Confessions of an Accidental Birder

Red-eyed Vireo

Wilder Side of Oakland County

I am not a bird-watcher or at least I did not think I was. Here is what I do know:

Hundreds of thousands of folks across our country, maybe even millions, are serious birders that create what the birding in-crowd knows as a ‘Life List.’ That cherished list is a record of every bird species they have ever seen and identified with absolute certainty. I would be ruled out from those prestigious Life List clubs almost instantly because of the words, ‘absolute certainty.’ To my untrained eye and short attention span, a warbler is a warbler, even though 54 different species of warblers are found in North America. I even struggle to find subtle identification marks on many of our common song birds of summer such as the Red-eyed Vireo.

One could say I am just too restless and easily distracted by furry and fanged creatures to focus on a list of birds; I don’t even make shopping lists. People that pursue their personal hobby of chasing after birds to put another name on a list, will think nothing of driving hundreds or even a thousand miles to view a rare species a few days drive away. “Hey Joe, Judy just saw a rare Blue-Beaked Bobolink in the Florida Keys, up for a road trip?” And they are off, driving day and night to add one more name to a list. That’s not for me.

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The Drum Beats of Spring: Michigan’s Exotic Dancer


DSCN0519I was hunkered down against the moist moss at the base of tree near the edge of a tamarack swamp at Indian Springs Metropark. It was about two hours after sunrise. My mission was simple and pleasurable. Sip coffee from a thermos; and wait to see what creatures stirred. Sitting motionlessly in promising habitat, and just listening, is my favorite method of intentional wildlife encounters. I expected turkeys, perhaps a deer, or maybe even a dramatic appearance of the red-crested forest giant, a Pileated Woodpecker. I did not expect an encounter with a beautiful exotic dancer in the dappled sunlight of a spring morning. But as John Muir once penned, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” You will discover more than you seek along the trail system that meanders through prairies, woodlands and swamp habitats of 2,215 acre Indian Springs Metropark. You might even meet the dancing drummer, a Ruffed Grouse. Go early, when the park is most peaceful. And check out their Environmental Discovery Center before heading home.

A faint, slightly muffled sound seemed to come from a tangled thicket of branches at the edge of the tamarack woods. The sound quickly snared my attention. Perhaps the sound could be best described as an old lawn mower engine struggling to start. Almost a minute of silence, except for the chatter of chickadees that flitted overhead followed, and then that odd chug-chugging sound increased in tempo and perhaps volume, or maybe it was my concentration that made the sound seem louder. My friend, the exotic dancer, the woodland drummer, was back. And if you have ever witnessed a Ruffed Grouse drum on a log to entice the ladies, well, that drumming dance is about as exotic as they come.


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Barred Owls: Ghostly Voice of the Swamp


“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” That’s the classic ghostly call of the Barred Owl, an owl very much at home in Oakland County. The rising and falling melody with a hint of a southern drawl in the last few syllables reminds naturalists that the owl’s breeding season is here. Yet, others less admiring of the raucous chorus of barred owls hooting back and forth may describe the sounds as the music of a troop of rowdy monkeys. That description  is very close to the truth.

Follow the Cornell Lab of Ornithology link to hear the calls of barred owls: 

Every now and then, a hiker might hear or even see a barred owl perched on a tree limb in daylight. Oakland County Parks, Huron-Clinton Metroparks and the State Recreation Areas of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (located in Oakland County) all host these beautiful raptors of the night. Barred owls favor wooded wetlands with nearby open areas for hunting; that means trailside swaths of Addison Oaks, Highland Oaks, Independence Oaks, Lyon Oaks, Rose Oaks and Springfield Oaks county parks are perfect barred owl habitats.img_9847

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