Amos W. Butler Audubon Society
Kirtland's Warbler Foray

June 13-16, 2003
Leader: Bill Murphy
(317) 913-0690

Theresa Brackett
Steve and Connie Doud
Jeanette Frazier
Don and Donna McCarty
Ray Shortridge
April Sterling
Elcira Villarreal
Gene and Laurie Voss

(Click here to view the trip list.)

         As the leader of the first out-of-state field trip that the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society has conducted in recent memory, I'm very pleased to report that our trip to the Kirtland's Warbler area of Michigan went very well. Our group of 12 really clicked. The weather was absolutely perfect, with sapphire blue skies, puffy white cumulus clouds, and gentle breezes. The birds were cooperative for the most part, and the food was tasty. One thing that contributed greatly to the success of the trip was the willingness of each member of our group to follow the tips for field trip participants.

We used Talkabouts® extensively to keep the caravan together. These compact walkie-talkie units proved very handy, especially in areas where there was no cell-phone tower and our cell phones were useless.

The extensive pre-trip information that I posted to the participants helped them prepare for the trip. Feel free to use this to plan your own field trips to the Mio area.

Day 1.  Friday, June 13.

At 8 a.m. most of the group gathered at the McDonald's at 8907 E. 116th Street in Fishers, Indiana. Steve and Connie had left the day before and were already in Michigan, as was Ray.

The trip was interesting from the start. Instead of heading to Michigan, we detoured to north Fishers to locate a reported Loggerhead Shrike. All members of our group were able to view the bird. It was a life bird for many of them. From there we headed north for 235 miles on I-69 to Lansing, Michigan, where we stopped for lunch. Back on the road again, we headed north on M-27 about 20 miles to a large cattail marsh called Maple River Flooding. The turn-out into the parking lot from the highway came as a surprise to me. I'd almost passed it before I realized it. Our 90° only-2-wheels-touching-the-ground entrance to the parking lot was exciting, but in the process of staying alive we left the other vehicles strung out along M-27, some ahead and some behind. Eventually all of us were gathered in the parking area, applying liberal quantities of bug spray. Jeanette reported that she had seen swans in the vast area of open water just before the pull-out. They were Trumpeter Swans, a "countable" species in Michigan and one I'd seen at this spot two years before.

No rails had been calling upon our arrival, which wasn't surprising, since it was the middle of the day and rails call predominently when it's dusk, dark, or dawn. I'd hoped to elicit vocalizations from rails during the trip by use of sound playback. Prior to the trip I'd made a CD of some of the songs of the less common birds I hoped we'd find. The CD player had a setting that repeated one track continuously. I used this setup a number of times during the trip, playing the songs through an external speaker Velcro'd to the face of the CD player. The time had come to give it a try. The first sound I chose to play was that of a Sora. After a brief interval, a Sora whinnied back from the marsh. I placed the CD player in the foot-high grass between the dirt parking lot and the aquatic zone, stepped back with the group, and waited to see what would happen.

I had no idea what to expect since I hadn't had a chance to test the unit in the field before the trip. But work it did. The Sora moved in and suddenly was vocalizing only a few yards from us. We perceived by the movement of the grass that the bird was approaching the CD player. It tantalized us by moving all around it without affording any satisfactory views. For about a minute it moved like a ghost through the grass, back and forth, before retreating into the cattails. Even without actually observing the bird, we though it had been a thrilling couple of minutes.

Heady with my success, I thought I'd try the call of the Virginia Rail a hundred yards from the Sora site. After about 30 seconds, having heard nothing by way of a reply, I turned off the CD, figuring that any Virginia Rail in the area would have responded. As if on cue, from the nearby cattails came the grunt of a Virginia Rail, so close behind the last sound from the CD that I wondered for an instant if it was an echo. Again I placed the CD player in the grassy margin, and we all gathered in a semicircle about 20 feet away. The rail continued calling, coming closer and closer. The grass began moving just as it had with the Sora, but this time a rail appeared! It was a little smaller than a Mourning Dove, beautiful deep cinnamon in color, with heavy black vertical bars on the flanks, a deep gray face, and a bright crimson bill. It moved around the CD player for only a few seconds before disappearing into the grass, but it gave us perfect looks during that brief time.

When the rail stopped calling, we assumed that it had crept back into the marsh. I moved forward to retrieve the CD player, with most of the group moving forward with me. A sudden noise almost underfoot prefaced a wonderful sight - the Virginia Rail flying, long legs dangling, across a bit of open water to land at the margin of the pool on the far side. It didn't rush off into the marsh but stayed in view for a bit among the cattail stalks. Virginia Rail, not just heard but seen as well! Another new bird for most of the group.

Midday isn't the greatest time for birding. Bird song falls off sharply about three hours after sunrise, making it harder to locate birds, especially songbirds in forests. We walked along a dike bordered on one side by willows and on the other by a maple-dominated forest. From far away in the willows came the song of a Warbling Vireo, with it's up-and-down pattern that ends with a sharp, climbing zzzeepp!. The warble of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak floated from the woods, as did the Robin-with-a-sore-throat song of a Scarlet Tanager. A Double-crested Cormorant passed overhead, then a Great Blue Heron, but things were quiet in general, so we returned to our cars and continued north.

From Maple River Flooding we followed M-27 about 100 miles to Houghton Lake. During that segment of the trip we passed from a deciduous-dominated landscape to a conifer-dominated one. Maples gave way to birch, spruce, and tamarack. The scenery became decidedly northern, with tamarack and alder bogs being prominent along the interstate.

We exited M-27 onto M-55 toward the town of Houghton Lake and turned left onto Old Hwy 27, which hugs the west side of the lake named Houghton Lake. We stopped to bird at Houghton Lake Flats, a small park with an observation kiosk built over part of a marsh west of Houghton Lake. Birds were plentiful in the marsh and the surrounding area, with Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Wood Duck, Mallard, Osprey pairs with young on nest platforms, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, a feeding Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, Herring Gull, Black Tern, Common Nighthawk, Willow Flycatcher, and Baltimore Oriole.

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Houghton Lake Flats sign

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On the Houghton Lake Flats kiosk:
(l-r) Theresa Brackett, Don McCarty, Donna McCarty, Gene Voss,
Laurie Voss, Elcira Villarreal, Jeanette Frazier, April Sterling

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Jeanette and Theresa scan the flats from the kiosk.

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Elcira watches Black Terns heading in her direction.

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April scans through the Questar while Donna McCarty looks on.

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Theresa, Jeanette (at scope), Gene, and Laurie in the kiosk.

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Something interesting just came into view!

We also saw the first of hundreds of Tree Swallows, Cedar Waxwings, and American Goldfinches, common species that we would see throughout the trip. We met a father and son, Pete and Austin DeLeon, oddly enough from Bloomington, Indiana, who were fishing along the edge of the marsh and doing well. None of us could put a name on the kind of fish they were catching. The local people called them 'dogfish'.

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(After our return my friend Cory Gildersleeve emailed me this: "The fish is a Bowfin (Amia calva). Like most fish, as opposed to birds, it has a number of regional names. In the Great Lakes region it is the Dogfish, in the south it is the Grindle. They are uniformly unloved because they prey on game fishes and are not edible in themselves. Like many undesirable things, it is tough. It can use its air bladder as a lung and survive an hour or more out of the water.")

We birded first from the kiosk and then on the other side of the road, looking down an alder-lined creek. Here we pulled out Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole, and a very good bird -- Black-billed Cuckoo. We stayed until about 6:30 p.m., then left the Houghton Lake lookout and drove west on M-55 to Jeff Road, looking for an area called Dead Stream Flooding, a marshy area that we never found. (Dead Stream Flooding was reported to have Common Moorhen, Osprey, Sedge Wren, Ring-necked Duck, Wood Duck and other nesting ducks, Black Tern, Mourning Warbler, and possibly Yellow Rail. I had accumulated three different sets of directions to the place and chose an inaccurate one.) On Jeff Road we passed the Houghton Lake Wildlife Research Park, then turned west onto Kelly Road, where we made two stops. At the first stop, between an alder swamp on one side and an overgrown wet field on the other, we found Wild Turkey, Yellow Warbler, and a very cooperative but silent (and therefore unidentified) Empidonax flycatcher. At the second stop, surrounded by extensive fields of tall grass, we saw Bobolink and Savannah Sparrow. No marsh anywhere, and since it was getting late, we continued on toward Mio. We turned north on Merritt Road, returned to M-55, continued north on M-27 about 25 miles to the city of Grayling, and headed east on M-72 about 30 miles to Mio.

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Donna, Jeanette, Elcira, and Laurie watch
for the unidentified Empidonax flycatcher along Kelly Road.

In Mio, at 8:30 p.m. we checked into the Mio Motel (415 N. Morenci Ave, Mio, MI 48647 989-826-3248), which I would recommend to other birders. The rooms are large and clean, the staff is friendly, and the location is convenient. Most rooms have a small refrigerator, microwave, leather couch, and cable television with the Weather Channel. A medium-sized Glen's (like Wal-Mart) is adjacent to the motel for food or supplies, and the Au Sable River Restaurant (412 N. Morence Ave., 989-826-3590) across the street has good breakfasts and a good dinner buffet.

Day 2.  Saturday, June 14.

After breakfast on our own, at 7:15 a.m. we assembled, prepared for a day of birding, at the U.S. Forest Service Mio Ranger Station (401 Court Street, 517-826-3252), directly across the street from the Mio Motel. The Forest Service charges $5 per person for the Kirtland's Warbler program/field trip. There was some confusion about the agreed-upon meeting time, but it all worked out in the end. We just did the driving/observing segment of the program first, then returned for the video.

Joe Gomola of the U.S. Forest Service led our small caravan of cars west out of Mio on M-72. We turned left on Mapes Road, right on Merritt, and left on 4153. Joe was searching for a spot where a male Kirtland's Warbler had been heard singing the day before. We got out of the cars and listened. It was very quiet. We heard several Kirtland's Warblers singing their loud, far-carrying songs. Joe spotted a male Kirtland's Warbler very quickly, sitting in atypical habitat -- 30 feet up in a tall Red Pine. It sang a truncated song, singing only the middle part of the song. It didn't wag its tail very much, which we thought odd because that is supposed to be a diagnostic field mark. Joe pointed out that each bird is very individualistic and that the tail-wagging is vastly overemphasized in field guides.

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Jack Pine barrens southwest of Mio.
A male Kirtland's Warbler posed for us in the tall Red Pine on the left.

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Joe Gomola of the U.S. Forest Service briefs us and a birding group
from Darke County, Ohio, on Kirtland's Warbler

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Joe Gomola

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Ray Shortridge, President of the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society, Inc.,
enjoying the crisp morning air.

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April, an Ohio birder, Steve Doud (in back), and Jeanette watch and wait for warblers.

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Donna, Theresa, Don, and an Ohio birder watch for warblers.

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Theresa listens to Joe Gomola.

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Laurie Voss, intent on a spotting a singing male Kirtland's

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Gene Voss relaxing along the roadside

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Kirtland's Warbler is up, two o'clock in the dead tree!

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Ray, Donna, and Ohio birders watch the Kirtland's Warbler.

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Gene, Laurie, and Theresa watch for birds.

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Posted - Keep Out (but only during breeding season)

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Our caravan moves along dusty dirt roads.

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Joe explains how the Brown-headed Cowbird trap is used.
Brown-headed Cowbirds are nest parasites of Kirtland's Warblers.

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Theresa, Connie Doud, and the rest of the group listen to Joe Gomola.

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Sign near the Brown-headed Cowbird trap.

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Elcira, Theresa, April, Steve, Jeanette, Connie, Donna, Don, and Ray
in the Forest Service station awaiting the video on Kirtland's Warbler.

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Connie, Donna, Don, Ray, Gene, and Laurie.

We stayed in the area for about an hour, viewing several different Kirtland's Warblers along with Brown Thrashers, Nashville Warblers, Vesper Sparrows, Indigo Buntings, and Scarlet Tanagers.

Leaving the area, we turned left (east) onto Valley Road, made the first left (Oscoda 487) and headed north, back to Mio. At the ranger station we watched the video and learned about the biology and endangered species status of the Kirtland's Warbler. We took a brief stop while we were in town to return to the motel or grab a bite to eat. The weather was fantastic - a mild breeze, clear blue skies, very low humidity, and a temperature of 85°.

Leaving Mio, we followed M-72 west for seven miles to Deeter Road, just inside the town of Luzerne. We turned left onto Deeter Road and followed it for about half a mile, turned left onto Palmer Road for 3/4 mile, then turned right on Galloway Road and followed it past a sign that said "Big Creek Boardwalk". I was looking for a sign that said "Luzerne Boardwalk", but several miles farther down Galloway Road I realized my mistake and backtracked to the "Big Creek Boardwalk" sign.

We turned right (east) onto a sand track, followed it to a fork, then turned left to a parking area for a horse trail. This was the trailhead for the Luzerne Boardwalk, a "must" spot for birding in the area. We descended into a habitat with a decidedly Canadian flavor, with white cedar, Canada balsam, hemlock, spruce, tamarak, wintergreen, and other northern plants. The boardwalk led to a wooden bridge that crossed the fast-flowing, cold-looking trout stream. During our two hours in the area traversing the boardwalk and walking along the trail we had great looks at Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Blue-headed Vireo, and a Belted Kingfisher that flew up the narrow creekbed. We followed a singing Canada Warbler and got close to it a few times, though few had more than fleeting glimpses of it, and heard Great Crested Flycatcher, Hermit Thrush, and Winter Wren.

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April, Donna, Don, Jeanette, Steve, and Elcira
at the Luzerne Boardwalk trailhead.

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Watercress thrives in the clear, cold water of the
East Branch of Big Creek.

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Boreal vegetation along Big Creek

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Birding from the rustic bridge over Big Creek.

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Another view of the vegetation along Big Creek.

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Bill Murphy (trip leader), April, and Steve

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Laurie risks life and limb to gather watercress
for the group to sample.

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April and Laurie on high ground on the far side of Big Creek.

After leaving the Luzerne Boardwalk, we made a quick stop in the town of Luzerne at a grocery store, where we added House Finch to our list. We continued west on M-72 for 12 miles to a highway sign for the Wakely Lake Foot-Travel Area. After paying $4 per car to park, we hiked about a mile along a grassy fire road through a deciduous forest to Wakely Lake. Across the lake we spotted eight Trumpeter Swans, a Common Loon, and a perched Bald Eagle. In an alder swamp on the edge of the lake we picked up Alder Flycatcher and Swamp Sparrow. A different Bald Eagle came over circling high overhead. In a grove of White Pines we found lots of Pine Warblers. Also in the area were Great Blue Heron, Common Yellowthroat, lots of Red-winged Blackbirds, Tree Swallows, Yellow Warblers, a few Black-throated Green Warblers, Ovenbird, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue-headed Vireo, American Redstart, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Cedar Waxwing very close and in the scope, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Steve turned out to have a real knack for finding that species.

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Scanning Wakely Lake for Common Loon and Trumpeter Swan:
(l-r) Donna, April, Theresa, Laurie, Connie, Don, Ray, and Steve.

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Same group with Jeanette at the Questar.

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Don points out a Common Loon to April, Theresa, Laurie, Donna,
Connie, Steve (at Questar), Elcira, and Ray.

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Theresa, Laurie, Donna, and Connie

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Steve, Connie, and Don

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Watching the loons: (l-r): Ray, Steve, Theresa,
Donna, Elcira, Don, April, Laurie, and Jeanette.

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Entering the White Pine grove along the Wakely Lake trail:
(l-r) Don, Jeanette, Theresa, Elcira, Donna, and Laurie.

We returned to our cars and left the Wakely Lake area at around 4 p.m. We continued west on M-72, making a pit stop at the Burger King in Grayling before heading north seven miles to Hartwick Pines State Park, just off M-93. We paid another $4 per car parking fee. At the nature center in this old-growth pine forest we were treated to point-blank looks at Rose-breasted and Evening Grosbeaks and Purple Finches at the feeders. Hairy Woodpecker, Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, and an elusive Blackburnian Warbler were found along the deep, dark trail below the nature center. It was so cool and peaceful deep in these woods that we took the time just to relax and enjoy the cathedral-like ambience.

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Hartwick Pines Nature Center. Waiting for the good ones...
(l-r) Steve, Jeanette, Elcira, April, Laurie, Gene,
Ray, Theresa, Donna, and Don.

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A tranquil spot in the old growth forest.
(l-r) Jeanette, Elcira, Theresa, Connie, Steve, April,
Laurie, Donna, Steve, and Ray.

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Same place, moments later. Blackburnian Warbler teasing us high overhead.

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Laurie photographs Evening Grosbeaks at the Hartwick Pines Nature Center feeder.

The Vossmobile had a "Goldie the Computer" GPS glitch on the way back to Mio. Fortunately Gene countermanded the machine and got us back on track. We were back at the Mio Motel at 7:15 p.m. and enjoyed a fine dinner at the Au Sable River Restaurant followed by a tally rally of birds seen. Before calling it a day we gassed up the vehicles in preparation for an anticipated long day.

Day 3.  Sunday, June 15.

Sunday morning we met in the parking lot at 7:30 a.m. and headed north, but not very far. Just across the Au Sable River bridge from the motel, we turned left onto Mio Dam Road and took the second left, toward Mio Dam Pond. The fishermen on the pond must have scared off any waterbirds, because there were none there to see. Birds that we did see here included a strange-looking puffed-up Purple Martin in the entrance hole of a martin house, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Redstart, Song Sparrow, Tree Swallow, Turkey Vulture, a pair of Baltimore Orioles building a nest and feeding young, and a pair of Herring Gulls courting on a telephone pole.

Our plan was to bird along M-32 (McKinley Road), which follows the Au Sable River, as far as the town of McKinley, pulling off wherever possible. Two miles down the road we made our first stop, finding Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, American Redstart, Common Nighthawk, and a retina-searing Scarlet Tanager. Two miles farther we stopped along the river and ended up providing blood for a lot of black flies. As in prior years, a Northern Waterthrush was singing a very aberrent song at this stop. Laurie braved wet feet and black flies to go looking for it in the woods.

At another pullout a few hundred yards farther we took advantage of the portable toilets and eye-level views of the river. Across the river we could hear at least two Alder Flycatchers calling. We watched a pair of Purple Finches through the scopes. At another pullout two miles farther we followed a grassy track at least a mile back into the woods, where the few singing birds included American Redstart, Blue-headed Vireo, and Ovenbird.

Our first alder swamp of the day yielded more American Redstarts but no Alder Flycatcher, which was one of our target species for the morning. At another overlook we had crippling views of a close-by perched Bald Eagle that eventually lifted off and flew downriver along the opposite shore, only a few hundred yards away. One of our very few Red-shouldered Hawks of the trip flew over, followed a few minutes later by some Herring Gulls. We heard two Mourning Warblers calling. Laurie and some other birders pursued one of them across the road and got a glimpse of this secretive bird. Again we had male and female Purple Finch. A Yellow-rumped Warbler landed beside them in same treetop. Also seen at that stop were Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Spotted Sandpiper, and Ovenbird.

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Early morning at Mio Pond

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One of the many overlooks along the Au Sable River.

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Steve along the Au Sable River.

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A cloud of black flies precedes Elcira back to her car.

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Ray Shortridge scans the Au Sable River.

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Ray continues scanning. The Bald Eagle flew past moments later.

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Connie, April, Theresa, Elcira, and Jeanette explore a quiet woodland
along the Au Sable River.

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A tamarack bog along McKinley Road.

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An alder bog where we found Alder Flycatcher.

About 15 miles east of Mio on McKinley Road is an area that is being prepared as Kirtland's Warbler habitat. It resembles a Christmas tree plantation. In previous years we had spotted Upland Sandpiper and Clay-colored Sparrow at this site. From the parking lot we walked in perhaps a quarter mile, tracking a singing Clay-colored Sparrow that we finally saw, backlighted, as it sang its insect-like song. An Upland Sandpiper flew over us calling. When we returned to the parking lot, those birders who had stayed behind told us that a sign farther down the road in the direction we were headed said that no trespassing was allowed on the area we had just walked. Move the sign to the parking lot, dudes!

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Future Kirtland's Warbler habitat along McKinley Road.
Steve, Connie, and Ray.

At the end of McKinley Road, we turned south onto Au Sable Road for about two miles, then turned left (east) onto Sunny Lake Road. We stopped in shaded deciduous forest for a few minutes. The number of American Redstarts was amazing. We also found a couple of Red-eyed Vireos, a Blue Jay, and lots of Ovenbirds. From there we headed south to the village of Glennie, where we dined at the Chat & Chew Restaurant. Some of the birders enjoyed their first pastie (a dough pattie filled with strange and wonderful substances) at this stop.

After lunch we continued on M-65 a few miles south and stopped along the roadside near a herd of sheep amid fields of tall, waving grass. Savannah Sparrows perched on the telephone wires and Bobolinks bubbled their tunes from the fields. At 1:30 p.m. we crossed the Au Sable River, where we saw but did not stop for Cliff Swallows, and turned left (east) onto the River Road Scenic Byway.

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Pastures and sheep south of Glennie. Here we found
Bobolink and Savannah Sparrow.

Our next stop was at Iargo Springs, one mile east of the M-65/River Road junction. The birding was good in the mixed forest at the base of the stairway that descends to the springs. We walked down the hundreds of wooden steps to the bottom, a pleasant and tranquil spot where the spring gurgles out of moss-laden bluffs and into the AuSable under the canopy of towering pines. At the bottom is an observation deck and a boardwalk. We looked out over the broad expanse of the impoundment of the Au Sable River and saw a distant Bald Eagle land. We also saw Canada Geese and a Great Blue Heron. As we hiked back up the 294 steps, we stopped several times to rest. At one such stop April was able to pish in a male Black-throated Green Warbler to within arm's length and a male Black-and-white Warbler almost as close. The Black-and-white Warbler was actually singing, something rarely heard.

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At the Iargo Springs overlook: (l-r) Laurie, Elcira, Jeanette,
April, Don, Ray, and Theresa.

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The main spring at Iargo Springs.

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Looking out from the bottom of the stairway at Iargo Springs.

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Scanning from the Iargo Springs overlook:
(l-r) Elcira, Jeanette, April, and Laurie.

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Donna and Don McCarty. Donna designed the Indiana license
plate with the Bald Eagle against the sun.

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Jeanette and Elcira, multi-continent birders.

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Iargo Springs sign

At about 2:30 p.m. we stopped at Highbanks Trail, which is at the Canoeists' Memorial. (I think it's the same place that's called Eagle's Nest Overlook, half a mile east of Iargo Springs.) Ray had never seen a Blackburnian Warbler, so we pursued one for awhile through second-growth woods. Within a hundred-yard radius we pished in Hairy Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo, and Blue-headed Vireo. As we emerged from the woods into the parking lot, two Common Ravens flew over, croaking, followed a few minutes later by a Red-tailed Hawk. Theresa amazed us by picking out two Bald Eagles in a very distant tree -- probably three miles away -- and we all got a pretty good look at them through the scopes.

A visit to the Lumberman's Museum a few miles farther down the road produced another Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that Steve (who else?!) found. April pished in a Black-and-white Warbler, and we found a Pine Warbler and some kind of Empidonax flycatcher. We had another Common Raven, this one up in the stratosphere, and a White-breasted Nuthatch right in the parking lot.

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View from the Canoeists' Memorial overlook.
Ray got his life Blackburnian Warbler here.

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Theresa looks through the Questar at the Conoeists' Memorial overlook.
She discovered a pair of Bald Eagles about three miles away!

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At the Lumberman's Monument overlook: (l-r) Connie, April,
Laurie, Donna, Gene, Elcira, Jeanette, and Steve.

From the Lumberman's Monument we continued along River Road about five miles to Wells Road, turned right, and proceeded about two miles to Au Sable Road (also called Old Rt. 23). We turned left and followed Au Sable Road about one mile to Tuttle Marsh Road on the right (there's a sign for Tuttle Marsh on the left). We stopped several times along the way to the marsh, but the good birding started when we were finally clear of the woods and brushy areas.

We arrived at 4:15 p.m. and spent two hours exploring this 5,000-acre area of wetlands and mixed forest. In the marsh we heard Pied-billed Grebe and had an American Bittern fly over the road. I was the only one to spot a skulking pair of Least Bitterns. Species of ducks we found were Mallard, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, and Hooded Merganser. Black Terns flew past time after time, often almost close enough to touch. A few Caspian Terns were a nice surprise -- they're more typical of larger lakes. Of the herons we had Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, and Great Egret.

Again we lured a Virginia Rail into sight with a tape, and a Sora responded from nearby but didn't come out. Tree Swallows by the score winged over and around us. They were nesting in holes in the abundant dead trees in the flooded section. Swamp Sparrows called from the cattail marshes.

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The Vossmobile leads the pack at Tuttle Marsh.

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This small pond held Least Bittern and Virginia Rail.
The Virginia Rail was found between the road and the pond.

Leaving Tuttle Marsh at 6:30 p.m., we returned to Au Sable Road and followed it east to the town of Oscoda, where we turned south on M-23 to Tawas Point State Park and paid another $4 per car to enter. The Lake Huron shoreline was very chilly compared to the temperate inland areas we had birded, so we donned all the cold-weather gear we had brought or could borrow. The point itself was picturesque, with American beach grass waving in the sand dunes and the sun setting over the bay. Interesting species we saw at the point included Double-crested Cormorant and a lonely Bonaparte's Gull.

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Laurie, Donna, and Ray freeze at Tawas Point while scanning for waterbirds.

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Theresa, Connie, and Steve at dusk at Tawas Point.

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Donna, Don, Ray, and Connie call it a day.

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Heading back to the cars: (l-r) Jeanette, Elcira, Connie, Steve, and Ray.

Instead of trying for Clay-colored Sparrow and Sedge Wren in the Alabaster area, the consensus was to call it a day and get some dinner. We dined at Gina's Restaurant in East Tawas, did a bird tally, and stayed until closing time. By then it was dark. We returned to Mio, 50 miles from Tawas, via M-55 west to M-33 north to Mio, arriving at 10:30 p.m.

Day 4.  Monday, June 16.

Today we reluctantly checked out of the Mio Motel and began our trip home. The group gathered one last time to present the leader with a breathtaking photograph of a Kirtland's Warbler, taken and signed by renowned Indiana nature photographer Ron Austing, who was also staying at the Mio Motel. We bid farewell to Steve and Connie, who were continuing on in Michigan, and to Ray, who was headed elsewhere, too.

At 8:30 a.m. the remaining group headed south for about an hour on M-33 to the town of Piconing, where we made a rest stop. From there we took M-13 south for nine miles to Kitchen Road, turned left (east) to Kitchen Road, and followed it to the observation tower in Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area on Saginaw Bay. This was one of the best birding stops of the trip. From the raised wooden platform we saw Black-crowned Night-Heron, Great Egret, Least Bittern (including one in flight for more than 30 seconds), Forster's and Black Terns, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Marsh Wren, and a distant pair of Sandhill Cranes in flight.

At noon, the happy group of birders returned to their cars, said their farewells, and headed south toward home.

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Gene, Don,and Donna atop the observation tower at Nayanquing.

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End of the trip: (l-r) Bill, Elcira, Theresa, Jeanette,
Gene, Laurie, Ray, April, Donna, and Don.

Click here to view the trip list.

Special thanks to Dan Leach and Steve Santner for their generous help in planning this trip and to Steve and Connie Doud for scouting Nyanquing Point State Wildlife Area before the trip.