Friday, June 27, 2008


So this week I had the opportunity to visit the Jordan River Valley twice - once with Meghan and Jason, and once with Field Botany.

45th Parallel with Botany

It was Meg and Jason's first time there and I think they liked it. We also saw a Scarlet Tanager, an Indigo Bunting, and a Ruffed Grouse.

The male Indigo Bunting we saw - female was also present.

The Jordan River Valley was the first the first designated “Wild and Scenic River” in the State of Michigan. It is a gorgous, short, spring-fed (aka - COLD) river full of Cedar "nurse logs" which hold islands of plants along them. The logs provide interesting terrain to walk across but also interesting terrain to study.

Meg and Jason crossing the river

For the second year now I've been along on the Field Botany trip to use the river to study island biogeography on the little mini cedar islands. On these islands include a variety of plants from Indian Paintbrush to Marsh Marigold to Forget-me-nots to sedges.

Carex sp.

It was frustrating at times seeing the plants I learned and not remembering all of them - but fun none the less... some of them came right back to me. I also really appreciated walking around with Ken instead of doing the survey - I gained a lot from botanizing with him as I always do.

"Forgetting" what the plant is (Forget-me-not)

We saw a number of cool things ranging from Yellow Lady's Slippers, to Showy Lady's Slippers, to Black Birch to... who remembers what! We even saw Cedar Waxwings in... CEDAR!

Cedar waxwing in...Cedar

All in all it was a great few days filled with tons of Volleyball, Frisbee, Hiking, Basketball, and Pillow-talking with my roomate who might even actually read this.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Catching Up

OK so a lot has happened since my last post due to some computer breakage (more on that in a later post I'm sure). For now I'll just try to relive a lot of the excitement and play catch up on everything that's happened - well not EVERYTHING - more of just the highlights.

Highlight 1: The UP

On Saturday the 14th Micah, Will, Dave M. and I got up at 4am (not the best part of the day!) to take off to look for Yellow Rails. I am dissapointed to say that we did not find any - though it was a crapshoot to begin with, it is still sad that we failed. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to try again and get up earlier! The day did start out with a spotting of a roadside Sandhill Crane... While it was no "sandhill crane crossing" as in FL, it was a fun spot none-the-less

We did however find Mourning Warblers nearby the "Rusty Zipper Camp".

The birdlist for our day was rather shorter than expected and we did not see any of the 4 or 5 species we were hoping for, we did hear some and still had some great looks at birds and even better stories shared.

We did make it to Whitefish Point - though no birds were migrating really, we did get some nice looks at the Evening Grosbeaks on the feeders. These guys seem to just love feeders - thats where I always seem to spot them!

The final spotting of the UP was a Ruffed Grouse which was a first sighting for members on the trip despite the numerous times heard.

Highlight #2: Pyatt Lake

Last Thursday we checked out Pyatt Lake preserve and found some interesting things including this Squaw Root:

Highlight #3: The Wedding

This past weekend I did the craziest thing ever - I took a total of 4 flights to go see my old roomate get married. The plane broke, I ended up going to cities I wasn't supposed to en route to VA but eventually made it, and after a morning of birding (where I spotted tons of Red Eyed Vireos, a Great Crested Flycatcher, Pee-wees, Pheobes, Robins, Titmice, a Cardinal, and an American Goldfinch) I prepared for the wedding.

It was great to catch up with old friends, and even greater to be there for such a happy moment. Very different to see someone THAT close to me in age and in spirit getting married. But great. The wedding was beautiful, the church was nice, the food was great, and the glass clinking thing was sort of odd when it is someone you used to live with and had never witnessed a kiss between the two before... but still fun. I still remember the day she wasn't ever going to get married and the day she found him, and the day they first went out on a date... and the day they got engaged... and then now I can add the day they got married.

Everyone who was there also got a new memory - the day that Lowie wore a skirt and had her hair down:

And now I can say that I own 2 skirts and a dress... Maybe I'll wear one day 1 of grad school so people don't think its such a rarity. That will trick them!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Watch out for spiders

Yesterday was a great day working out in the field for Field Botany (funny how that works). We sampled 2 forests and visited a third. It is humbling to go out and not remember plants and then be reminde of how little I do know. However, simultaneously it is awesome to get out there and see how much I do actually remember.

One of the coolest things I saw (besides the plants) was this white spider hiding in this flower only to grab a bee attempting to pollenate it and then proceed to kill it and suck its insides out:

This is one of many shots I took. I sort of like that you can see the water drops in the flower on this one.

Other highlighs included a look at the male (below) and female Evening Grosbeak at Hartwick Pines. Also spotted was a Purple Finch (male and female), Rose Breasted Grosbeak (males and females, and a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (female).

Today I had a real treat bird-wise that even topped the dimorphism show of yesterday. I saw my 9th ever Kirtland's Warbler. This rare bird requires forest rejuvination via fire within Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) stands. Its range is basically the local area though a few have been found in the UP of Michigan recently. Most of the KW that are seen are found in Grayling, Michigan - home of the Kirtland's Warbler Festival.

Today we (three students, 2 faculty/profs, and myself) popped into the forest while on a quick tour of locations for tomorrow's integrative day. It was raining and the warblers were singing but none were being cooperative and singing high in the trees. Just as we turned to leave one darted infront of us in the first-second row Jack Pines. I quickly found it and pointed it out. To our fortune it climbed up the second back Jack Pine and perched quite nicely for us. If it weren't for the rain I would have had the shot of a lifetime of a Kirtland's. Oh well! It was awesome to see the little bird once again.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

300+ ABA

Saturday was a milestone that I am quite proud to have achieved: 300 life birds for the USA. I probably have seen more but that is what I have kept track of.

My life world list is somewhere around 400.

The whole thing is sort of crazy; in 2006 no one probably would have thought I would have ever really gotten into birding - yet here I am 2 years later with over 300 "lifers".

Yesterday I picked up a Grasshopper Sparrow and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Sure these two are "common" species - the thing is you have to look and be out there at the right time to see them and care enough to tell the difference between them and other similar stuff.

Particularly with the sparrows. The Grasshopper Sparrow marks my 16th species of Sparrow. I hope to pick up all of the sparrows one day. They are little goofballs that just entertain me and pose a bit of a challenge in terms of keeping the species all straight in my head.
Some people in the AuSable world weren't all that impressed with a Grasshopper Sparrow. But the Audubon's society around here was pretty stoked that we all saw so many yesterday because locally they have been in significant decline including a 98% drop in New York State.

Others think that being a "lister" takes away from birding. It can but it also can add to it. I like knowing that something is new, I like being able to keep track of everything I've seen, know where I've seen it, where I haven't seen it. I like keeping location data and all of that. It helps me understand the world better and it can be a testament to devotion and the desire to never give up learning. Anyone who looks for something "new" and isn't content with the same 8 species in their backyard is a "lister" they just don't have an actual number. People keep track of what they see and don't see to an extent no mater what. Listing and not listing shouldn't be such a big deal. Its not like I do it to be better than anyone else - because I'm not better than a lot to most of the birders I know. I will never come close to someone like C.R. who has seen almost 600 species even if my species count ends up being the same (which it won't).

Its about getting out there and enjoying it. Its about spending time outside, knowing whats around you, enjoying everything this world has to offer.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Field Botany TA

Today was my first day "on the job" as a TA - all seems fine here. I'm really looking forward to the opportunities that come with the territory. The morning was exciting in that I got to hunt for some plants - but most of it is review - I like knowing that I know something and haven't forgotten it!

The afternoon presented unique challenges in that I ran out to Papoose and collected.... SEDGES! (and a Grass). I used the brand new sedge key that Ken gave me to work it through... I was so-so impressed. The language is a bit...unnecessarially complex and it is confusing as to EXACTLY what some of the terms mean. The glossary in the back is helpful but there are not many diagrams demonstrating what the terms mean (which would be helpful in my humble opinion).

Anyway my exciting finds were C. communis and C. pennsylvanica and an Oryzopsis (hymenoides I believe if I remember correctly). Fun day - and I'm glad I made it through the keys successfully without wanting to rip out my hair. Very encouraging.

The day ended with the beautiful identification of the evil Tartarian Honeysuckle

Monday, June 02, 2008

If I hadn't turned back around...

Today most of my day was spent among the Populus snow at the Bauer Preserve. I say snow because the seeds are attatched to a white fluff and have been dropping like flurries. If I was a weather-woman I'd say that today we had temperatures in the low 80's with a 100% chance of Populus snow - 1 to 3 inches expected to coat the ground.

The "snow" covered ground.

Meanwhile very little bird activity was occuring. A Yellow Warbler or two down by the water and a stupid browin-ish bird that was unidentifyable. The highlight might have been the Wood Thrush that hopped right on a branch in front of me, but took off before I could reach for my camera.

I was disappointed not to get a second look at the Ruffed Grouse with chicks - last week it chased after two of us as we accidentialy came upon them which sent the group into a tizzy as the chicks were seperated from mom. Mom wasn't too happy and came at us feathers spread and beak wide open ready to attempt to take a chunk out of my ankle. "I'm glad you were behind me so you would have gotten attacked first" stated the company. And these are the people I'm working for!

Actually - it would sort of be awesome to say "Yeah - that there scar is from a Ruffed Grouse that attacked me".

Anyway - of course that all happened when I had forgotten my camera in the car... And today, camera in hand - no Grouse or Grouslings.

Dissapointed I headed back to the car to grab some keys to identify a few shrubs. I hoped to perhaps glimpse something by the water or stream on my way to the car but sure enough nothing popped up. Things were calling but nothing was responding. Discouraged, I continued and then within sight of the car popped up a Male Indigo Bunting. He flittered between a few trees and was light up perfectly by the sun. What a brilliantly colored bird!

The Indigo Bunting posing nicely

He dove into the bushes finally and then came that weird bird again - grrr it's throwing me for a loop but I'm pretty sure it is a Warbling Vireo.

In this location I also had a Black-Capped Chickadee - big surprise eh? Anyway he sat there nicely for me - so I was happy. And got an OK shot:

Black-capped Chickadee being very cooperative - food in mouth!

The final highlight of the day occured about a half hour later. I went back in search of my "Warbling Vireo" and found a female American Redstart. She entertained me for a while but was a little too high up for anything but a picture of her underside. I turned to check the water one more time in case a Yellow Warbler or Common Yellowthroat was by chance close enough for a stunning shot - but nothing was moving. I heard the Redstart calling again so I turned to look for her, chirped a bit, and tried to pshhh her out - then suddenly a Broad-winged Hawk swooped about 8 feet from my face. It landed on a tree and (of course) then realized how close it was to me, and took off. But wow! What a look at the hawk! Up close and personal right there! Anyway it was pretty awesome.

Warbling Vireo? Note the Dusky eyeline.

On a final note - the more I look at my poor shot - the more I think its a warbling vireo. The dusky eyeline is perfect and it definitely had yellow in it (not too visible in this picture because of the leaves) - the only question is if it was too much yellow. Seemed more than most I've seen and than most of the availiable pictures and drawings.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


I remember why I like this time of the year so much! The flowers are amazing!
And as great as bird photos are...
Nothing beats taking pictures of flowers and fiddling around with them and with editing them.

As much as birds have become a passion, botany is still my love. Flowers and trees and sedges and grasses are just too much fun!

I've seen all of these flowers within the last week laying in strategic places photosynthesizing their little leaves as best as they can while they bring us a fantastic sight and reward pollinators with sweets that could only match the delicious wonders of life like chocolate, ice cream, and cookies.

These are attractive droplets of a negatively impressive reward.

Plants never cease to amaze me. They have so many little things unique about them that make me jealous. I mean - I wish I could make my own food just by chilling in the sunlight! I wish I could trap insects with little goo-drops, or with jaws of death contraptions. I wish I could propagate in many formats... ok maybe that's a streatch.

Regardless, plants are amazing. And its times like today roaming around outside that I'm reminded of how amazing they really are.