Thursday, 9 August 2012

Driven to Bird Part 3: Wild Grouse Chase...

Updated: August 9, 2012 @ 7:45PM due to a Technical Error, with photos and even more amusing comments:

... and I mean wild.  From the time I left St. Louis, and drove thousands of miles through Iowa, Minnesota, Northern Ontario and Michigan, I was on the prowl for a Sharp-tailed Grouse.  I knew where they were supposed to be, and they knew I was coming.  I am sure each and every one of them ducked into the grass just low enough to evade my binoculars and scope everywhere I looked.

After weeks of birding in 95+ degrees in Texas, Florida, Arizona and even St. Louis, the 65 degree temperature in Minnesota and Michigan and Northern Ontario was both a shock to the system and a relief and made searching easier, if not any more productive.

I was given advice on numerous occasions.  While in Sault Sainte Marie E-bird directed me to a spot in Michigan just across the boarder, where someone, days earlier had reported a Sharp-tailed.  It was only a short drive away, so why not?

At the boarder the customs official told me an even better spot to find them.  He was a hunter, not a birder. so I thought I could trust him.  There were no Sharp-tails at either location.  The owner of the little Bed and No Breakfast I stayed at told me of another road to drive down that assuredly would have grouse.  Nope.  Along another road a couple of workers knew of a spot, only an hour north of where I was and I drove in a last ditch effort to find the grouse.  90 minutes later, I ended up at Whitefish Point, where the birding was very good,(and they have a tribute to The Edmund Fitzgerald), but I was still grousing over the lack of Sharp-tailed Grouse.  The two summer students at the interpretive board said they had them back at their home State Park, only an hour and a half away.  I decided to cut my losses and just head back to Toronto.  The drive was going to be long enough already.

I am sure I will trip over a Sharp-tailed Grouse at some point when I least expect it, and perhaps that is the best way to bag a grouse.  Apparently in Michigan Sharp-tailed Grouse are not for looking at, they are for eating.  Slow cooked they are quite a dinner treat.  I suspect they taste like chicken if you cook them long enough, and where I was in Michigan, they throw themselves in front of cars so they can be dinner that night.

Days earlier, in Minnesota I did have to put up with the humiliation of having a Sora laugh at me from the reeds and then flush and fly across the bog, showing me it's backside.  It was probably giving me the feather too, but I was too shocked and excited to notice.  I enjoyed a Northern Goshawk flying over as well, and finally, a west-migrating Golden Eagle.  At McGregor Marsh I had failed to see or even hear a Yellow Rail, spent a few hours driving through the Sax-Zim Bog and outside Duluth I spent a long night searching for Boreal Owl with no success, driving up and down Gunflint Road.  I had then crossed back into Canada in North Bay and had driven to Sault Sainte Marie, along the way finding Sandhill Cranes,(my first for Ontario) and Black-backed Woodpeckers

I slept three nights in a row, at one point, in the comfort of the front seat of my car.  I lost a filling.  I lived and ate at times like a homeless person, not shaving and wearing the same cargo pants for a week.  Sue doesn't ever want me as a travel agent.

I stopped at gas stations and diners where the people, at times, made Rednecks look like princes, and gave a new low to what I had thought of White-trailer- trash.  When you have tattoos of the names of your past two ex-boyfriends on your neck, you most certainly are trailer trash.  It was both sad and scary to see how some people live.  Of course, after a week on the road, practically living in my car, who was I to talk?

Back in Ontario, I spent my second straight night in a hotel, bathed and shaved, even saw a 11pm showing of The Amazing Spiderman in Windsor, before heading into Blenheim to their lovely sewage lagoons.  I was glad they were not called the Alfred Hitchcock Sewage Lagoons, as I was nearly swarmed by hundreds of swallows and would have ended up dead in the gravel road with my eyes plucked out as a tasty treat for "The Birds."  I braved the swarms and bagged the second easiest bird of the trip,(next to the Eurasian Tree Sparrow), a non-breeding plumage Red-necked Phalarope, bird number 487 for the year.  There had been some controversy as to whether it was a Red or Red-necked Phalarope, but upon closer examination it was discovered to have been toothless and living in a rusted-out trailer, so it had to be a Redneck.  Actually, it's pointier beak clinched it.

The next few weeks will be pretty slow.  I will only be able to chase what shows up in Toronto between now and September 5.  Work commitments just won't allow for anything more than an early morning or occasional late afternoon bird outing.   But that doesn't mean I am done for the year, not by a long shot.  Starting on September 6, I will be going to Cape May, New Jersey, where along with land birds, I will be doing three boat trips, including a 18 hour overnight pelagic.  A week later I will be in California birding with my buddies Eddie and Noreen and also going on at least one of Debbie Shearwater's Pelagics.  I've already booked Half Moon Bay.  If time allows, a day trip to Tucson AZ for the Five-striped Sparrow and a few other fall birds.  Lots of OFO outings in between, including Hawk Cliff.  There are still trips to Florida and perhaps back to Texas for the Rio Grande Bird festival in November.  Not going to think past that, as that would be December and the coming end of the Big Year.

# 488 for 2012, spinning in a sewage lagoon:

At one point I waded in trying to flush a yellow rail and nearly filled my boots with swamp water, and made a hasty retreat!

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