He was not around every day, but for 3 weeks he would make guest appearances, only in the morning though. I was putting out some corn for him, but I never saw him land in the yard. The corn did bring a couple Mallards in (yeah, just as weird as a Wood Duck, but it's been that kind of year) and they were more than happy with the corn and sunflower seeds.

Woody in the neighbors tree

My parents both loved Goldfinches and we keep a thistle feeder (it's the one from their house) out front that they are at constantly. The late snows this past Spring kept that feeder extremely busy. You know I'm really bored when I am taking shots out the living room window.

Male Goldfinch

The "Stay at Home" order hit right as the major duck migration was getting into full swing. As much as I knew I'd be social distancing while out in the woods, it just didn't seem fair to leave the family at home while I was out having a good time (be my estimation anyway). Besides, my daughter and I both have asthma and I would never have forgiven myself should I have brought something home. By the time I did go out, the only thing left was a Canada goose that was really lousy at hiding.

Goose on her nest, on a muskrat house

How much do I dislike House Sparrows? So much so that I won't post a picture of one and if I could meet the person that brought them to America, I'd send him/her back with the birds on a sinking ship. If I remember correctly, they are the most widely distributed of all birds. I'm not sure how as they all seem to be at my feeders! They can empty a feeder faster than a squirrel and seem to chase off any bird that is not a sparrow! They have pushed out many native birds, so much so that in Michigan, they are open to hunting year-round! I've never met a sparrow hunter, but I'm sure many kids with BB guns have taken a few. How proud one would be to march into the taxidermy shop with his trophy English Sparrow!

Anyway, we do have a good number of native sparrow in Michigan. Each year I get a few different ones. **Note: I know a lot of birds but I am no expert. If I get one wrong, please feel free to ridicule me or text/email me with the correction! Thank you!

Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow with a Field Sparrow in the background
Swamp Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow

Sparrows may not be as colorful as most songbirds, but I think they all have some interesting colors and features.

As we rolled into May, the itch to get outdoors was just too much. Songbird and Warbler migration was peaking at the same time and I was working hard to think of every little out of the way place I could get to without herds of birders being around. I think I got pretty lucky.

Least Flycatcher
Tufted Titmouse
Warbling Vireo
Northern Parula
Blue-headed Vireo
Yellow Warbler

It was literally pouring birds down all around. It only lasted 6 or 7 days, but the birds just kept coming!

Pine Warbler (M)
Pine Warbler (F)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Black-throated Great Warbler
Black and White Warbler

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is always on the move. One actually stopped just long enough to sing a tune and get a photograph.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The Eastern Towhee is typically one of the first of the larger song birds to migrate back north in Spring, at least it seems that way to me. They have a very distinct "drink your teeee" song. Once you hear it, you won't forget it. I understand that the eyes are a straw color in the southern states, sunburn maybe?

Eastern Towhee (M)
Eastern Towhee (F)
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackburian Warbler
Magnolia Warbler

You would probably have a difficult time finding anyone in Michigan that dislikes these 3 favorites. Some stay in Michigan all year round.

Black-capped Chickadee
Northern Cardinal

Eastern Bluebird

This guy may be a little different. Some love them, some hate them.

Blue Jay

Another bird with a very distinctive song is the Gray Catbird. In my opinion, the perfect shade of gray.

Gray Catbird 1
Gray Catbird 2

This Bay-breasted Warbler is likely a happy little camper in Canada right now, but he had a layover in Michigan on his way north.

Bay-breasted Warbler

While many people may think this is an uncommon songbird in Michigan, I can assure you the Common Yellowthroat is not at all uncommon!

Common Yellowthroat

This Spring tested my patience with one bird in particular. For 3 straight days I tried to photograph this bird. I'd get a few pictures but they were way off in the distance, into the sun or just not good. I'd never photographed one and was determined to get it. This Spring, the award for the biggest pain-in-the-butt goes to Mr. Yellow-breasted Chat.

The best I could get, Yellow-breasted Chat

Two accidentals are included in this Spring's tally. The first was about as easy as it gets. I pulled into the parking spot, turned off the car, grabbed my camera, stepped out, closed the door and when I did, this flew right up into a tree near me. Took a whole 2 steps to get this bird!

Pileated Woodpecker

The other was just dumb luck. I'd walked a good many miles through the woods and had taken some real nice pictures, but the temps were rising, I was hot, sweaty, full of bug bites and exhausted. As I entered the clearing near the parking lot, I looked up to the sky and there it was, couldn't miss that red in a tree!

Scarlet Tanager

A little earlier in the Spring, just down the trail from the Scarlet Tanager, I got caught in a war of the loudest caller. I heard a two different birds calling loudly but could not find them in the thicket they were in. To make matters worse, they kept moving, all around me, back and forth across the trail and I could not get a look at either of them. Finally, after some time, I was able to get a picture of both troublemakers.

Wood Thrush

Quiz time! What do you get when you cross a Blue-winged Warbler...

Blue-winged Warbler

With a (first time I've seen one in MI and the only picture I was able to get) Golden-winged Warbler?

Golden-winged Warbler

Answer: A Brewster's Warbler! I had to call in my expert birders for this because I had no idea what it was. I may never see another, but I got this one! It's a true hybrid.

Brewster's Warbler

A long standing pain for me to find, but now I seem to get one every Spring, a personal favorite, the Hooded Warbler.

Hooded Warbler

Three years ago, for about 2 seconds, I saw my first Mourning Warbler. Haven't seen one since, until May 17, 2020. I was deep in the woods, lighting was a challenge, but I got it.

Mourning Warbler

The Canada Warbler likes to tease. It shows up for a second and disappears. You won't see it again and if you are lucky enough to get a picture of one, it will never be facing you to show off beautiful chest markings. Again, from the side, the Canada Warbler.

Canada Warbler

One chase finally ended. For 6 years this bird has eluded me. I've never even seen one. Tips from some of the best birders I've met have left me without a sighting. These little birds love to hang out at the very tops of those huge Sycamore trees. I can not tell you how happy I was to get this picture. Maybe it sounds silly, but those that hunt and fish and get that trophy wall hanger, you understand. The Cerulean Warbler.

Cerulean Warbler

As I left the woods that day, I was feeling good and humming a tune, so naturally...

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

And with that awful pun, I am outta here for now!

I hope you enjoyed all the photos and I will try to have a couple more blogs up before too long. Take care, be safe and if you have to social distance, stay the hell out of my woods, you're scaring everything away! Thanks!!

Todd Butkowski

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