With my vacation into the wilds of the Wolverine State over, it seems we always ask the same question. Why does it take so long for the vacation to start, and how does it end so quickly? With the cold slap of reality of “work” once again staring me in the face, and my photos sorted and cleaned up, it’s time for my wrap-up of the one day I went birding at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore.
With never having visited this part of Michigan before, we really wanted to see and do as much as we could. There were wineries and breweries that needed to be visited, along with small towns and tourist attractions. And with only so much time in the day I had to designate one morning/afternoon when I can some birding in. There were some encouraging reports on eBird that had several Clay-colored Sparrows and Piping Plovers in and around Sleeping Bear Point. So this was my one-shot destination.
The drive took about 45 minutes from where we were staying outside of Northport, and following M-22 the drive took me through picturesque villages of Leland, Glen Arbor (Home of Cherry Republic) and Glen Haven. I followed the map on my GPS and traveled through Glen Haven and finally parked at the old Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station which has been turned into a maritime museum.
Being a pretty early Wednesday morning there was no one around. So I made my way through the Coast Guard Station compound towards Lake Michigan as the sun started to rise behind me. I turned towards my left and started to walk northwest towards Sleeping Bear Point.
As I hiked along I really didn’t know what to expect when it came to birds. Being by a really large body of water one would expect the usual Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. A lone Killdeer was the first plover sighted as it scurried before me. A couple of Semipalmated Sandpipers were feeding along the lakes edge and offered a good photo-op as the sun was in the perfect position.
As I walked a large sand dune squeezed me between itself and the lake with just about 10 feet of space to walk.
Three American Kestrels kited above me as the wind blew steady off the lake all morning. A solo flying Peregrine Falcon was being mobbed by a gang of Crows. The falcon eventually lighted, and not wanting to pass up any chance to get a picture, I crept closer. Well the falcon wanted no part of me, let alone the Crows, so it flew off over the dune.
I was beginning to think that I was going to dip on my 2 target birds, however as a large sandy clearing opened up with scrubby bushes and short, stunted trees I noticed some small bird activity.
They kept moving away from me towards where a sand dune joined the beach at right angles. Large bushes and small trees sheltered 10-12 Sparrows, but what species? I couldn’t get my bins on them long enough to get a good ID, they just wouldn’t hold still long enough. I paused for a moment and “pished”. A couple curious Sparrows jumped up on some low branches. Clay-colored Sparrows, hooray for me! Not wanting to pass up this opportunity, I pulled out my camera and fired off a few shots before they moved on.
Now I’m 100% sure these are Clay-colored Sparrows. However when I got home at processed the pictures and noticed that these birds were missing the classic field marking, I started to doubt myself. The one thing missing is the classic whitish median crown stripe. All the other field marks fit for a Clay-colored, but this stripe on the crown. All the field guides showed the white stripe, and this was upsetting. It wasn’t till I pulled out go-to book on Sparrows, “The Sparrows of the United States and Canada” by James Rising and David Beadle. “crown streaked blackish and median stripe buffy”, for a juvenile Clay-colored Sparrow. Validation is sweet.
After leaving the Sparrows I made my way back to the beach and my hunt of a Piping Plover. I continued walking for about 20 minutes always stopping and scanning the beach for any movement, then sweep back over land for anything else. It was during one stop while scanning the beach I noticed the 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers I had seen earlier, but this time there was another bird with it. One with orange/yellow legs. Piping Plover! If it hadn’t moved it would have been really difficult to pick out among all the pebbles that littered the beach.
As you can see by this picture how well they blend into their surrounding habitat.
Now I had to set myself up to get the best photographs of the Plover without really disturbing it. The bird would move up and down the beach feeding without too much regard for me, so if I stood still it would get close, or if it walked away from me I had to climb up the bank and position myself for a better shot.
As you can see this bird has some serious bands on it’s legs. Being an endangered species this is normal and really the best way to track this beautiful bird. As a matter of fact right now as I’m writing this blog post a juvenile Piping Plover is being seen up on Lake Erie in Ohio without any bands yet. This is about as rare as the bird itself.
I could have followed this bird all day taking endless pictures, but there comes a time when enough is enough and call it a very successful day. And with that I drove back to Glen Arbor to meet Kathy and have a Black Cherry Cream Soda from Cherry Republic. Mmmmmmm Delicious.