Unfulfilled Expectations

Northwoods Journal

Thursday, May 21, 2015

We woke to another lovely morning – clear and crisp. The gang of blue jays was anxiously awaiting their peanuts when we pulled back the curtains but we didn’t see many of the smaller birds today. I guess they can find enough food in the forest now.

Mark fired up the Coleman stove and fried up some bacon and I made pancakes for a nice breakfast. Even though it was chilly, I wrapped up in a quilt and took my second cup of coffee out on the deck. I knew the holiday weekend would soon be gearing up, with lots of neighbors up, so I wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet, and birdsong while I could.

I used some of the precious water from home (our well water here is still not running clear) to wash my hair and then we made our plan for the day. I had read on e-bird that there are plenty of bird species being seen at Negwegon State Park but that is a full-day trip from here, which would mean taking the dogs. Three beagles do not make for the best birding. So, we decided to stick closer to Alpena so we wouldn’t be gone so long.

We took the dogs for a nice, long hike before we left. Up the power lines across the road and back to Wayne’s World, but instead of going down their driveway and back to the road, we continued on farther to the Nickerson Valley ATV trail which comes out on Voyer Lake Rd. a bit farther down. It made for a nice hike, except we had to walk back on the road and the logging trucks are still passing through about every fifteen minutes, throwing up humongous clouds of dust – cough, choke.

I made some sandwiches for a makeshift picnic and we packed a string bag with some essentials. I have purchased a new Warblers field guide (thanks to the glowing review by H.J. at Avian 101), but it is a heavy tome not necessarily meant for hauling around in a pack. I also purchased a Sibley’s pocket guide to warblers, a waterproof, accordion style fold up guide that is very handy to keep in the backpack.

We headed toward Alpena with the thought of stopping first at the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary which is close to downtown, almost right in the middle of the Thunder Bay River – at least that’s how it looks on the Google maps picture. But despite all our various electronic gadgets, we could not find the entrance to the park and there were no signs to help us along. According to our Garmin, the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary doesn’t even exist! So, we drove on through town, past the giant LaFarge quarry toward Misery Bay. We made a stop near Isaacson Bay, which according to the internet is a fantastic place to spot shore birds, but there was not a thing to be seen! Well, that’s not exactly true, we did see a couple of great egrets but they were too far away for a photo. There was a small copse of trees on the other side of the road, with a watershed so we tramped around in there a bit and saw a common yellowthroat and an American redstart. I am learning the benefits of patience and being STILL and was able to get a few decent shots of the redstart, which made me happy.

American redstart.

American redstart.

That would have been better without the branch right across his face, but hey, you can’t have everything when it comes to warblers!  Here’s a less obstructed, but shadier view.

American redstart.

American redstart.

Continuing down Misery Bay Road, we found the Alpena Township Nature Preserve. Mark had read about this place while looking on the internet for birding spots. There is no parking, so you have to pull off on the side of the road, but there are several nice trails that lead out to the beach. The little spit of land the preserve is situated on is surrounded by El Cajon Bay on one side and Misery Bay on the other. You would think it would be the PERFECT spot for waterfowl and shore birds. I was to be extremely disappointed.

We walked the central trail all the way to the beach at El Cajon Bay. The trail winds through very thick balsam forest, so maybe not the optimal birding habitat. There were plenty of black-throated green warblers (we could hear them more than see them) and chickadees, but few other birds. There were lots of lovely wildflowers, and huge areas covered by these crested dwarf irises.  I wish I could have gotten a decent photo of a field of them but it was not to be. 😦

Field of crested dwarf irises.  They were much more stunning in real life!

Field of crested dwarf irises. They were much more stunning in real life!

Crested dwarf iris.

Crested dwarf iris.

El Cajon Bay and the point were very lovely. We had the place totally to ourselves and it was completely silent. Photos can’t do it justice, of course.

El Cajon Bay.

El Cajon Bay.

Somewhere over there is a sinkhole trail, but we didn’t go that way.

Round Island in El Cajon Bay.

Round Island in El Cajon Bay.

There were plenty of these orange flowers near the beach. Mark thought they were hawkweed until we saw one fully opened up. I thought they were Indian paintbrush, but despite our wildflower guide, I’m still not 100% certain. I apologize for the hand in the photo, the wind was whipping out there by the bay!

Indian paintbrush?

Indian paintbrush?

Unfortunately, we didn’t see any wading or shore birds to add to my 2015 Big Bird List. We did see a common merganser, plenty of Canada geese with goslings, and great egrets. One bird I was able to add to my list was the common tern, but I did not get any useable photos. We also saw some sort of sparrow but despite Mark and I both getting a clear look at it, we still could not agree on an identification. (I was unable to get a photo to help.)

There were other trails that connect with the beach, so as we hiked around the point, we expected to come across one of them and head back to where we were parked. The farther we went, the more concerned I became that we were not going to find the trail. I was getting tired and hungry and a bit cross by this point. We ended up having to turn around and go back the way we came, which turned out to be okay because along the central trail going back we had a great crested flycatcher land right in front of us!

Great crested flycatcher.

Great crested flycatcher.

I began snapping photos and then it swooped down across in front of us and landed in a tree on the opposite side of the trail. I was still clicking away with my camera and what should I capture, but the bird nabbing a dragonfly!

Great crested flycatcher nabbing dragonfly.

Great crested flycatcher nabbing dragonfly.

And gulping it down!

Great crested flycatcher gulping down dragonfly.

Great crested flycatcher gulping down dragonfly.

(Click on any photo to see a larger view.)

Our “picnic” lunch had to be eaten in the FJ as we headed back toward Alpena. We made a couple stops at stores in town before heading back home. Our perfect day clouded up and we had a few spits of rain, but thankfully it didn’t last. It was nearly 4:30 when we got back. The sun was back out so we tried to sit out on the porch, but there was a strong, cold wind blowing which drove me back inside.

Despite the wind, Mark was able to make a small fire, set up his tri-pod grill and barbeque us some pork chops. I fried up some red potatoes and added a can of green beans and we felt like we were eating like royalty! Food tastes so much better up here, especially after a day outdoors. The dishes were set aside so we could take the dogs for another hike. Mark drove up to Blue Jay trail and we hiked a big loop, which made the dogs happy. There wasn’t much to see except as we neared the vehicle, I heard movement in the woods and there was a deer about 15 or 20 yards into the trees. She stayed still but there were too many trees for a photo. Can you spot the deer?

White-tailed deer hiding.

White-tailed deer hiding.

A giant mountain of dishes awaited us when we returned. Three long hikes had made me very tired, but I still stayed up until midnight trying to get yesterday’s blog post up while I had the chance. The only plan for the morrow is garage sales.

Even though I was disappointed with not seeing any shore birds or having many to add to my 2015 list, it was still a 20 species day. We saw: blue jays, ruby-throated hummingbird, rose-breasted grosbeak, chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, robin, tundra swan, common yellowthroat, black-throated green warbler, common merganser, great egret, red-winged black bird, great crested flycatcher, Canada goose, American redstart, tree swallow, common tern, (?) sparrow.

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13 Responses to Unfulfilled Expectations

  1. tootlepedal says:

    Despite the disappointment, you made the best of the day.

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  2. All in all, I wouldn’t say that it was too bad of a day, you may not have seen many birds, but the photos of the ones you did see are very good.

    The Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary is in downtown Alpena, towards the north end of town. You can see it from 23, it looks like a city park until you walk across a bridge from the parking lot.

    Isaacson Bay is tricky, the first time I was there, I didn’t see a bird until I almost stepped on a semi-palmated sandpiper. I ran into a local while I was there, and he passed on a few tips which helped a lot. But now, the water level of Lake Huron is up, you can’t walk the mudflats any more.

    The best spot for birding around Alpena is the Ossineke State Forrest Campground, lots of warblers in the trees right in the campground, lots of shorebirds on the beach, and plenty of eagles and terns flying past.

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    • Thanks, Jerry! Yeah, I think our problem is that we were trying to find the sanctuary from the south, off of M32. We will have to check out Ossineke sometime.

      When we stopped at the Baklava shop Friday morning, I picked up this free paper called The Guide. It has a nice article about birding on the sunrise side of Michigan and how they have now created a Sunrise Coast Birding Trail which connects with the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail. The article lists 28 sites on the Sunrise Coast Birding Trail. It will be good information to research for next year.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If you don’t already have a link to the Sunrise Coast birding trail, let me know, I’ll send it to you. I love the US 23 Heritage route website, lots of good info there, on everything!

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    • Yes, the article lists the web addresses for both, so I definitely plan to check them out. I’m excited! It’s cool to find “new” places that I never had knowledge of before. I always like expanding my horizons and learning new things!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. avian101 says:

    Seems like you’re going to have a new record for your the most birds sighted this year! Congratulations! Thanks for the “mention” 🙂

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    • I am now at 81 species and I have a goal of 100 for the year, so I need to find 19 more, which could be very tricky if I don’t see some shore birds or more warblers! But, we are only half-way through the year, so I have time, right? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Tiny says:

    You had a nice outdoors day! A 20 species day cannot be that disappointing 🙂 And yes, I could spot the deer…and smell the pork chops.

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