Great Crested Flycatchers: Often Heard – Seldom Seen

Great Crested Flycatcher

THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

It’s never good to pick favorites, but when it comes to flycatchers, the Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus Crinitus) is mine, hands down. These beautiful and boisterous flycatchers are more often heard than seen. Their favorite summer habitat is high up in the leafy canopy of tall forest trees where they nest within deep tree cavities across much of the eastern half of the United States.

I first became keenly aware of the flycatchers last summer when I became completely frustrated by them on South Manitou Island: island overlooking the often stormy Manitou Passage that is part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Whenever I heard their unmistakable territorial call echoing through the woodlands, I stared into the tops of the tall trees in hopes of discovering the source. I failed every time. The melody remained a mystery until the near completion of my 30-day stay on that wilderness island as the National Park Service lighthouse keeper. That’s when a backpacker noticed me craning my neck upwards as the song came from the tree tops. She casually commented that she was happy to discover Great Crested Flycatchers near her campsite overlooking a wooded bluff on the island’s south shore. It was that moment that brought “Bird ID Happiness,” a feeling best understood by birders. I now had a name for the bird that had been just a mysterious, yellowish-brown flash of wings that carried a beautiful song. But try as I might, I was never able to capture a single photo of those island-life loving flycatchers of South Manitou. They stayed in the tree tops and I stayed on the ground, except for when I climbed the 117 steps to reach the catwalk of the 1871 lighthouse. Continue reading

Season of the Sandhills

Sandhill Crane

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Sandhill Cranes are dancing and singing their courtship songs all across Oakland County. Their leaping, wing-flapping dance moves are one of the finest and perhaps most astonishing shows of nature for those that are lucky enough to witness their exuberance for life. The spectacular performance takes one’s breath away. An early morning solo hike near the entrance of Rose Oaks County Park presented me with an opportunity to watch that ritual from a crouched position among dry cattails with Red-Winged Blackbirds as my companions.

Sandhill Crane

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Searching For Timberdoodles

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

A strange creature is appearing in our meadows and small clearings at dusk and at times it’s seen strutting about rural muddy roads on the wilder side of Oakland County. The American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), also commonly known by the affectionate name of Timberdoodle, is underway and much of Oakland County is prime breeding habitat. Although they are related to Sandpipers, Timberdoodles prefer a totally different habitat than the Sandpiper’s shoreline. The Timberdoodle is a ground-dwelling, short-legged, rather rotund little bird with a very long straight bill that is very much at home amidst the woods in early stages of succession. They are strange looking birds with big eyes set far back on the head, apparently an adaptation that evolved for predator detection as they probe for earthworms.

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To Migrate or Not? That is the Question.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The classic image of bird migration at the approach of winter is the sight of Canada Geese flying high above our lakes, parks, towns and cities in V-shaped flocks. As winter fades, local television newscasters sometimes bubble with excitement at an alleged sign of spring’s return, robins on a snow speckled lawn. They salute the American Robin as the first returning bird of spring when robins are reported stalking about sunny suburban lawns searching for worms between patches of melting snow. These romanticized images of bird behavior and migration are less than accurate. Continue reading

Eastern Bluebirds On the Dawn of Summer

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

With its brilliant royal blue back, and rusty-red brown breast there is no mistaking a male Eastern Bluebird. They are heralded as one of the first Oakland County birds of spring. Naturalists and writers have long associated the arrival of bluebirds with spring. On March 2, 1859, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The bluebird comes and with his warble drills the ice and sets free the rivers and ponds and frozen grounds.” It is now the 23rd day of June in 2017 and the heat of the summer has already arrived. Bluebirds keep warbling, not to melt ice, but to announce round two of their nesting season. The fact of the matter is clear, many of our bluebirds did not migrate and ate old berries and fruits all winter, with occasional visits to suet feeders.

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