April 1: On the way into West Branch today, we sighted several American Kestrels- one with a snake in it's talons, so the reptiles must be emerging despite the bitter cold temperatures.
April 2: Checking our lake for loons, we found the water is still pretty much ice-covered, but enjoyed watching a muskrat playing near the shoreline.
April 3: Freezing rain and sleet have brought a huge fall-out of sparrows to our property today. I counted 37 Fox Sparrows, over 2 dozen American Tree Sparrows, a few Song & Chipping Sparrows and good numbers of Dark-eyed Juncoes. They're all scratching at the icy understory in search of food and I've never seen this many Fox Sparrows together at once- they're so beautiful.
April 4: It sleeted/snowed most of the evening and all of today. More Fox Sparrows & Tree Sparrows arrived and there were easily 300 American Goldfinch around the property today mixed with dozens of D.E. Juncoes. They are so loud that they can be heard over the winds, so the bird-noise must be attracting more birds as the storm lingers on. The American Robins look so pathetic in the sleet, but I tossed out some raisins and they eventually ate them. The weather forecast is calling for 2-6 more inches of snow tonight. So much for spring!
April 5: We received an additional 3-4 inches of snow overnight. While taking a breather from hauling in firewood this morning, I was enjoying the juncoes and sparrows feeding near the woodpile when much to my surprise (and delight) an Eastern Phoebe landed in the beech tree directly over my head- the look on his face was almost comical as it sat in the blowing snow looking more than a bit out of place. Very happy to see this one return. Quick trip to the feed store and we sighted quite a few duck species on Whithey lake & we had our first 3 Northern Flickers of the season, 2 of which were fanning their tails, allowing us to see the yellow-shafts. A bit further up the road we ran into a large flock of over 80 Red-winged Blackbirds and American Robins. The robins were feasting on the staghorn sumac- the birds are hard pressed for natural food sources right now. After unloading all the seed, we'd just got in the door when a young Sharp-shinned Hawk streaked into the feeder area to the south and there is one less American Robin hopping around the snow now. Usually the hawks will make their kill then carry the prey out further into the woods to eat- this one didn't. I watched it devour everything except for feathers, two feet and one beak.
April 6: We had record low temperatures last evening and many of the fox and tree sparrows have moved on, although some remain on the property. I really feel quite honored to have been able to observe so many together. The Sharp-shinned Hawk zipped around the area for awhile, but left without a meal this time. While soaking up some sun I had to chuckle at a racoon that kept trying to grab some corn while the deer were feeding all around it- eventually it gave up and scooted back up a tree, waiting for a less crowded time to feed.
April 7: Very surprised to see 2 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers working the trees with the rest of the woodpecker tribe this morning- and there is plenty of sap for them since it appears we have quite a few trees that have literally burst from the sudden cold snap- the bark has split and sap is covering the entire side of some of our trees. Many of the Fox Sparrows have moved on, but we still have at least 8 of them here hop/scratching at the feed with dozens of Dark-eyed Juncoes. There are over 200 Redwings, Grackles, Cowbirds and Starlings pounding our feeders.
April 9: Road trip to Bay City area today where we birded the shoreline from Bay City to Pinconning- we sighted many species of ducks in large numbers and had a super day in our old stomping grounds.
April 10: An absolutely gorgeous day- sunny, blue skies, warm breezes. We did a bit of trail riding around the area and the roads are quite muddy- which was good for the many butterflies puddling along the trail near rifle river. Mourning Cloaks, Comptons Tortoise Shells and Painted Ladies were all quite abundant. We came upon a solitary American Woodcock bobbing down the middle of the road until another car approached, and off it went into the woods.
April 11: We had a window-strike this afternoon- a Fox Sparrow flew into the garage window and I held the bird for at least 40 minutes before it came around enough to fly away. That window now has dead tree limbs covering the glass.
April 13: Still a nip to the air, but a lovely sunny day. We still have a few dozen juncoes here as well as several Fox Sparrows. A few more Chipping sparrows have arrived and most of the birds are either actively mating and/or gathering nest materials. We heard the tremulous call of a solitary Common Loon on our lake this evening- a long awaited and much appreciated sound.
April 14: It hit the 70's today and we enjoyed our first seasonal sighting of Tree & Barn Swallows nearby. While checking out the active rookery near rifle river, we came across quite a few spring peepers and wood frogs & we heard them calling for the first time this evening. What a wonderful sound. Several small flocks of Ruby-crowned Kinglets zig-zagged through the property gorging on insects. The area around the mercury light was absolutely full of white fluttering moths known as half-wings. The full moon was just gorgeous and if I stepped away from the light out into the woods, the 'snow' appeared to be rising from the understory. The moths emerge from overwintering in cocoons and it was beautiful beyond words. I could see and hear flocks of ducks flying over by the full moon and alot of smaller passerines- I stood under the tall trees that were swaying in the winds, as if they were waving the birds and the moths onward, just grateful for the ability to appreciate and enjoy the magic.
April 15: Extremely warm temperatures today, up into the 80's. When I checked the area around the mercury light this morning, I found that the Figure 8 Sallows had emerged in large numbers, the garage wall was absolutely covered with them. We had our first Hermit Thrush of the year and while driving to Prescott we sighted 4 Sandhill Cranes feeding. First large dragonfly of the season, and I'm positive I heard a couple Rose-breasted Grosbeaks today. It's a couple weeks early for them, but their call note is pretty distinctive. Everything is so very dry, it's hard to believe we had snow on the ground less than a week ago- extreme fire danger, so hopefully we'll get some rain out of the storm front that's moving this way.
April 16: What's that they say about being careful what you wish for? Yikes! It's a good 50 degrees cooler today with freezing rain/sleet. The birds are feeding heavily and there are easily 50 juncoes here today. There is so very much bird-chatter and noise going on that I'm sure that has something to do with all of the strike-attempts by a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Meals aren't hard to find when they make this much noise. The dees and titmice are having a field day picking moths off the garage walls.
April 19: An adult male Pileated Woodpecker has been visiting the suet log feeder for the past couple of days- they are the most reclusive of all of the woodpecker tribe, so watching them close without bins is a treat.
April 20: We're getting some much needed rain today. We now have 3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers here and they're wasting no time in drilling wells in many of the trees.
April 21: I found the largest beetle out by the garage last night that I've ever seen. A 'Northern Toe-biter'. My field guide states: "Because of their attraction to artificial lights, these insects are called 'electric light bugs'. Underwater, they often stab or sieze a person's bare foot, earning the name 'Toe Biter'. Jump back jack!
April 22: A beautiful, yet chilly Earth Day. We sighted an adult Osprey sitting on the nest at the cell phone tower on M55, and quite a few Eastern Bluebirds around the West Branch area. Right before dusk a large flock of butter-butts moved through the property, gleaning bugs from the tree tops. Tonights lows are supposed to reach the teens, so the insect population will be zapped again.
April 23: The radio announced that we were the coldest spot in the nation today. The sun was shining, despite the cold temps and I spent an enjoyable afternoon prowling around the woods. A few butterflies were out and there were quite a few birds enjoying the pools of water in the boggy areas. A female yellow-bellied sapsucker was a delight to watch- she splashed about with great enthusiasm, then preened in the sun for the longest time. At one point her wings were spread wide and she was plastered flat against a birch tree. This one follows me around the property, exhibiting the same behavior as a juvenile did last fall. Very friendly and fun bird.
April 24: RRRA is still pretty quiet, but one gets the sense that things are about to wake up with a bang inside the park very soon. No flora in blossom yet, but did enjoy quite a few butterflies (first seasonal Red Admiral near the river) and dragonflies- and many gnats, on the higher ridges especially. Recorded the songs of several species of frogs chorusing and almost every submerged log had a row of painted turtles out sunning themselves. Quite a few birds sighted, including our first Palm Warblers of the season.
April 26: Spent the later hours of the afternoon enjoying the White-throated Sparrows that are still here. They were feeding heavily on some sort of small beetle that was hatching out of the ground. If anyone finds sparrows boring they certainly haven't watched these beautiful birds very close.
April 27: Checked the park again today and found good numbers of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Pine Warblers and B.G. Gnatcatchers. Dozens of Common Green Darners were hawking smaller bugs most everywhere we went today. The river is packed with suckers and quite a few fishermen, and we're finding a few fresh salmon beds. I also got my bluebird 'fix' a bit north of home, where the property owners have up quite a few nestboxes. These birds just get me jazzed.
April 28: Our first spring azures made an appearance on the property today, such a beautiful burst of blue. Made a quick trip over to the Prescott area this evening where we sat and watched an Osprey eating a large fish near its nest.
April 30: We got a call from good friends a couple days ago who shared that they had Common Snipe on their property- and not just one or two of them, like in previous years, but good numbers of them. So despite the rains that started as soon as we left the driveway, we hiked out with them onto the flooded areas of their property (south of M-55, unsure of township offhand) . We weren't dissapointed, there were easily over 20 snipe to be seen. They were well hidden in the tall grasses, and most of them would flush long before we could locate them in our bins.. neat birds. Hope to return soon and maybe set up a blind, we've never seen this many snipe together before. Thanks Ken, for the fun snipe hunt! From there we revisited the osprey nest and rookery again-sighted quite a few birds, including our first Snowy Egret of the season and our first Swamp Sparrows. Rounding a corner not far from the rookery, we came upon a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, feeding on the remains of a rabbit. It spooked and flew up to perch quite a distance away- we sat waiting, hoping it would come back to feed, but it seemed content to wait us out. I noticed something strange about it's breast, so attached the camera to the scope to take a few photos. (Horrible photo conditions and the bird was at least 120 feet away). At first I thought it was rabbit fur, but looking closer at the photos, it appears to be wounded or have some sort of tumor growing on it's breast- otherwise it was a very healthy looking hawk.