Mich Big Day – 192 Species: It was Epic

Last year for Erik Weyrauch bachelor party, I was invited by Tom Hince to do a big day with Erik, Tom, Kevin Rysiewski and Andy Weinrauch. It was an awesome time and we managed to identify 168 species of birds in 24hrs.. So naturally when Tom invited the same team to go at it again this year, I was in!! Tom sent out the invite email to us all and in the email he stated that our target this year was 180 species. “Failure is unacceptable”, Tom wrote. 180 species in a 24hr period is very difficult and many things have to happen in order for this number to be hit… But if you don’t set a high goal, how are you gonna push yourself to achieve a high mark..  So on Friday, May 19th we all met at 10pm and got on the road to be at our starting point by midnight. 24hrs to get to 180… Lets get er done!!

0000: We arrive at Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area. Its cold and windy. The weather forecast is for 15-20mph winds and chilly conditions… they were not chilly, they were cold. there was supposed to be a significant amount of cloud cover, but instead the sky was clear, leading to even colder weather. It was noisy but we could still hear Canada Geese, Marsh Wrens, Virginia Rail, American Bittern and we saw a Black-crowned Night Heron in our headlights in the water.

0100-400: After Nayanquing point we slowly began the journey north stopping along the way a various marsh habitats and small country side roads to Owl and get marsh birds calling in the dark.. We found 2 Sedge Wrens at two different locations. We called in a Screech Owl and found a few Barred Owls that were calling. We managed to find Sora, Virginia Rail, Wilson’s Snipe and even heard a Black-billed Cuckoo call out as it flew over us. We went to an area where Kirtland Warbler’s nest and its wide open and good for Whip poor will. We had several calling around us and also Common Nighthawk and American Woodcock. Tom stopped on a road that we had been on the year before that looked very good for Saw-whet Owl… We were able to get one calling and we were so pumped up at the sound of his tooting… All this in gusty cold temperatures that were hovering in the mid 30’s.

0400-0600: We made our way over to Tuttle Marsh at dawn.. by 0400 the temperatures had dropped to 31 degrees.. I brought hand warmers and everyone took advantage of them except Tom… He said he was Canadian and wouldn’t use them.. Hilarious.. We could hear Sora, Virginia Rails and other marsh birds come to life as dawn slowly approached. Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrows, Alder Flycatchers and of course the multitude of duck species flying around the marsh.. Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Hooded Mergansers to name a few. Tree Swallows were beginning to fly about and we had Forster’s Terns zooming back and forth. A Hermit Thrush was singing as light begin to show on the horizon and the first warblers were beginning to sing. Yellow, Chestnut-sided and American Redstarts were waking up…We even had a Semipalmated plover just walking down the road.  We were all freezing to death and waited until our team captain Tom would announce we were driving to the next spot before we all ran back to the warm van.. LOL..

0600-0900: We spent the first part of the morning exploring the areas bordering the Ausable River west of Oscoda. We stopped a various locations on small country roades and got out and listened. Purple Finch, Canada Warblers, Pileated Woodpeckers, several Vireo species, Great Crested Flycather and even a Raven were found. At one spot we stopped and as the wind gusted we could hear a traffic sign wobbling back and forth and a loud BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG… Then Tom looked at the sign and announced it was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker pounding away on the sign. It was so cool to watch this woodpecker bang away on this sign. Who knows why?  At the Foot Dam we had Golden-winged Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Belted Kingfisher and Rock Pigeons (every bird counts on a Big Day). At Old Orchard Campground we had Common Merganser, Red-eyed Vireo, Baltimore Oriole and a Merlin zooming across the sky. A little pullout near the river produced our first Northern Parula and had a good assortment of warblers. We had a Brown Creeper in this location and a Yellow-throated Vireo. Another little area by the river  held our first Cormorant and Bald Eagle. We made our way over to Wurtsmith Air Force Base and along the fence we got Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows and a Horned Lark sitting on the runway.  An Upland Sandpiper was calling in the distance. We had Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks singing in a farmers field as Wild Turkeys stood nearby.

0900-1030. Our team headed toward Tawas Point State Park. We stopped at a home where people were waiting to see the Painted Bunting. It would have been a lifer for Kevin and Andy, but we were doing a Big Day and you have to keep moving. We all agreed to give it 10-15 minutes and if it doesn’t show, move on. It didn’t so we left. At Tawas Point State Park it was time for a little clean up on our list. We were missing some common warblers and hopefully we would find them at the park. Wilson’s, Magnolia, Blackburnians, Tennessee, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green and Blue and many more warblers were present in the park. At the point we had a flock of Common Terns, Sanderling and Whimbrels. Caspian Terns also were at the point. We had a Summer Tanager singing not to far from the tip although we couldn’t find it in the canopy. Scarlet Tanagers were there in abundance. We had a Bank Swallow which completed our swallows except for a Purple Martin which we ended up getting later in the day. In and out of Tawas and by 1030 we were on the road with 147 species and plenty more to go before we were done.

1030-1130: Back to Kirtland’s Warbler area we visited in the middle of the night… We found the Kirtland’s right away. Anyone who can’t find one singing there needs there hearing checked. We also managed to get an American Kestrel hovering over the open fields.

1130-1300: We headed back to  Nayanquing Point. This is when the day got very interesting. We checked out the shorebird mud flat first thing. We found hundreds of Dunlin, White-rumped Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers,  Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper. From the tower we found the Laughing Gull reported earlier in the day and a Willet. A Peregrine Falcon buzzed the marsh causing all the birds to take flight but they immediately returned. Yellow-headed Blackbirds could be heard singing in the background and a Sandhill Crane was sitting on her nest. The wind was super strong and chilly. We saw Jeremy and Holly Joswick there and they called us back as were getting in the car to tell us the Willet was there.. We also had a Ring-necked Pheasant near the parking lot bordering a farm.

1300-1500: Drive time and strategic planning. Part of doing a Big Day, and I have done a few, is being able to change up the itinerary depending upon the weather or where birds are being seen. Kathi Hince (Tom’s lovely wife) told us that we had a front headed our way. We were going to skip Port Huron State Game Area and head straight to Pointe Mouillee. Our thought process was that we were at 162 species and we could easily get to 180 there and put 4-5 hrs in at the Moo before it got dark.  However, with rain approaching from the west, we decided to go to Port Huron State Game Area off of Shoefelt Road and bird for 1 hour, drive through the rain and get to Moo after the rain stopped and have a couple of hours to bird. It was exactly what we did and it worked out perfectly.

1500-1630: Port Huron State Game Area… We targeted Cerulean, Hooded and Louisiana Waterthrush as well as Acadian Flycatcher. We got all four and added on Orange-crowned Warbler and Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrush as well.. We headed to Pointe Moulliee with 169 species.

1830: Arrival at Pointe Mouillee State Game Area. First bird was an Eastern Phoebe as we were driving down Seglar rd toward the parking lot. 170. Need 10 for 180 goal… One of the best birding places in the state. We walked up the dike and cut across between Vermet and Long Pond. We had a multitude of duck species including Canvasback, Redhead, Black duck, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup, and my favorite an Eurasion Wigeon!! We had Whimbrel, Semipalmated , Pectoral , Least , and White-rumped Sandpipers. We had a  Ruddy Turnstone. Gulls were plentiful and we had Bonaparte’s, Ring-billed, Herring, Greater and Lesser Black-backed and the highlight a Franklin’s Gull. This black headed gull with its dark mantle and large white spots on primaries was sitting next to the Bonaparte’s so the comparison was so easy. We found a flock of Black Terns and plenty of American Coots and one Common Gallinule.

2215: We are back at the car. We are exhausted. At this point I have been awake for 30 hours straight minus a couple of 15 minute catnaps in the car while driving. My pedometer estimates that I have walked over 12 miles for the day. We ended up with 192 species. We saw 29 Warbler species and several people added Lifebirds and Tom and I added on a few State birds. The conditions were very difficult for birding and we had a little luck but mostly it took great team work to come up with a great number like 192. We had a ton of laughs and I couldn’t have had a better team of guys to do this day with. A big shout out to Tom and Kathi for the awesome Tshirts we had for this trip. Kathi’s 4th grade students decorated our shirts with their own bird drawings and it was a real privilege to wear them. They brought us lots of luck!!  I am sure I am missing a few details, but with a day like this I could write a book with all of our cool birds and great sightings.. checklist below

Thanks for reading.

Best team ever. From the left Tom Hince, Andy Weinrauch, Kevin Rysiewski, Paul Poronto, Erik Weyhrauch

Best team ever. From the left Tom Hince, Andy Weinrauch, Kevin Rysiewski, Paul Poronto, Erik Weyhrauch

Black-billed Cuckoo

Black-billed Cuckoo

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Mute Swan
  3. Trumpeter Swan
  4. Wood Duck
  5. Gadwall
  6. Eurasian Wigeon *Pointe Mouillee Long Pond Unit
  7. American Wigeon
  8. Amercian Black Duck
  9. Mallard
  10. Blue-winged Teal
  11. Northern Shoveler
  12. Canvasback
  13. Redhead
  14. Ring-necked Duck
  15. Lesser Scaup
  16. Bufflehead
  17. Common Merganser
  18. Hooded Merganser
  19. Red-breasted Merganser
  20. Ruddy Duck
  21. Ring-necked Pheasant
  22. Ruffed Grouse
  23. Wild Turkey
  24. Common Loon
  25. Pied-billed Grebe
  26. Double crested Cormorant
  27. American White Pelican
  28. American Bittern
  29. Great Blue Heron
  30. Great Egret
  31. Green Heron
  32. Black-crowned Night Heron
  33. Turkey Vulture
  34. Osprey
  35. Bald Eagle
  36. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  37. Cooper’s Hawk
  38. Red-tailed Hawk
  39. Red-shouldered Hawk
  40. Virginia Rail
  41. Sora
  42. American Coot
  43. Common Gallinule
  44. Sandhill Crane
  45. Black-bellied Plover
  46. Semipalmated Plover
  47. Killdeer
  48. Spotted Sandpiper
  49. Greater Yellowlegs
  50. Willet
  51. Lesser Yellowlegs
  52. White-rumped Sandpiper
  53. Pectoral Sandpiper
  54. Upland Sandpiper
  55. Whimbrel
  56. Ruddy Turnstone
  57. Sanderling
  58. Dunlin
  59. Least Sandpiper
  60. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  61. American Woodcock
  62. Wilson’s Snipe
  63. Bonaparte’s Gull
  64. Laughing Gull * Nayanquing point
  65. Franklin’s Gull * Pointe Mouillee
  66. Ring-billed Gull
  67. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  68. Great Black-backed Gull
  69. Herring Gull
  70. Caspian Tern
  71. Forster’s Tern
  72. Common Tern
  73. Black Tern
  74. Rock Pigeon
  75. Mourning Dove
  76. Black-billed Cuckoo
  77. Screech Owl
  78. Great Horned Owl
  79. Saw-whet Owl
  80. Barred Owl
  81. Common Nighthawk
  82. Whip-poor-will
  83. Chimney Swift
  84. Purple Martin
  85. Bank Swallow
  86. Barn Swallow
  87. Cliff Swallow
  88. Rough-winged Swallow
  89. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  90. Belted Kingfisher
  91. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  92. Downy Woodpecker
  93. Hairy woodpecker
  94. Pileated Woodpecker
  95. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  96. Northern Flicker
  97. American Kestrel
  98. Merlin
  99. Peregrine Falcon
  100. Eastern Wood Pewee
  101. Eastern Phoebe
  102. Least Flycatcher
  103. Willow Flycatcher
  104. Alder Flycatcher
  105. Acadian Flycatcher
  106. Great Crested Flycatcher
  107. Eastern Kingbird
  108. Yellow-throated Vireo
  109. Red-eyed Vireo
  110. Blue-headed Vireo
  111. Warbling Vireo
  112. Blue Jay
  113. American Crow
  114. Raven
  115. Horned Lark
  116. Black-capped Chickadee
  117. Tufted Titmouse
  118. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  119. White-breasted Nuthatch
  120. Brown Creeper
  121. House Wren
  122. Sedge Wren
  123. Carolina Wren
  124. Marsh Wren
  125. Blue gray Gnatcatcher
  126. Eastern Bluebird
  127. Veery
  128. Wood Thrush
  129. Swainson’s Thrush
  130. Gray-cheeked Thrush
  131. Hermit Thrush
  132. American Robin
  133. Gray Catbird
  134. Brown Thrasher
  135. European Starling
  136. Cedar Waxwing
  137. Ovenbird
  138. Louisiana Waterthrush
  139. Northern Waterthrush
  140. Blue-winged Warbler
  141. Golden-winged Warbler
  142. Black and White Warbler
  143. Tennessee Warbler
  144. Orange Crowned Warbler
  145. Nashville Warbler
  146. Mourning Warbler
  147. Common Yellowthroat
  148. Hooded Warbler
  149. Common Redstart
  150. Kirtland’s Warbler
  151. Cerulean Warbler
  152. Northern Parula
  153. Bay-breasted Warbler
  154. Magnolia
  155. Black-throated Green
  156. Black-throated Blue
  157. Palm Warbler
  158. Blackburnian Warbler
  159. Yellow Warbler
  160. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  161. Blackpoll Warbler
  162. Pine Warbler
  163. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  164. Canada Warbler
  165. Wilson’s Warbler
  166. Chipping Sparrow
  167. Field Sparrow
  168. Vesper Sparrow
  169. Song Sparrow
  170. Swamp Sparrow
  171. Savannah Sparrow
  172. Grasshopper Sparrow
  173. White-throated Sparrow
  174. Dark eyed Junco
  175. Scarlet Tanager
  176. Summer Tanager
  177. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  178. Northern Cardinal
  179. Indigo bunting
  180. Bobolink
  181. Eastern Meadowlark
  182. Red-winged Blackbird
  183. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  184. Common Grackle
  185. Brown-headed Cowbird
  186. Baltimore Oriole
  187. Orchard Oriole
  188. House Finch
  189. Purple Finch
  190. House Sparrow
  191. American Goldfinch
  192. Tree Swallow

Common Tern Vs Forster’s Tern

I often see wrong Ebird reports of Common Terns in places they should not be… example… small inland marshes… Common Terns are usually found out on the larger bodies of water like Lk St. Clair or the Great Lakes… Forster’s Terns are usually found inland  in marshy areas…  They can be difficult to ID in flight.. I usually go by call notes which are very different, but the common shows more gray on the back that blends well with a gray belly… they usually will show some black in their primaires vs the Forster’s which are white.. there bill is very red vs the orange bill of the Forsters… Here is a composite photo of the two species I took today… Top on is the Common and the bottom photo is a Forster’s.

Common on Top and Forster's on Bottom

Common on Top and Forster’s on Bottom